Wiesenberg (s049 pan): Sophie still 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 still doesn’t learn anything

Aunt Sophie’s rush appeared to be continuing. Sara and I had a panoramic view of the pan section of the Anaheim Club as we began dinner in its excellent coffee shop. Our table was next to the floor-to-ceiling one-way glass that permitted us to observe the action without being seen from the floor. From time to time Aunt Sophie made a crucial play, and glanced in our direction, knowing we were there, but of course all she could see was her own self reflected.

“Okay,” I said, “I was telling you about the wacky terminology of pan. I said a bit about bad hands. Pan players seem to have a great familiarity with bad hands; at least they have a lot of names for them. Another name for a pisser is a leaky peeker, also known as a leaker. The ultimate bad hand is a Yarborough. That’s a hand so unplayable that it has no pairs and no cutoffs — no rank is duplicated and no card works with another to form a possible run. You’ll hear players talk of Yarboroughs they’ve been dealt and then find that the hand might have had one or two possibilities. A true Yarborough is a hand that cannot be helped by any card whatsoever; the odds against being dealt such a hand are millions to one.”

“Wonderful!” she exclaimed.


“Are you just gathering material for your sociology class?” I wondered. “Well, never mind. Here’s another potential blusher. A peepee card is a card that arrives to permit the bare-ass pair to be melded. A bendover card is any difficult to hit card, something like the card that gives you an inside straight flush in poker. Such a card picks up a poker term and can be called a gut shot (and is hit right in the gut). A lot of pan players are Jewish, and they use Yiddish terms, so a card that makes a hand healthy, that is, without which the hand isn’t worth a lot, can be called a gozinta card, since gezint, from the German gesund, means ‘healthy.’ And some clever person at the table always says, as he squeezes the card into place: ‘I caught a gozinta card: it goes inta here.’ More Yiddish, just to play a hand one cries ‘Play’ or ‘Spiel.’ And a tough player is known as a ‘steifspieler.’”

Our steaks arrived, along with fresh baby asparagus and boiled new potatoes with parsley. I poured us each another glass of the Pat Paulsen chardonnay. “If a player goes out on a pay,” I continued, “she is said to be out with a good one, that is, she has busted out. Going out suddenly and spectacularly is called a jolly popper, or a burster. At this point, the other pan addicts might remark, ‘Kill the mucker.’ You must understand that the muck is the place where all the discards go. Players must throw their discards in face up — no wonder they call pan ‘the backward game’ — and you can imagine that the muck becomes quite confused, with eight decks of cards flying all over the place. A dealer is needed to keep everything straight. The dealer is called the mucker.”

“Do go on,” she urged.

Potential money maker

“Hmm, okay,” I mused. “Looks like I’ll have to go into some of the details of pan as I enumerate the terms, though. To deliberately play your hand in such a way as to require a difficult hit is to go tough. If you must decide what to keep after getting hit, say either keep two kings (in which case any other king helps) or the ace-three of spades (in which case only the gut-shot deuce of spades makes the hand), to keep the two spades is to go tough. The reason to do so is to make more money by hitting for pay; the reason not to do so is there are not many good cards to hit. And you are liable to get knocked off (or busted off), forced to discard from your potential money-maker when you get another hit. In pan, when you draw a card that fits with the cards you have put down (on the board), or when the player to your left draws and does not use a card that fits with your hand, any other active player can force that card on you (and will certainly do so if it looks like you don’t want it, or if to do so will break up — bust you off a potential combination in your hand with more possibilities of going out).”

“Do you play this fascinating game?” she queried.

“Not often,” I replied. “But Aunt Sophie loves it, and she often asks my advice. Mind you, she doesn’t always follow it. Let’s see, some of the cards have names. For example, Molly Hogan is the queen of spades.”

“Where did that come from?” Sara asked.

“You got me,” I returned. “Although Lena Horne for the queen of clubs is a bit more understandable.”

Aunt Sophie’s stack continued growing as she caught a four of diamonds, arranged what had originally come down as aces, deuces, and threes into three ace-two-three ropes, capped one with the four, and collected three more chips from each player.

“That’s called a grand switch,” I explained. “It was originally worth one. One of the ropes is in spades; that’s worth two. The other two are worth one each. She had already collected one chip for the three threes, so she now gets the difference, four minus one.”

