Wiesenberg (s050 pan): Sophie goes on tilt

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 goes on tilt

“What causes tilting?” asked my Aunt Sophie, joining me and her second-cousin Minnie’s niece, Sara, at our table in the coffee shop of the Anaheim Club, by the floor-to-ceiling one-way glass directly overlooking the pan section.

“Now that,” I responded, “is what I would call a strange question. What causes tilting? Now, if you’d asked what does tilting mean, or what were its origins, I could better answer.”

Sara pressed a little more closely to me, to allow Aunt Sophie to squeeze her generous proportions more comfortably into the curved booth that faced the transparent wall in much the same manner as the conveyance in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion faced the mirror near the end of the ride. Since the lights in the coffee shop remained dim so as not to reveal the presence of diners to punters on the playing field, a somewhat similar view presented itself to us. We could see ourselves dimly reflected, seeming to float somewhere above the five-dollar pan table. The somewhat greenish countenance of an internationally-known psychologist presented itself just below our ectoplasmic selves.

“Yah, sure,” Aunt Sophie amiably agreed, “what does tilting mean?”

“Well,” I pontificated, “you’d have to go back to France of the eleventh century for the origins of tilting.”

“They played pan that long ago?” questioned Aunt Sophie.

“Of course,” Sara put in, “it really flourished in the twelfth through sixteenth centuries.”

“Even that’s an awfully long time for the game,” Aunt Sophie remarked. “And, anyway, Sara, what do you know about cards?”

“Not much at all,” replied my dinner partner. “Just a bit of quaint terminology your nephew has been acquainting me with.”


“And, Aunt Sophie, as to your reference to the game,” I commented, “a more accurate expression would be the games. That’s what they were, originally. Military games, a public contest between armed horsemen in simulation of real combat. Tilting grew out of jousting, which was a form of tournament or tourney. And notice that I pronounced it justing, even though it’s usually spelled j-o-u-s-t-i-n-g. That’s the preferred pronunciation. Unfortunately for us grammatical sticklers, however, jowsting, and even joosting, are also permitted. And, just as frustrating, I recently discovered in various of my unabridged dictionaries, that the spelling j-u-s-t-i-n-g is also permitted.”

“Tournaments!” exclaimed Aunt Sophie, seizing on something with which she had some familiarity. “They even had tournaments back in the Middle Ages!”

“Well, of course they did,” I went on. “The sort to which you’re referring were a form of jousting. The typical tournament area, called lists, was an oval or rectangular area enclosed by barriers in which took place the mock combats. Around the perimeter were pavilions for important personages, judges of the contests, and the ladies who sponsored combatants, known as champions. Even though the weapons were usually blunted lances or swords, still since it was sort of a medieval equine form of chicken, what historians usually now term single combat, the object of which was to knock the other off his horse, many knights died in the contests. To lessen the danger somewhat, a barrier, or tilt, was sometimes stretched along the length of the lists, with combatants fighting across it. This form of jousting was known as tilting.”

Aunt Sophie could stand it no longer. “Ach,” she growled, “that’s not the kind of tilting I mean. I should have known when you two started giving me a history lesson. I mean the kind in cardrooms. When players are tilting, you know, playing crazy, like they’re trying to throw away their money.”

Self destruction

“Ah,” I laughed, “you mean going on tilt. I should have realized that’s what you mean. But you know, it’s sort of related to what I was saying, anyway. The tilting of the Middle Ages was a form of self destruction. Going on tilt at the card table, too, is self destruction. It’s just that when knighthood was in flower, doing so was a desirable form of action, even though somewhat suicidal. But, just as there were rules governing the conduct of tilting in centuries past, so now are there rules regarding going on tilt. Then it was known as chivalry. Now it has no specific name, but is still governed just as rigidly by rules.”

On tilt?” queried Sara. “Another of those fascinating pan terms?”

“Not just a pan term,” I answered, “a general card term. Basically it means falling apart at a card table. And, Aunt Sophie, forgive my obtuseness. Now I know what you meant by what causes tilting? Had I realized you were referring to being on tilt, of course I would not have answered as I did. Going on tilt, as it is often called, is a form of gambling suicide in which the gambler is a willing participant. A player on tilt always knows he or she is on tilt. And, as I was hinting, the condition always adheres to certain rules. It’s usually a well-defined series of events that culminates in the condition. The first is that a player has a very good hand beaten by a freak draw, almost always by the biggest live one at the table. This causes the player to get his or her nose open, which means particularly susceptible to the next unhappy circumstance. The next thing is the player tries to get even for what just happened, usually by, in poker, trying an almost impossible but spectacular bluff, generally on the next hand. In pan, where players can’t bluff, the player participates in the very next hand to come along. Since pan hands are, on the average, unplayable, this hand almost always loses more for the player than he or she ought to lose. That is, bad luck often continues. The player is then unlucky in two ways. First is that the hand following a bad beat is almost always a bad one. Second is that when such a hand is played, it usually gets beat for more than the average.”

“Ah hah,” agreed Aunt Sophie, “I recognize the symptoms.”

“At this point,” I continued, “the player goes on tilt. In poker, he or she gets almost every hand beat. This is because he or she plays almost every hand. Boy, I’m not going to keep saying ‘he or she’; that’s too awkward. I’ll just say ‘he’ for a while, and you’ll know I mean both.”

“Ahem,” chided the feminist next to me. I ignored the gibe.

Keeps playing

“All the other players know he is playing badly and running unlucky, and bet large against him. He pretends to see the opportunity to make lots of money by winning each of these pots, but always takes considerably the worst of it, and knowingly, and loses heavily. In pan, he keeps playing hand after hand, knowing the hands aren’t playable, but paying no apparent attention to common sense. The important thing here is that the player knows what he’s doing.”

“But why?” demanded Aunt Sophie.

“Why?” I returned. “Why? Some players want to lose. Some players feel guilty about something entirely unrelated to cards, and are trying to punish themselves. Some players come to the card table specifically to abuse the dealers and the other players, but they feel they can’t do it without some apparent reason, so they construct their own reason. They can’t be abusive when winning; that wouldn’t be logical. So they deliberately lose, and then they can take that out on everyone else. Whatever. There are a million reasons for why people lose. When they do it, and it seems terribly illogical, and the only explanation is they know what they’re doing, that’s going on tilt. See that psychologist in the five-dollar game? His specialty is stress psychology. He knows all about that stuff. He can give you all the physiological and psychological reasons behind any stress-related reaction. Look at him. He’s playing every hand, and even the good ones he’s playing badly. He’s stuck more than anybody at the table. Watch. He just got peckered on a pat for four. Mind you, the hand had absolutely nothing else in it, so he shouldn’t be too surprised at its fate. See. He’s throwing the cards at the mucker. He’s screaming at the lady that put the hand out because her hand is worth only the outs. We can’t hear him, but we know what he’s saying: ‘How can you put a hand like that out when I can’t even hit the board with pat for four?’ He does this deliberately. He’s miserable when he wins. Then he can’t yell at anyone. He’s permanently on tilt, and that’s why he plays pan. He has to be Mr. Nice Guy in the laboratory, but here it’s expected of him to be nasty.”

“Fascinating,” sighed Sara.

Next: 051 Aunt Sophie goes on tilt


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