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.
Aunt Sophie goes cruising
“How can you gamble without playing pan and poker?” demanded Aunt Sophie, sliding into the seat opposite me at a booth in the Anaheim Club coffee shop. I caught the waitress’s eye, and she refilled my coffee cup and poured a fresh cup for my aunt.
“Well,” I replied, “I’m not sure I can give the answer you’re looking for. Pan maybe is gambling, but, as far as poker goes, I feel just the way W. C. Fields did in Tillie and Gus. You know the famous scene, I’m sure. He’s playing poker, wearing white gloves, of course, and his top hat, and someone asks, `Is this a game of chance?’ `Not the way I play it,’ he answers. I don’t consider poker a gambling game. Yes, it is for many, but for the skillful player it’s a game of skill.”
“That’s not what I mean, Bubeleh,” she went on. “So let me rephrase the question. What kind of a gambling joint don’t have poker and pan?”
“Is this a joke?” I queried. “Am I supposed to say, `I give up; what kind of a joint doesn’t have poker and pan?’”
“No, dummy!” she yelled; “it’s not a joke…”
“Now just a minute,” I interrupted; “I’m not `Dummy’: that’s somebody else’s stories.”
“Oh, of course not,” she soothed. “It’s just you make me so exasperated sometimes. Can’t you ever give a straight answer?”
Game of skill
“My dear,” I responded, “you cut me to the quick. It’s somewhat difficult to respond to your often-vague questions in straightforward fashion. What am I supposed to say to a question like `How can you gamble without playing pan and poker?’? You know how I feel about poker. For a professional player, it’s not a game of a chance, not a gamble; it’s a game of skill. For a lot of suckers, of course, it is a gamble, but only because they think so. That attitude, naturally, is something the good professional player tries to cultivate. Now, as to pan, you might have an easier time convincing me it’s not a game of skill, but even there, in the long run the good players do better than the poor players. Now, notice I say `do better’ as opposed to `win.’ I’m not convinced that in the smaller games where the house takes a percentage of every pot in the form of part of the tops even the good players can win. But in the larger games, where the players pay time, I think the good players win and the bad players lose.”
“Oy,” she groaned, “always on a tanjunct you’re off.”
“I think you mean `tangent,’” I gently corrected.
“Never mind what I mean!” she snapped. “You know what I mean! I mean how can a place that bills itself as a floating casino, in other words, a gambling establishment, not offer pan and poker?”
“Aha!” I interpolated. “Now I see what has you incensed. We’d better have a bit of refreshment before getting into this heavy stuff.” I signaled the waitress. “Yes, I’d like some of that fresh apple pie. And bring a slice of baklava for my aunt, please.”
“Tsatskeleh, my diet!” she protested.
“Well, now,” I remarked, “you’re a big girl, and of course you have to decide for yourself whether or not to have a dessert. But this is a special occasion. I haven’t seen you for the last two weeks, while you were away on that cruise.”
“Yes,” she acquiesced, “it is a special occasion. And you know I have a weakness for baklava.”
“So,” I went on, “how was the cruise?”
No pan or poker
“The cruise,” she answered, “was fine. The Caribbean was beautiful. Lots of lovely islands, beautiful beaches. Although, heaven knows I’m not much of a beach person. And the food! Oh my! I guess you know what cruise ship food is like. Fantastic. And available any time night or day. You could get up and start eating and do nothing else but eat until bedtime. And if you were lonely and got up in the middle of the night, with a snack you could always console yourself. Not a good place for a person with a weight problem. But I was a good girl. I stuck as good as I could to my diet. The problem was with the gambling activities. They advertised a casino, but it didn’t have no pan. Not even no poker! What a disappointment!”
“And did you,” I probed, “console yourself with the slot machines?”
“Yah,” she returned, “and the roulette, and the blackjack, and the horse races.”
“Oh yes,” I nodded, “the mechanized races. Just like the track, except instead of a 20% take, the house on the shipboard version gets closer to 50%. Oh well, I guess they have to pay for all that food somehow. So how did you do on the gambling?”
“Not very well,” she said. “That’s what upset me. At least in pan I know what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t lose so much. And maybe I’d win. And if they had poker, I’d for sure win after all you been telling me.”
“That’s just the point,” I pointed out. “Pan and poker are not worth their while. They wouldn’t make nearly as much as they do on the pure gambling games. You see, in roulette, blackjack, and those mechanized horse races, they have a high edge. In slots, it’s even higher. You didn’t notice lots of big jackpots, did you?”
“No,” she acknowledged.
“Right. Not like in one of those Vegas `fun palace’ types of places, where you hear a constant ringing of bells, clink of coins dropping into trays, and sirens going off from the frequent jackpots. Instead of less than a 10% edge as in most Nevada slot machines, the shipboard variety has 30% or higher. And why not? They have a captive audience. If you don’t like their games, tough; you can’t do down the street to a competitor’s club. Same with the table games. Blackjack on a ship has the most unfavorable rules found anywhere; that’s why you don’t find many professional blackjack players trying to make a living on the Song of Sweden or the Princess of Liechtenstein. There’s not too much they can do to craps, except maybe push the bad bets a lot, but you don’t usually see more than one craps table on a ship. Naturally the roulette is the unfavorable single zero variety. So, why should they offer pan and poker, where all they get is a small percentage of the pots, when they can extract your money much faster at traditional casino games?”
“Hmmph,” sniffed Aunt Sophie. “They ain’t gettin’ me on a gambling boat again. I’ll just take a regular cruise next time, and not lose no money.”
“Actually,” I put in, “you’ll have a hard time finding such a cruise. Most lines have found them quite lucrative, and nearly all ships have casinos now. Much better is just to exercise a little restraint. Or, you might look for something I thought I saw advertised. One of the Southern California clubs was sponsoring a pan cruise. You’d just play pan all day, every day, for the entire cruise. Although I can’t see why anyone would be interested in that. You can already do that here any day of the year. I think the point of a cruise is to get away from it all, and that means no pan and no poker.”