Webmaster Proft's Thoughts on the Game of 42

My father was born in 1899 in a small town northeast of Austin, later lived in a rural area west of Temple, and finally moved to East Texas on the Gulf Coast, near the Louisiana border. There he met my mom, also a native Texan, and they had five sons, including me. I first learned about 42 as a child when I saw my parents play the game with my uncle and aunt at a family get-together.

I went away to a boarding school in Austin for six years during my teens. During the summers, while catering conventions held on campus, I observed delegates playing 42 in the dorm. More than twenty years later, I observed the game being played by rural residents west of Kerrville. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that I learned how to play 42. I learned the game at work, in San Antonio, playing during lunch breaks.

My soon-to-be daughter-in-law, a resident of New Mexico, also wanted to learn 42. I posted my first instructions (for her) at my web site in February 1997. She learned quickly, and we had a foursome to play whenever we got together. Over the next decade, others in cyberspace became interested in 42, and my web site grew from one 42 document to more than 50 documents.

I did not become aware that 42 is played differently in various parts of the state until "pure 42" players started sending me e-mail about my indicating instructions. Formal tournament players normally play by "straight 42" rules, and my instructions needed revision to conform. I made the necessary changes, and my instructions eventually gained general acceptance by the 42 commnunity.

Indicating and bidding signals between playing partners are still issues that haven't been completely resolved, even within tournament circles. There are three schools of thought:

      • Those who believe indicating of any sort has no place in the game.
      • Those who accept common, intuitive bidding and indicating styles.
      • Those who believe anything is fair if there is no specific rule against it.

My own feeling is that variations and specific bidding indications are okay if all four players in a social game agree, and all four players are privy to the indications used. I consider it unfair play if partners have a system of prearranged secret indications that their opponents are not aware of. How this can be policed at tournaments is a mystery to me, but ethical players trust their opponents to be fair and aboveboard in their playing behavior. Wary players quickly recognize questionable practices and use their observations to help defeat their unwitting and sometimes unscrupulous opponents.

Since I'm not a tournament player, I have concentrated on having fun and enjoying the fellowship of friends and family when the opportunity presents itself. I have no reason to suspect hanky-panky, nor do I take winning so seriously that I feel a need to resort to covert bidding and indicating practices. As Beerdaddy so eloquently said: "It's only 42. It ain't a religion."

So, for the newbie reading this, it's great to be creative in your game as you learn, but don't feel that you need to gain advantage over your opponents by using "shady" playing practices. You might prevail for awhile, but eventually your tactics are discovered, and your credibility and reputation as a 42 player become suspect.

Just my thoughts. Enjoy the game.

Paul Proft, webmaster
29 March 2008

13 July 2011 addendum:

During the last few years, I learned that player ethics is not always regarded as a welcomed topic of discussion in 42. Part of the mystique of the game is the creativity by some players to gain advantage in competition. It's indigenous to the game, but open discussion about it is sometimes considered inappropriate by the purists because it "teaches" questionable playing practices.

Personally, I think open discussions are beneficial and help beginners be on the lookout for unusual playing tactics used by some of the opponents they face in competition. An "educated" 42 player is wary of the competition's bidding and playing styles and can use his/her observations to his/her own advantage.

Experienced players usually are "street wise" when it comes to competing with resourceful competitors. By reading about some of the styles used by other players, e.g., Fair Play in Tournaments, beginners can also relate to the playing environment and become more effective in their own playing strategies (without necessarily applying the dubious techniques).

Again, just my thoughts.


23 May 2016 addendum (revised 23 Sep 2016):

Bidding & indicating practices in 42 tournaments.


14 February 2017 addendum (final thoughts on tournaments):

In the last few years, I've come to the realization that 42 is much like a game of poker, except partnerships are part of the game in 42. Poker is an individual game, no help from a partner. Skill, bluff, and chance determine the outcome of a poker hand.

In social games, traditional 42 players also rely on skill, bluff, and chance; however, it is done in the spirit of fun and fellowship among family and friends, and each player has a partner to help make the bid (or set the opponents).

In tournament 42, prestige and cash prizes motivate some partners to be creative in their playing tactics. Oftentimes, traditional players are unaware of what their opponents are doing right under their noses, e.g., application of private indicating and bidding agreements/understandings between their opponents.

Tournament rules regulating bidding and indicating practices leave a lot to individual interpretation. Without clear definition in the rules, some innovative tournament partners rationalize that their tactics are fair play. This works to their advantage when playing unsuspecting traditional players.

What can be done about this? Probably nothing if the majority of tournament players like it that way. It's 42, an intriguing game born in Texas that is open to subtle indicating and bidding practices in diversified playing cultures throughout the 42 community.


4 Dec 2017 addendum: Poker, Bridge, and 42.


1 Aug 2018: New replacement Proft commentary.


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(Includes Jim Cannon, my early-on 42 mentor)

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