Wiesenberg (s037 pan): Sophie holds back

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Pan Player+. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money.

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Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie holds back

Tsatskeleh,” requested my Aunt Sophie as she set down a poolside lunch for us, “am I supposed to be holding out in the games?”

“Well, my dear,” I replied, helping myself to a Double Diamond beer, “I’m not sure which games you mean, since you seem lately to have followed through in your plan to become a triple-threat player. Are you talking about lowball, draw poker, or pan? Or maybe even keno? And are you sure it’s `holding out’ that you want to do?”

“Oh yes,” returned Aunt Sophie, “it’s in the pan game, and that’s what they’re all doing with those jackpots getting so high. It seems like every hand no one has any pay down right to the last pluck, and suddenly it’s `out for ten’ or more.”

Holdout artist

“Aha,” I chuckled, “you mean `holding back.’ `Holding out’ is something that only thieves do in card games. It means keeping a good card or cards out of play until needed, and then surreptitiously reintroducing the card or cards into the game. It usually involves palming a card or some other sleight-of-hand means of getting a card off the table without the others seeing. That’s usually impossible in a dealer-dealt poker game, because the house dealer is supposed to count down the stub after each hand. Mind you, some dealers are not able to keep up with the game, and don’t count each time. A `holdout artist,’ as such a thief is known, can sometimes get away with it in a sloppy game. It’s easier in a round table game, that is, one in which the players deal for themselves, but still a dangerous move. Holding out is considerably easier to get away with in pan, where there are so many cards that no one could count down the stub, and where the players pay more attention to the contents of their own hands than the conduct of the other players. Besides, pan is a game in which a certain bending of the rules, often verging on cheating, is considered part of the game, so that even when caught a holdout artist could claim to have been dealt too many cards, which he just discovered, and which he was just in the act of attempting to remedy by discarding twice, as is not so uncommon practice.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she interrupted, “and you know it.”

“Right,” I smiled, “I do know it. You mean `holding back’ or `holding up’ a pay. But you know, before we leave the subject, `holding out’ has other meanings than the cardroom thievery. I wonder if they didn’t come from the cardroom slang, though. `Holding out’ is what someone does who doesn’t tell a partner or friend the whole truth and nothing but in certain situations. `Holding out’ even has sexual connotations, when it refers to something a partner doesn’t do…”

“Dollink,” hastily interjected Aunt Sophie, “this is a family newspaper.”

“Bosh!” I responded. “All those little old ladies playing pissers and getting peckered. I don’t believe a word of it.”

“Never mind,” she continued, “just tell me about holding up pays.”


“Ah yes,” I sighed. “In most cases a foolish strategy. Oh yes, if the jackpot is relatively high, and if you’ve got a good shot at the bustout for fifteen, then hold back on your pay. Some places the jackpots start as low as eleven; usually the low is thirteen. In any case, though, unless you’ve got a reasonable chance of actually making that much, holding back is a dumb, costly play. The players who do that are the same ones who play on a pair and a prayer, a rope and a hope, as I think someone may once have said.”

“Whaddya mean,” Aunt Sophie demanded, “‘may once have said’? I hear that all the time.”

“Yes, I know,” I went on, “I was merely being sarcastic, or, technically, using understatement as a rhetorical technique.”

Bubeleh,” she admonished, “do you say things like that just to fill up space?”

“My dear,” I gasped, “you cut me to the quick. And, besides, I don’t write this stuff; I just say it. So, technically, I’m not really the guilty party.”

A blue-winged Papilionoideia nobokovialolitaensis settled gracefully on the edge of my boeuf bourguignon plate. I had not the heart nor temerity to brush it away, concentrating instead on eviscerating the Chicken Sardou.

“Please go on,” she demanded acidly.

“Well,” I observed, “it’s really simple. Not every hand is capable of busting out for fifteen. In fact, hardly any are. Even for as little as eleven, few hands can end up. And with the garbage that most of these players are trying to put out, there’s almost no hope. They read somewhere that potential bongs are a terrific value, almost like an overlay at the races, I suppose, because they could go out for the big one and win a jackpot. As if they needed an excuse to play those pissers, but now just give them a comoquing pair of valles and nothing else, and they’re in there. Don’t you play like that! You still need good hands, and you need to play them with the greatest chance of success. If you have a pay, get it down as soon as you can. It’ll help pay the freight, as someone else may have said.”

“Ahem,” coughed Aunt Sophie.

Get it flat

“Excuse me,” I said. “A lot of players hold back pay when the only way they could end up with a bustout for fifteen would be if they drew six valle spades in one pluck. That is, they can’t get there, but they have this muddy notion that somehow holding back pay can put them out for the required amount, even if it’s technically impossible. The only excuse for holding back pay would be if you had pat for six in your hand, with maybe two more valle spades and if you hit one of them that would drop you right out. And how often does that happen? Anything less, you’re better to put it down. Most of the time you’ll get a few more hits that might put you flat that you wouldn’t get if you passed up a card you could otherwise use. I mean, it gets so ridiculous that you see someone with a pat three fives of spades passing up the five of clubs because it’s not worth any extra pay. Get the hand down. Try to get it flat. Don’t worry about busting out for fifteen. If the right hand comes along that forces you to play that way, that is, one to which you get no hits at all despite holding all those pat goodies, fine. You know, the editor of PAN PLAYER+ claims to have been playing pan eighteen hours a day every day since the Spanish-American War, and he’s busted out for fifteen once only. That’s just as dumb as all those people in the lowball games drawing three and four cards to every six that comes along hoping to make a six-four and get it beat for God’s sakes! By the time they hit a jackpot they’ve lost as much as they could win in one.”

Nu,” she probed, “how should I play then?”

“I don’t need to answer that,” I answered. “I’ve been telling you the proper way to play for years. Just continue to play right, and you’ll win.”

Next: 038 Aunt Sophie looks to the side


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