The very next pluck a four of diamonds arrived, and Sophie went out, collecting more chips from each player. The others disgustedly threw their cards in the muck. Aunt Sophie looked at me triumphantly. I knew she was proud of her grand switch.

“I was getting a bit ahead of myself,” I went on. “In pan some of the melds are worth chip payments from the other players. I already told you that threes, fives, and sevens are called valle (value) cards. Any three of these of different suits are worth one chip. Three of the same suit are worth two chips. Three spade valles are worth four chips, and are called a special or a bong. And when someone is lucky enough to be dealt a special, and put it down, or to hit one, you may hear him say, ‘Back up the wagon,’ or, ‘You’ve all seen this before.’ That means, in plain English, ‘I just hit a special; pay me.’ And when it’s time to get paid, an inveterate pangoofy might say, ‘Pay at this window.’”

“So many rules,” she remarked.

Bitter end

“Well,” I responded, “here are more. Three nonvalles of the same suit are worth one chip. Spades are always double, so three nonvalles in spades are worth two. Two ropes are also worth pay. Any ace-deuce-trey in the same suit is worth one chip, except spades are double, as is any jack-queen-king, with spades double again. Other legitimate melds may be played at any time that the player gets hit. You may have a handful of valid melds and never get to play them because you must first draw a card that forms a valid meld with something in your hand to get on the board. That is, you may never hit the board. Players draw cards one at a time face up from the deck. This is eight decks of cards, minus the ones that I told you about earlier, that lean against a block of wood, metal, or plastic called, appropriately enough, the block. Players may never put cards in their hands. You must place your drawn card face up on the table and add to it from your hand enough cards to form a legitimate meld. If you match up all your cards plus the draw card, you have gone out. This takes eleven cards. Players start with ten cards each and decide in turn whether they will play in the hand or not by saying ‘Play’ or ‘Come on’ or ‘Hit it’ or ‘Shoot, Luke, you’re faded’ or some such. Once making the decision they must play their hands out to the bitter end.”

“Must be frustrating,” she commented.

“Oh, yeah,” I stated. “Pan players often talk to themselves in frustration. Actually, though, they more often tell anyone who will listen their troubles. Well, moving right along. You get paid by each active player, that is, each player who elected to play the hand, each time you meld a condition, which in this case means a pay. (In pan, the word condition also refers to the size of the game, a number indicating the value of each chip. Five dollar condition pan is pan played with each chip worth five dollars. Pan is usually played in clubs for no less than twenty-five cent condition to as high as hundred dollar condition.) If you are lucky enough to go out (or pan the hand), that is, match up eleven cards before any other player, you get paid all over again for ever condition you melded, plus one chip (sometimes two) for the outs, that is, for going out.”

“I love it!” Sara exclaimed, commenting, I presumed, on the seeming complexity of the game.”

Mutual agreement

“Once a player has ten cards matched up,” I bore on, “and is just waiting for one more hit to put him out, he is said to be flat. Some players have an agreement that if they are both flat they will not have to pay the other when he goes out. This is called saving flats. If only two players declare for a hand, they might have another agreement to just split the antes rather than playing out the hand, perhaps because they don’t want to take up the other players’ time or because they just don’t wish to play against each other. This is called splitting. Speaking of agreements, some players wish to play for higher stakes than do the others in the game, and they make a mutual agreement to make all payoffs two-for-one. They are playing doubles. They might even play higher, triples, perhaps, or double doubles.”

“When you are waiting for a particular card, some other player may draw that card over your head, that is, to your right, where you can’t get at it. Another player may rope that card (use the card in his hand as part of a rope without collecting — getting any pay for it — just for the sake of keeping you from getting it). If he does, you might call him a roper or a cowboy. He may run the card through his hand — he may already have the card in his hand as part of a run, but elect to put down the rope around the drawn card, and then discard the same card from his hand, all to prevent your getting your mitts on the card. You now hope for the card to turn up again immediately, so you talk to the deck, as do all good pangoofies, crying, ‘Sleep double!’, or, ‘Come stuck!’”

“And Aunt Sophie does this every day?” she wondered.

“Almost,” I supplied. “She’s taken up poker lately, with apparent success. But most days you’ll find her in that two-dollar-condition game. Sometimes she plays as high as five-dollar. Well, I could tell you a lot more about this fascinating game that you could probably make into your master’s thesis, but that’s enough insanity for today.”

Next: 050 Aunt Sophie goes on tilt


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