(Approximately 10% of polled players have participated in 42 tournaments)
BRIDGE VERSUS 42: The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) states: "A major tenet of active ethics (in Bridge) is the principle of full disclosure. This means that all information available to your partnership must be made available to your opponents." In contrast, 42 partners do not have to share information with their opponents. As such, tournament partners are sometimes creative (and unethical) in how they communicate with each other without their opponents being aware of the communications.
To safeguard against unfair practices in sanctioned 42 tournaments, the National 42 Players Association (N42PA) does not allow information-sharing between partners during the bidding process or play action on the board: "Players shall not provide any physical cues or verbal statements (talking across the table) to their partner." There is no rule, however, that says that tournament players cannot explain to their opponents any uncommon indicating systems used during competition.
Differences between the two games include the following:
In sanctioned 42 tournaments, there are no bidding conventions per se. Since "talking across the table" (verbal cues) is a no-no, players often resort to common, questionable, or unethical playing practices:
• Subtle body language, e.g., hovering over or touching an unplayed domino, pointing when pushing a domino, placement of dominos, left and right hand indications, clearing throat, rubbing nose, pulling an ear, pauses, and other intentional (and unethical) hidden-meaning gestures and sounds.
• Indicating doubles during play action on the board (common practices):
• Private bidding communications between partners that have specific meanings, e.g., a 30-bid to indicate the bidder has three or more doubles and can indicate at least one of them, a 33-bid meaning the bidder has the double-five, and other unethical schemes to indicate specific information to one's partner that the opponents might not be privy to. (Bidding 30 to indicate a generic helping hand is common practice.)
• Familiarity with playing styles between partners is a significant advantage because both players in a recurring partnership have observed each other's bidding and playing patterns over a period of time. This advantage is inherent in tournaments when players regularly play with the same partners. Full disclosure does not encompass familiarity of playing styles between partners; however, the assignment of random partners in each round minimizes these advantages.
Each of the above items has its downside or legitimate purpose, i.e., some are unfair and others may or may not be good playing form. For example, sluffing a domino whose high end indicates the double in that suit might be unwise. False indications can occur when a sluff is not an intended indicator. On the other hand, sluffing a double to indicate the next highest domino in that suit can be an effective indication since a player would not normally sluff a double unless he is holding the next highest domino in that suit.
Bidding 30 to indicate specific information to one's partner, e.g., number of doubles or a specific domino in the bidder's hand, is unethical unless all four players at the table are privy to that information. Same with other show-bids. Though difficult to enforce, most tournaments do not tolerate these practices.
The general rule in 42 tournaments regarding fair play is simple: No verbal communications or physical cues between partners that have anything to do with the hand being bid or played. Indicating and bidding signals, if prearranged and whose meanings are not known to the opposing team, are considered unfair. All players at the table should be able to interpret behavior without either team having an unfair advantage.
CLOSING: Social 42 players have some latitude in their playing styles provided all four players at the table are aware of the indications (or can readily deduce their meanings). In tournament play, however, the rules are not flexible. This is necessary to ensure a level playing field for all participating players.
Some 42 players have adopted rules that conform to Bridge rules regarding full disclosure, e.g., "In Tuscaloosa, indicator bids and plays are an important part of the game. We call them 'signal' bids and plays. But, to make it fair play, everyone, including your opposition, must know what indicator bidding and playing system you are using. As long as all players know, it is totally fair. It is not fair only if the opposition is not informed of your system."
No subterfuge is needed in applying the above example of full disclosure; however, it changes the traditional game of 42 such that existing rules would have to be amended to accommodate the practice. Most 42 players might not embrace this concept as an improvement in the game since it does not completely eliminate the inherent advantage of prearranged bidding and indicating signals. If this is the case, then it behooves the leadership in the 42 community to publish a code of ethics which effectively addresses improper player conduct in formal tournament settings.
Another method tried that can help level the playing field in tournaments is the random selection of partners in each round of the competition. It might not be popular with some players, but it would certainly limit the ability of regular partners to exercise uncommon and mutually understood indications. It also minimizes familiarity with playing styles between recurring partnerships. The logistics and methodology need refinement, but the process is doable.
Last, but not least, special thanks go to the tournament players who reviewed the draft of this document and offered noteworthy comments and constructive criticism. And, for the reader who wishes to add his/her two bits to this discussion on 42 tournaments, you are invited to participate in the following surveys and send your comments via e-mail. Pertinent representative comments will be posted anonymously in reverse order received, in the listing following the survey forms below.
Paul Proft, 8 June 2010
Revised document 23 Sep 2016: Bidding & Indicatng in 42 Tournaments
Added 4 Jul 2012: Some players believe that indicating doubles during play action on the board is cheating (because it has to be prearranged); however, many streetwise players recognize it as a common practice and use their knowledge to help defeat their opponents. Some even opt to use it when partnered with equally savvy players. (It can be learned via observation without any prior agreements.) Other players think indicating is bad form and is too risky to be reliable (false indications). Dennis Roberson makes a pretty good case about this in his commentary.
10 May 2012: Added Comment #33 (link to archived blog).
2 Apr 2012: Added fair play survey question (below)
24 Mar 2012: Added another difference between 42 and Bridge (above). The "dummy" hand in Bridge can be another consideration for minimizing creative bidding indications in 42 (reference). Also added strength bidding link to Comment #8. Eliminate partnerships (Comment #30)?
27 Feb 2012 addendum: The mechanics for doing it need to be worked out, but the novel idea of silent bidding (concealed written bids addressed in Comment #31 below) also has merit and can certainly be considered in attempts to minimize show-bidding and other prearranged indications used by some "creative" playing partners.
14 Mar 2021: The National 42 Players Association amended the N42PA rules on 27 Sep 2019 and defined "talking across the table" to include private agreements between partners away from the table (Rule #17).
Bidding in the 32-34 range to indicate the relative strength of a player's helping hand sometimes occurs when 30 has already been bid, and an opponent also has a helping hand that he wants to indicate to his partner. This is fairly common in some locations; however, some players believe it is show-bidding and disapprove of the practice. Others believe it is no different from a generic helping hand 30-bid as long as it doesn't indicate specific information.
C O M M E N T S