Wiesenberg (s085 pan): Sophie doesn’t switch

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 switch

“A rest,” Aunt Sophie said, “from all those thinking poker games I need.”

“And so,” I concluded her thought, “you’ve been playing pan.”

We were ensconced in a booth in the Anaheim Club’s coffee shop, nearing the end of a light dinner.

“Yah,” she admitted, “but in the interval maybe the game I’ve forgotten. Or maybe, God forbid, Alzheimer’s I’m getting.”

“That, my dear,” I laughed, “I doubt.”

“In any case, though, “she continued, “came up a hand I didn’t know how to play.”

The waitress reappeared with a tiramisu and Earl Grey tea for Aunt Sophie and mocha cheese cake, a triple latte, and the bill for me.

“So, elucidate,” I suggested.

“I was dealt,” she began, “this hand: three aces, two of clubs, two of hearts, two threes of diamonds, a three of spades, a three of clubs, and a four of spades. On my pluck comes the two of spades. I wanted to collect two, not just one for the three threes in my hand. So I put down with the two of spades I had drawn the ace and three of spades, and ask for a payment of two.”

“Okay so far,” I put in, “but I think I see what’s coming.”

“Yah,” she assented. “Now a problem I got. If I can get rid of that four of spades, I’m flat with aces, deuces, and treys. But I can’t pitch that four, because someone will force it back on me. So a deuce I pitch. A little later comes an ace, so the aces I put down, and I pitch the other deuce. Three bum threes I got left in the hand. A three of hearts comes, so I bust out for six. So it worked out okay. But a feeling I got I could’ve played the hand better.”

Taking a chance

“Indeed you could have,” I chided. “You were taking a real chance at the end, being able to go out only with a three, and then not just any three. If the three of diamonds comes, you can’t take it. If an ace or the five of spades comes, you have to dump one of your threes, and you still can go out in one hit only with a three, and now it’s down to two possible threes. If you had played the hand properly, you could have been flat, waiting to go out with nearly a third of the deck.”

“So what should I have done?” she queried. “Passed the deuce of spades?”

“No,” I replied, “of course not. That was the best card you could have got.”

“So aces, deuces, and treys right away I should have played,” she asked, “and just got paid one?”

“Nope,” I shot back.

“So, nu, enlighten,” she demanded, now apparently genuinely puzzled.

“Well, Aunt Sophie, “I offered. Maybe you really have been away from pan too long.”

“When the deuce of spades hits,” I remarked, “which, as we said, is definitely the best card for your hand, you can just play the hand as aces, deuces, and treys. You put down the other two deuces from your hand plus your threes, and ask for one. But what you want to do is collect the two chips the rope is worth, but not get stuck playing ace-deuce-trey-four of spades.”

“Yah,” Aunt Sophie murmured, “and how do I manage that?”

‘Pay in Jail’

“Easy,” I explained. “You can make a minor switch, sort of a small grand switch. Set the deuce of spades in front of you, put the ace and the three around it, and ask for a payment of two. Then, before discarding, add from your hand to your board your two remaining aces, the two deuces, and two of the remaining threes. You hold one three back in your hand so other players are less likely to suspect you are flat in one hit. So now you have turned what was one rope into three spreads of three like ranks each. That three-card spade rope existed for a moment only, just long enough for you to collect two. You are now permitted to toss that four of spades, for the obvious reason that it no longer plays on your board. At that point you have what is called ‘a pay in jail,’ and will never be able to collect again for it, because at this point the hand is worth one, and you will never be able to play any part of it as a rope.”

“Aha,” she smiled.

“If the other aces and threes were in suit with each other,” I went on, “you would have put down three ace-deuce-trey ropes, and maybe had no desire to dump the four of spades, because you would have been flat. However, putting down the four then, even though it put you flat, would be a terrible play. As three ropes like that, ace-deuce-three, ace-deuce-three, ace-deuce-three-four, it becomes a hard hand to hit. Only two fours and one five put you out. And that five is the spade, of which most pan decks contain only four.”

“Yes,” Aunt Sophie observed, “I See.”

Grand switch

“How much better, though,” I rhetorically questioned, “to make that coup that every pan player dreams about but doesn’t seem to know how to properly execute. I’m talking about a grand switch, when it’s possible to come down flat with the addition of the card in your hand. You do it similarly to what I described. You put down those three ace-deuce-trey ropes, making sure to keep the four of spades in your hand, and ask for a payment of four. Only then, after the other players have groaned and tossed you four chips, and, again, before discarding, do you make the grand switch to aces, deuces, and threes, at which point you are also flat, but with a lot easier to hit hand. Instead of 20 cards to put you out, there are 82.”

“Better than four times as easy,” she observed.


“Never mind, that, though, because you weren’t in that situation,” I mentioned. “It hardly ever comes up. In your situation, with aces, deuces, and threes on the board, and one more three in your hand, you are flat with lots of cards to put you out, instead of a hand that needs at least two hits to go out. As I said, that deuce of spades was definitely the best card you could have drawn; you just did the wrong thing with it, or, rather, didn’t follow through by switching to three melds. Once the ace-deuce-three of spades rope is on the board, you must leave those cards there, that is, on the board. However, they don’t have to remain on the board as a rope. To change them to something else forces you to put three melds down to make the board ‘good.’ And, remember, you must make the switch to three spreads before throwing away that four of spades.”

“That you don’t have to keep repeating,” she chided.

“Okay,” I assented. “What I just described is the only way to get paid the full two for the ace-deuce-three of spades rope. Now, if you go out with any card but the three of diamonds, all you get is three chips (one for the one the hand is worth because of the three threes, plus two for going out). Even if you hit the three of diamonds, that does not bust you out (because you already collected two for the hand when you went down). Hitting another three of diamonds with which to go out would be worth four (two for the two the hand is now worth, plus two for going out). If instead you had two threes of spades, three of hearts, three of diamonds, hitting a three of spades would be a bustout, worth eight (two when it hits — the hand is now worth four, but you have already collected two, so you get the difference — four for the four the hand is now worth, plus two for going out). Capisce?”

“If you mean ‘verstehst?’“ she snorted, “yah, I do.”

Next: 086 Aunt Sophie learns about game theory


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's make sure it's really you and not a bot. Please type digits (without spaces) that best match what you see. (Example: 71353)