Pan, Poker, or Mah Jongg – You Be the Judge

Pan, Poker, or Mah Jongg – You Be the Judge

Games have always played an integral part in our culture. They’re one of the oldest forms of human social interaction, a connection of sorts between the past, present and future.

Pan, Poker and Mah Jongg are the three that transcend all the rest because they are woven into the fabric of our lives. Some of what makes these three games so special are our memories of parents, grandparents, extended family and friends playing them in years past. And while our lives today are worlds apart from those who came before us, the motivations that lead our parents and grandparents to play Pan, Poker or Mah Jongg are exactly the same motivations that allow us to enjoy these very same games generations later.

Now while Pan, Poker and Mah Jongg certainly have many things in common, it cannot be assumed that if you’re a fan of one, you’re a fan of all three.

Case in point, I have many friends who play Maj and Pan regularly. I have other friends who play Maj and Poker regularly. Yet, while my father and uncle played both Poker and Pan, they clearly preferred their monthly all-male Poker game (sporting cigars, pretzels and dessert prepared by the host’s wife) to the every-so-often couples Pan game.

Come to think of it, does anyone play both Poker and Pan with equal vigor? It seems to me that you’re either a Poker or a Pan player — not both. However, while the love of Pan is not often shared by Poker players (and vice versa), the love of Maj is shared by both Poker and Pan players.

Are the skills required for Pan and Poker so different that most people lean to one game or the other depending on their skill set? Or are they so similar that one doesn’t need to play both in order to satisfy his or her gaming hunger? What about the skills required for Maj — where do they fit into the mix?

Memory, attention to detail, quick thinking, flexibility and psychology are all skills that are needed to be proficient in Mah Jongg; are these skills as important in Poker and Pan? Let’s see…

Memory: In Maj, there are numerous examples of how memory is a key element of this game. For instance, if you remember what tiles you passed in the Charleston, and to whom, it will help you play more defensively. In Poker, remembering how your opponents play and react to various situations gives you a strategic edge. In Pan, I can never remember what the wild card is during that round, which puts me at a serious disadvantage.

Attention to Detail: In Maj, there are so many situations where attention to detail can mean winning or losing a game. For instance, if you throw a tile and someone hesitates, it probably means that they can use that tile but can’t call it, or decided against calling it at that time. This small detail can determine how you play going forward. In Poker, if you pay attention to your opponents’ betting patterns, you certainly gain leverage. In Pan, I’m not convinced that attention to detail is that vital.

Quick Thinking and Flexibility are the keys to being a good Maj player – Most hands require a fair amount of skilled maneuvering in order put you in a position to win the game. I’m not so sure how essential those skills are in Poker or Pan, although I’m sure someone will give me some examples.

And finally, Psychology is crucial in poker; understanding your opponents’ thought processes gives you a considerable advantage, as does making sure you act in a way that makes it difficult for your opponents to read you. Hence, the importance of the proverbial poker face cannot be overstated. While psychology is a factor in Maj, luckily for me, a Poker face, or ‘Maj’ face, isn’t a prerequisite, because I find it very hard not to show my displeasure when my singles and pairs hand is foiled just before I’m set to call that tile for Maj!

Whatever your skill set and your game preference, there will always be the question: Pan, Poker, or Maj. You know my preference. What’s yours, and why? Also, I’m still waiting to meet the person who is passionate about all three! I welcome your comments.


  • Julie Griffin Posted August 8, 2016 8:04 am

    Love all 3!!

  • Judy Cohen Posted August 8, 2016 9:36 am

    I play all 3.

  • Karen twersky Posted August 8, 2016 9:40 am

    Next time we play mahjong ask Barbara about her poker and plan playing. She’s in a poker game with all men and frequently beats the pants off them (figuratively of course). She’s won her fair share at pan too and you and I have both given her many quarters along the way in our weekly game. She’s a 🌟

  • ilyce Posted August 8, 2016 3:53 pm

    Can you teach us Pan???

  • Marilyn Barris Posted August 9, 2016 11:02 am

    #1 there is no wild card in pan, but it is very important to be able to maneuver your cards in pan also if you want to be a good player.What about bridge the best game ever!! I also love Mah Jongg

  • Andra Posted August 12, 2016 11:04 am

    Poker is a game of psychology in my opinion. Is she bluffing? Does she only play premium hands? Does she always raise on button or always protect her blind? Memory is important, but more than memory math skills and the ability to calculate odds are also necessary. Determining what kind of a player you are also is key. Are you tight/aggressive, loose/aggressive, passive? When do you raise, re-raise, check or fold? Very interesting what you wrote about Tracey. I’ve never played Mah Jongg or Pan, but I love other card games and am very competitive. Not sure how poker compares.

  • Judy Scharf Posted August 15, 2016 9:13 pm

    I play Mah Jongg and Pan, although not in a regular pan game any more. Anyone interested in playing? And how about canasta? That’s my newest game, and I’m loving it. I played for an entire summer when I was thirteen, and then no more until a couple of years ago when I relearned it . I think all of these games require a certain amount of strategic thinking, skill, and memory, but more important, they are a fun way to socialize with friends. I love my games! And I love your blog, Tracey!

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