Wiesenberg (s048 pan): Sophie doesn’t learn

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

Michael Wiesenberg index.

Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie doesn’t learn anything at all

Aunt Sophie plucked a seven of spades from the block, set it down next to her two made spreads of four different threes and four different deuces and, with a triumphant “So there!” look in our direction, added to it the two remaining sevens of spades from her hand.

“A jolly popper,” I remarked.

“A what?” queried Aunt Sophie’s second-cousin Minnie’s niece, Sara, who sat at a ringside table with me in the Anaheim Club, directly overlooking the pan section.

Aunt Sophie was playing two-dollar-condition almost directly below us. It was good she could not see me through the one-way mirror, even though she knew we were right there.

“A jolly popper, a burster, out on a good one,” I expanded.

“And what,” asked the vision of loveliness opposite me, “does all that mean?”


Had Aunt Sophie seen my reaction to her busting out with that special, she would not have found the praise she solicited. Instead she would have seen my frown of disapproval. When she hit the fourth deuce, she had had two sevens of spades and a five of clubs left in her hand. The five of clubs worked with the board. If she discarded one of the sevens, a four of clubs would then put her flat with three spreads. But busting out on a good one was mighty tempting to her. By going tough, she could be out in one hit. Playing it safe would require two more hits, and no chance for a big pay. Her victory smile was intended as vindication, that, in retrospect, she had done the right thing. She knew in her heart, however, that I would never agree.

I returned my attention to my pulchritudinous inquisitor. “It’s all part,” I began, “of the wonderful world of pan, a demimonde that has a language all its own. Words that your Aunt Minnie would never permit said in her presence are commonplace. I’m not going to attempt to teach you how to play the game, because that would take too long, and I don’t really think you belong at the pan tables, anyway. They’re for people like Aunt Sophie, with time on their hands, a need for uncritical companionship and a place where they can unburden their souls and vent their spleens, and a desire for gambling action that seems to but actually requires little skill.”

“Couldn’t that also be a description of your poker games?” Sara riposted.

I figuratively bit my tongue. There was a time in my life when I would have automatically risen to such a challenge to my raison d’etre, but I had been practicing restraint of late, both at and away from the tables. This new attitude had increased my winnings by seventeen-and-a-half percent, and improved my outside relationships correspondingly. Aunt Sophie had lately even stopped referring to me as “the misogynist.”

Pleasant professional

“For some,” I responded, “most of it is true. The skill requirement is there for all, whether applied or not. For those who make their livings in the game, the social aspect plays little part. I admit that some of the professionals prefer the action to making money any other way, but many of us regard poker as just a job. I have been discovering that players would much rather lose to a pleasant professional than a sarcastic, nasty one.”

I was checking out Aunt Sophie’s play from time to time out of the corner of my eye. I refrained from sighing audibly as she again went tough and bounced out on a pay. This time she had had made kings and aces, and elected to come off a matching deuce to keep a pair of comoquing valles.

“She just hit a bare-ass pair of fives of diamonds,” I observed. “That’s a partial elucidation of your question of what it all means, wherein I replied that some of the language of pan includes terms that are not otherwise employed in polite company. I wasn’t going to explain the game of pan in great detail, but you need to know a bit to understand the terms. Pan is like gin rummy played with eight decks of cards. Gin rummy is the closest game it resembles, but even that is not very close. There are usually more players than two. Players put down melds, if they choose, as soon as they get them. Players show their cards as they draw them. Players don’t put cards in their hands. Some of the melds are worth chip payments from the other players. Unlike gin, a player is not forced to play every hand. Unlike poker, once he or she is in a hand, the hand must be played until someone goes out, that is, matches all then in his or her hand, plus one more.”

“It all sounds very complicated,” she offered.


“I know it seems that way,” I returned, “and it’s almost impossible to learn the game by observing it or listening to a description. The best way to learn is to dive in and start playing, preferably at low stakes, or in one of the classes that many cardrooms offer. Once you learn the game, however, the actual playing of the hands becomes pretty much mechanical. There are a few rules regarding the validity of melds, which I’ll explain in a second, that seem both arbitrary and somewhat convoluted, but they soon become second nature to players. Anyway, since there are eight decks, there are, obviously, multiples of each card. Threes, fives, and sevens have extra value when they are part of melds, and are called valle cards, which comes from the Sanskrit word for value. Spades are double. Cardrooms like to slow down the action of pan games somewhat, probably because they want the players to last longer, and thus they cut down the potential for large payouts by removing one complete suit of spades from the eight decks, plus one more of each valle spade. Thus valle cards are harder to hit than other cards, as are spades, and valle spades the hardest.”

“Mmm hmm,” Sara breathed, apparently absorbed in the minutiae of the description.

“Well,” I went on, “another complication is how the cards can be melded. Runs, called ropes, must be in the same suit. Pairs, sometimes called spreads, although that term is also applied to any valid meld, must follow one of two rules: all in the same suit, or three different suits. This, of course, has an exception. All cards except aces and kings are called comoquers, also referred to as smokers. All comoquing cards follow those rules. The noncomoquing cards, the nonsmokers, do not. That is, you can meld any three aces or kings, regardless of suits. From this you can see that if you have two comoquing cards with nothing else, they are harder to hit. That is, if you have two aces of diamonds left, you can make a meld with any other ace. If you have two threes of diamonds left, though, you must hit another three of diamonds to make a meld. Making such a hit is what pan players call hitting cards bare-ass.”

“I see,” she said. Was she really interested, or feigning?

“And,” I continued, “other terms that might make your aunt blush are peckered and pisser. You might have a made pay in your hand. That is, be dealt a meld that would be worth a chip collection from the other players. You can’t put that meld down, though, until you get a hit, that is, draw a card that gives you some valid meld. To have a pat pay and not get it on the board before some other player goes out is termed getting peckered. And there are variations on the term. The occurrence is sometimes called the old peckeroo. Pan players like to find almost any excuse to play a hand, because they don’t like to sit around and watch the action. Most pan hands you get dealt are not very good. Pan players call such a hand a pisser. Playing one is called playing a pisser.”

“Yes?” she urged.

“Are you sure you want to hear all about this?” I demanded.

“Oh, yes,” she answered. “It’s fascinating.”

“Okay,” I shrugged. “But let’s order dinner first.”

Next: 049 Aunt Sophie still doesn’t learn anything


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