Wiesenberg (s053 pan): Sophie stops a balk

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 stops a balk

“Whaddya do,” asked my Aunt Sophie, “when a player acts like he needs a card, and then doesn’t use it?”

“I presume,” I temporized, catching the waitress’s eye, “that you are referring now to pan, and not one of the other many games at which you are attempting to become a multiple threat? Not, for example, poker, or pai gow?”

“Pai gow don’t use cards,” she retorted haughtily.

“My dear Aunt Sophie,” I offered, “I never know what you’re going to play next, or how. Was I correct in inferring, then, that you were describing pan?”

“Yes,” she sighed, as the waitress approached armed with coffee pot, “you were correct. Breakfast now you’re having, or what?”

“Well,” I pointed out, “it’s nine a.m. I just got here; you just joined me, asking questions. Even had I just left off playing poker all night, if I’m in the coffee shop of the Anaheim Club before eleven a.m., it’s likely I’m having breakfast. Would you care to join me?” I added, more charitably.

“Thank you, yes,” she responded.

“Okay, well why don’t you have what I’m having?” I offered. “The chicken liver omelet is particularly good here. Now what was that you were mumbling about players acting like they need cards, and then not using them?”


“Yesterday,” she began, “I had threes on the board, two spades, a heart, and a diamond. I also had kings. In my hand I had two fives of spades, and six of spades. The man on my left draws a three of spades, a wonderful card for me. Now I can throw the six from my hand, and the two fives still work with the threes on the board. A five of spades is a bustout, and a four of spades puts me flat. Of course, I’ll use a four of spades only if I draw it, not if the player on my left draws it. In fact, even if I draw it, I might not use it. I would likely want a four of spades only if I get knocked off the fives. But, anyway, it didn’t make no difference. The guy sets the three of spades he’s just drawn down in front of him, and starts two pull two cards out of his hand. So now I’m sorry he’s stopping my card, and I hit the deck. Actually, I just touch it, without actually plucking the card.”

The waitress was standing there, tapping her pencil on her teeth. “Excuse me,” I address her, “we’ll each have the chicken liver omelet. I’d like a large glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, rye toast, and lots of jam. Sophie?”

“Yes,” she put in, “orange juice for me, and wheat toast, I think. Anyway, where was I?”

“Well,” I replied, “you were just about to slide a card off the block when something happened. I believe I can see what’s coming, but I’ll let you tell it.”

“What happens,” she continued, “is now he slides those two cards back down into his hand, and throws that three of spades in the muck. ‘Just a minute,’ I shouted, ‘you gotta use that card.’ ‘I can’t,’ he says; ‘it comoques.’ ‘Well then, give it to me, mucker. I want that card.’ ‘Sorry,’ says the goniff on my left, ‘you already touched the deck. You have to have that card.’ I started to make a fuss, but the mucker says, ‘I’m afraid he’s right. You’re already committed to that card.’ So what’s that card? A king. Now I dump the six of spades from my hand.”

The waitress arrived with two steaming omelets, our toast, and orange juice. She refilled our coffee cups. “Go on,” I urged.

“So,” she went on, “his next pluck the pisher gets a jack of diamonds, and goes nine cards flat with jacks, sevens, and kings. The kings are spades, so he collects three. And, guess what? There’s no way he could use a three of spades. His discard was a six of diamonds, and I found out later he had another king in his hand and he’s ten cards flat. I don’t get another hit, and next card he draws puts him out.”

I dug into my breakfast. “Mm-hmm,” I said. “And did you learn a lesson?”

“Yah,” she bit off, “don’t play in a game with that alte cocker.”

“Aunt Sophie,” I chided, “such language from a cultured lady!”

“Yeah, yeah,” she snapped impatiently, “but I’m angry about what happened.”

No reason

“Of course you are,” I suggested, “and I can understand your never wanting to sit in a game with that person. But sometimes you won’t be able to choose your opponents. The game may be otherwise sociable and good, except for one bad apple. That’s no reason to quit. And, anyway, that’s not the lesson you’re supposed to have learned.”

“Oh, sure,” she supplied, “I know what it is. Slow down. Wait till the player has completed his action before I do something.”

“Right,” I agreed. “Now, mind you, you don’t have to do that with every player that sits on your left. Most players are quite honorable, and would never pull an angle like that guy did. He knew that the three of spades was going to cost him a minimum of three chips. He didn’t want you to have it, and he also wanted another shot at getting a card he could use. Most players in your games would never do anything like that, at least not deliberately. But even the honorable ones can make a mistake. Wait till the player finishes his or her action, particularly if the player has drawn a card that you could use. Wait till you see what happens with that card. It only takes a second or two to find out, and won’t hold up the game much. Not nearly as much, say, as not being prepared to make a decision on the card you draw, or not having discarded before the action gets back around to you.”

Next: 054 Aunt Sophie finds out the worst


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