The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Pandánte

Courtesy of a Mr. A____ R____ I heard good things about Pandánte. The fact that Sirlin’s new card game makes a good cash game caught my attention, so I picked up a copy. Initial testing (with the Taoling) indicates that the gentleman’s opinion was not mistaken.

The rules aren’t difficult. This really is Texas Hold’Em mixed with Coup, and a bit of “Dragon Poker” special effects. As always, small changes have organic consequences.
There are three rounds of betting with fixed bet amounts. You either bet or fold. The first round of betting is post-flop, and you can’t fold until the turn (or river). The twist — your bet also declares your minimum hand type. You can never lower your bet, so why bet high? The reason is that after the flop (and turn), players can drawing a card and then discard it or replace one of their original hole cards.
This is never bad, since at worst you’ve seen one card. But only the player(s) who claimed the best hand get this option (called “Snacks”) for free. The rest pay $2 for each level difference between their hand and the claimed best. (A pair is level 1, a straight flush is level 10). Two pair isn’t a level, so if you have that you can safely claim a pair (level 1), but maybe you want to claim a full house (level 4) to jack up the price for everyone who just claimed a pair. After all, if other players can replace their cards, they may get a Floosh (4 card flush — Level 5) or Flush. [The deck has 6 suits, flushes are rarer that normal poker, hence higher than full house].
But if you do this you may miss your Full House, Floosh, or whatever. Once you get past the river then each hand can use their hole cards special abilities (or any special abilities, by claiming to have them as hole cards) and then bet again (to raise their hand type).
At that point, If you have the highest hand players can challenge or not. If anyone challenges and you don’t have the hand you claimed; you fold. (And any challenge for high hand, or having cards in abilities, results in a direct side payment between challenged and challenger).
Let me quote an example hand posted by the Gentleman on a mailing list (this example assumes $1 ante).
So, let’s take a typical 4-player hand:
One player buy new cards ($2), everybody antes and bets first round ($12)
$2 goes in for draw-1-discard-1 option, one person folds, rest bets ($6)
$2 goes in for draw-1-discard-1 option, all bet ($6)
Orange/Green (Hand improvement) Abilities are called, a player successfully calls bluff (no pot effect).
Red Ability is used (all other players fold or add $5), 1 player folds, other player adds $5 to pot
Black (stealing) ability is used (no pot effect).
One player adds $2 to the pot to increase his final hand declaration.  He now is claiming the highest hand.
One player calls his bluff, and is correct, the player did not have the declared hand (no pot effect).
There is only one player remaining, he takes down the pot.

As the example implies if the highest hand gets challenged and was bluffing, then the next highest hand gets a shot. But only active (un-folded) players can call a bluff, so if everything else gets challenged away the lowest hand wins automatically, without having to reveal. Clever.

Now, the side bets. There are two types — if you claim an ability, everyone can challenge. If you were bluffing you pay each challenger $5 and can’t use your power. If you had the cards, you reveal the suit(s) of your card(s), challengers pay you $5, and you take the actions. For the full hand, if you are challenged and bluffing, you pay each challenger $5 and don’t reveal your hand. If you were telling the truth, each challenger pays you $5 per player that started the hand.
So a double bluff can take down a huge amount if you can convince everyone to challenge you. (In the extreme case, for a six player game, where everyone thinks you are bluffing, that’s $150 + the pot).
Just to make it more dangerous. If you win before the showdown (or during it, when you could have been challenged) and were bluffing you can grab a special ability (“Panda Lord”) to use in the next hand(s). So is that massive hand call out of nowhere a bluff to get the pot and a the panda lord (maybe risking a few extra $5 bets), or a sucker player to try to get a bunch of big payouts?
Combine all of this and you can imagine that while Hold ’em has bluffs and setup plays, Pandánte is filthy with them. For example, I can claim a Red/Black hand for abilities, and then claim a flush (which requires me to have say, Red/Red). Or I can claim a red/red ability, get called on it pay out $5 per challenger then claim a flush requiring Red/Red. If people challenge me on it and I have it, now they’d have to pay me $10-30 each (depending on how many players started the hand), and I’d only have to pay $5 a challenger if I’m bluffing. So did I actually have Red/Red and paid that off to set up the obvious challenge?
That’s just one example, the rules make Pandánte an action game:
  • Being forced to play at least to the river means that terrible hands can hit.
  • If you don’t win, you can keep your hand (unless you successfully stole money with a special ability). Since some suits protect you, others build pots, do you keep? But your opponents may have gotten a read on you. Changing hands isn’t free (except for the winner, which it is free and mandatory)
  • Snacks provide more information, and let you shape your hand. Sometimes you split a pair to go for a straight (or rainbow straight) or floosh. These decisions can be tricky.
And then there’s the joker.
Let’s face it, in poker the joker is a terrible idea. When I heard Pandánte had one, I was skeptical. But despite being an immensely powerful card, it has drawbacks. First and foremost, you can use the joker as any suit, which means you can use all the abilities. But if you reveal it, nobody has to pay a side bet for being wrong. And that applies during a showdown AND you only get half the pot. So if you flash the joker during the ability phase, everyone knows its a free challenge.
In what other poker game would you ever consider throwing away a joker mid-hand.
Even playing Heads up with the Taoling revealed interesting decisions every hand.
  • Folding early with nothing?
  • Do you split your hole card pair for a flush draw?
  • How high should I push my declared value to force others to pay more for snacks? Should I (after abilities) raise my bet to go first?
  • Sometimes you don’t want to have the highest (declared) hand, particularly if you didn’t make. And then you definitely don’t want to flash the joker, as everyone will challenge you and get paid out for your bluff.
  • Do I keep my (losing) hand or chuck it for a fee?
  • How do I string people into calling my (made) hand?
  • If I have a tie (for a floosh, say) what exact value do I declare for my hand? (Remember, hands are challenged in order).
  • When should I push a bluff hard to win a Panda Lord?

