Bidding and Indicating Practices
(Observations by Webmaster)
First of all, up front, I do not compete in formal 42 tournaments. That said, I want to share some things I have learned from tournament players over the years regarding bidding practices in tournaments.
A dear friend and accomplished Bridge player once compared 42 to a party game. It's easy to learn and it's fun to play. Tournament 42, however, can be serious business because prestige and cash prizes are at stake, and advanced winning tactics come into play.
My original 42 instructions for social players were posted online in 1997. They included instructions for using the 30-bid to communicate specific characteristics about the bidder’s hand to his partner. This was a "cultural" signal bid that I had learned, and all the players in our group knew what it meant.
It wasn’t long before I began receiving feedback from site visitors who said that was cheating. I was surprised by the reaction because that’s the way our group played, and how could that be cheating if everybody at the table knew what the bid indicated?
Nevertheless, I rewrote the instructions to indicate the 30-bid might be interpreted that the bidder has a generic helping hand for his partner to make a higher bid. My instructions for indicating doubles during play were also challenged. Sluffing a domino whose high end indicated the player held the double in that suit was considered bad form by some.
Social players have a lot of leeway in how their group plays 42. They can agree on indications and variations, and all in their group know how they’re applied. The rub, however, comes when they partner up and play opponents in/from other locations who are not familiar with their "cultural" bidding conventions, e.g., at 42 tournaments.
Bidding signals between partners are issues that haven't been completely resolved in tournament circles. In that regard, there are three schools of thought:
• Indicating of any sort, bidding or play action, has no place in the game.
• Common, intuitive bidding and indicating styles are okay.
• Private bidding conventions are okay if there are no specific rules against them.
This discussion focuses on the third philosophy pertaining to bidding conventions.
The National 42 Players Association (N42PA), a 42 club, was formed in 2005. It established rules for tournaments it hosts. Its rules specify straight 42 (no variations) and address announcement of bids and acceptable player actions, e.g., placement of dominos, etc. (The latest rules are linked here.)
During the past eleven years and beyond, I have received feedback from players who are disenchanted with questionable bidding conventions used by some opponents in 42 tournaments. The biggest complaint seems to be that some players use private bids with predetermined meanings to communicate specific dominos in or characteristics about their hands to their partner.
In that regard, I added surveys and a document to my site in 2010 to address these anomalies in bidding practices. There was a lot of interest, and players suggested several ways to minimize "creative" bidding tactics between partners, e.g., full disclosure of bidding conventions, random partners, silent auction bids, specific bidding restrictions, each player for himself/herself (no partnerships), etc.
Some "cultural" bidding styles are perceived as unethical, but oftentimes the users of these bids can make a good case for their legitimacy. Some players believe that these are smart bids and, if they do not reveal specific information about the dominos in the bidder's hand, there's no breach, e.g., generic helping hand bids in seldom used bidding ranges like 32-34 and 37-39.
Advanced bidding tactics can be expected in tournaments, e.g., bidding 34 (30-bid already taken) to indicate a helping hand with the hope the bidder's partner will bid 35 (if not taken) or 36. For this reason, unsuspecting players need to be more observant and be wary of unfamiliar bidding conventions. Vigilant players recognize opposition bidding patterns, and they can learn from them to their own advantage.
Here's a graphic that represents my view of bidding practices in tournaments. Traditional bids are usually 30, 31, 35, 36, and 42 (one or more marks). Cultural bids are learned and accepted in local groups (no collusion), e.g., generic helping hand bids like 30, 32-34, and 37-39 that do not communicate specific information. Show bids are private bidding conventions that comunicate specific information, e.g., specific domino(s) and/or number of doubles in the bidder's hand (deemed unacceptable in the N42PA rules for tournaments it hosts).
Note: One can readily see how knowledge of the various cultural bids can be helpful in tournament competition.
Indicating doubles has been around for a long time. It is commonly accepted that sluffing a double might indicate the player is holding the next highest domino in that suit, and many players are familiar with straight/forward indicating (high end of a sluffed domino might indicate the player is holding the double in that suit).
There are other indicating methods that are not so apparent to some traditional players, e.g., reverse indicating and double reverse indicating. In these cases, a sluffed domino might indicate a double or doubles that are NOT in the player's hand. Another method is to use the low end of a sluffed domino to indicate the double held. More
These indication styles are culturally learned and mutually understood by those who use them. Unsuspecting traditional players should take notice of dominos sluffed by their opponents. Of course, a sluffed domino might not indicate anything, in which case a "false indication" could have unwanted consequences if the player's partner thinks it's an indicator.
In an online 42 social media survey, 41 participants (mostly tournament players) voted their opinions regarding this question: "Is it fair play for partners to agree privately before a 42 game begins which method they will use to indicate doubles (or lack of) during play action at the table?" 76% voted that it was not fair play, 15% voted it was fair play, and the remainder was undecided. Here is a survey open to all 42 players: Survey.
In a follow-on survey, members were asked how to level the playing field in regard to privately agreed indicating methods. Sixteen players voted. Half of them voted to do nothing. The other half voted for remedial options. (In polling at this site, the majority participants are voting for tournament rules to define acceptable indicating practices.)
Here's a graphic that represents my view of indicating tactics in sanctioned tournaments. Traditional indications are sluffing the double to indicate the next highest domino is held, and sluffing a domino whose high end indicates the double held. Other indicating methods in sanctioned tournaments have not been defined as acceptable. Pre-2005 guidelines and subsequent polling results reveal prearranged indications are unacceptable.
Richard Wall's booklet “How to Play Texas 42” stated the following concise guideline: "Signaling your partner by bids or in any other manner is against the rules." The use of private signals between partners was clearly a no-no back in 1955, before the internet and the N42PA.
In his 42 handbook, ′Killer′ 42 (© 2015), Ronald Adair defines signaling as "A practice by low life types of secretly transmitting information to their partners so as to gain an unfair advantage."
Some sanctioned tournament rules state that physical signals, bids meaning specific information, or cheating of any kind will not be tolerated. Without specific written rules, some players will rationalize that their questionable methods are fair play, and private understandings regarding their uses are okay.
Some traditional players, in order to become more competitive in sanctioned tournaments, need to learn these methods and be on the lookout for them during competition.
Paul Proft, e-mail