Remember, all bets (and side bets) are fixed, so you don’t bluff by throwing lots of money at it, you think (and act) correctly. This isn’t No Limit Hold’em “all in” bludgeon. Pandante is fought with rapiers.

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Written by taogaming

August 23, 2014 at 9:36 am

Posted in Poker, Reviews

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. All I’ve done is read the rules, but here’s my conceptual problem: the last hand to act on the river is in a fantastic spot. Just look at the example hand, say the last guy to declare high hand is on the button. It costs $2 to make the final high-hand declaration. If you do, you win the pot unless called. In this hand you’re betting $2 for the chance to win $29. With that payout for a bluff the other guy has to call your bluff absolutely relentlessly to keep you honest, like 95% of the time….

    Fred Bush

    August 23, 2014 at 12:57 pm

  2. My calculations suggest that you should stay in on the turn/river as the button if you can make a legit high called hand about 10% of the time. Which seems doable with just about any drek, especially if you can get free redraws. Of course, managing to be the only opponent vs someone who is bluffing most of the time can be even more lucrative.

    Or maybe I’m missing something.

    Fred Bush

    August 23, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    • Oh, position is fantastically important. That’s one thing it does share with Hold ’em.

      But every (non-folded) opponent can call any bluff. (I may not have been clear on that). Four handed, that means your bluff can cost you $15. (That’s countered by $60 if you weren’t bluffing and all opps call). So if you only held your actual hand %10 of the time, the negative expectation on side bets costs more than you gain on the pots. (I am excluding the panda lord, which is tough to value, but feels like a nice gravy).

      Also, last to act on the river is also last to act on the abilities (post-river). That can be great (particularly with the Luck skill, which lets you add or replace a 6th community card), but that also means that you have to respond to the bravery skill (post another $5 or fold) without knowing if your final lucky/playfullness (draw and discard) skills hit or miss.

      And finally, you may declare the high hand at the river, but there’s a redeclare after the abillties and if someone has declared a rainbow straight you have to go to four of a kind, flush (5 card), 5 of a kind or straight flush. These are often clearly impossible.

      When I lose to the TaoLing it’s because of a slow drip in calls to keep him honest. He routinely has the colors of his abilities (so much that I feel like I should just stop checking on him for a few hands), but when he does bluff, it’s a brazen lie.

      taogaming

      August 23, 2014 at 11:05 pm

  3. Hmm.

    How easy is it to make a rainbow straight? My sense of poker probability does not help.

    Fred Bush

    August 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    • Rainbow straights are not uncommon. Six suits, only 1-10 cards, and it’s difficult to drive people out so they can chase. If you’ve got an open ended 4 rainbow straight you’ve got 5 outs (2 on each end + the joker). If you’ve got an open ended rainbow straight and a duplicate card (so you can pick colors) you have 7. If you have an open ended rainbow with a joker you have 9 outs (3 on each side + 3 to replace your joker). Gutshots reduce this, obviously.

      With snacks and abilities you may have have 4 shots to hit it. I’ve seen the board flop rainbow connectors, and rainbow near connectors often. If that flops, it’s reasonable that someone hits it in a 5-6 player game. Heads up, maybe not. (Aidan and I have had several hands where we both declared rainbow on the flop. Thinking about it now, I may declare one under rainbow, pay for snacks, and upgrade when I hit or just hope he misses too).

      And none of that is considering what happens if a 6th card is added via luck.

      I’ve been tempted to write a program that does all the hand odds, but since that doesn’t include snacks (and abilities) I’m not sure how useful it would be.

      taogaming

      August 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      • I am pretty confident that if someone calls rainbow straight heads up on the flop your countermove is indeed to stick around with any old stuff and just call him on the end. With more than two players it’s more interesting.

        Fred Bush

        August 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm


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