Webmaster's note: |
Ron Adair, retired engineer from Oklahoma, is author of the book 'Killer' 42. He is a traditional player who learned the game when 42 was a game of strategy, before advanced indicating tactics came into play. I identify with Ron because we come from the same generation, before unconventional indicating practices became open discussion items in cyberspace and social media.
Ron most gratiously accepted my invitation to write this commentary for Texas42.net. I am delighted, and I hope other players will join in helping keep traditional 42 alive and well.
Commentary By J. Ronald (Ron) Adair
I am recording this commentary to add my thoughts about the game of ‘42’ and how we got here and where we might be heading for the future. ‘42’ has been present in my life for over 70 years (I’m now 78). A number of years ago I published my book titled ‘Killer 42’ covering 42 play from beginner to advanced. It had a focus on improving one’s techniques to a ‘killer player’ level. It has been marketed on Amazon both in paperback and Kindle formats.
Before addressing current thoughts on the game, I am reproducing some excerpts from the book for background:
The title of this book is ‘Killer 42’. What does ‘Killer 42’ mean? It means the same as in any competitive sport or game, that is, attaining a playing skill that may make a participate a dominating force. This does not mean, however, that all of the techniques covered here will, or should, make you a cutthroat player. That would not be in the spirit of the game, as 42 was originally created for recreation among a group of family and friends. And, that is how the great majority of 42 games are played today. However, nothing is more fun than being in a foursome of very experienced 42 players and watching how the dominos fall by the use of great playing techniques.
So, in the context of the game’s ‘family and friends’ roots, being a killer 42 player means that although we play with a desire to win – even crush the opposition, we do so in a genteel way, with good natured friendliness, manners, and the ultimate goal of everyone having a great time!
I was first introduced to the game of “42” at the tender age of eight or so. This happened because the entire extended family on my mother’s side were “42” zealots. Every holiday the family gathered at one of our southern Oklahoma homesteads and after lunch, through dinner, and into the late evening hours, multiple card tables would be busy with quartets of moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and grandmother and grandfather. Would this scene make an impression upon an eight- year old? Of course - especially since, like normal kids, we wanted to be a part of all this activity!
But, alas, even though we children were taught the game, we were seldom allowed at the ‘grown-ups’ tables. This shows how seriously these old folks took their “42” playing!
Back then, I thought “42” was just another game of dominoes, played recreationally by all people in the known universe. Little did I know that it was not galactic-wide, but a rather localized phenomenon. And, it was not just a game of dominos, but bordered on a mental disorder!
When I say localized, I mean the game was created just a few miles south of my current home, and, at that time was mostly local to the Texas and Oklahoma areas.
Fortunately, “42” evangelizers over the years have migrated from this area to many points of the compass – taking their zeal of the game with them. Thus today, “42” is being discovered and enjoyed by young and old everywhere.
I started this project years ago at 42 years of age - which I thought was an appropriate age to write a book on ‘42’. Unfortunately, the demands of earning a living and raising 3 sons shelved the project until just lately. I attribute this restart to two things: finding myself without those financial obligations and with a little more free time, and moving to a new home in the Weatherford, Texas area. The second reason is significant as this small town west of Fort Worth has an important place in 42 history - and is a ‘hot-bed’ of ‘42’ practitioners (the next chapter will explain this significance).
So now that it is finished, I hope that if you desire to learn the game of 42, you find that it can help you to not just learn, but even become an accomplished player. If you’re already an experienced player, I hope that by explaining the ‘whys’ of why we play the way we do, this book can make you a ‘killer’ 42-player!
And, my Disclaimer!
Even though I have been playing 42 for most of my life, I have never played in a formal tournament, have never been world champion nor have the temperament or desire for this level of play. What I do is apply to the game what I have been doing most of my professional life; analyzing and problem solving. I like to explain the ‘whys’ of how things work, or ‘why’ we do something a certain way. You might say it is bringing the scientific method to everyday things. So, with that in mind, the goal of this book is to accomplish that very thing with the game of 42.
Back to the present
The game of ‘42’ can be thought of as one of those ‘perfectly’ designed games. What does that mean? Simply, that it is elegant in form, structure and execution. And you can examine a way to make it better, but, in my opinion, it’s not possible. I’m an addicted chess enthusiast and chess is probably one of the most perfectly created games. While it is unknown when it was created, it went through some early adjustments and by around the year 1500 CE or so, became standardized. Consequently, a modern player could play a player from the 1500’s and the rules would be the same. Why is this important? Because it makes the playing field even for all players that have played and are playing. This allows us to compare players and even enable the rating system to be consistent. Contrast this to many sports today – it wasn’t long ago that there wasn’t a 2-point conversion in the NFL. And, field goal and kick-off spotting were moved because kickers became better (soccer-style?). Other sports are going through the same thing. While we can compare a Kasparov to Capablanca in chess, it is getting hard to compare sports accomplishments by players in different eras because the rules have changed. One might say ‘who cares’, but people do want stability in many things including the games they watch and play.
Back to ‘42’. Those Garner teens were either just lucky in creating this ‘perfect’ game, or were truly brilliant. I think it might have been a little of both. How does the previous paragraph apply? It becomes easy to get a little careless in modifying a basic game, so that what results has little in common with the basic roots. And, while improvements are always welcome in most things, the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is still true.
Today, there seems to be changes affecting our beloved game. The major changes seem to be in the area of ‘indicating’. ‘Indicating’ is the method whereby a partner communicates, through dominoes played, or to personal actions or words what they may have in their hand – thus helping their partner to make an advantageous play. True, informal indicating has been around since the game’s inception, but there have been trends in this area that, in my opinion, can take us from that model that chess has enjoyed whereby we have a consistent experience covering generations of players. This seems to be an area with proponents from each view, i.e. it is a proper use of technique or it is cheating.
So, what are the issues?
One of the difficulties is that 42 is a ‘partners’ game. While this is an integral part of the game design, it is also problematic in that it requires both partners to complement each other with their held dominos and how they play them. One can obviously see that knowing what is in one’s partner’s hand, and how they will play would be immensely advantageous to winning the game. Here is another issue - we generally play any game to win, as that is the feedback we receive on how we are doing. When the desire to win gets high, e.g. prize money, fame, or bragging rights then the beauty and joy of playing the game becomes secondary.
Killer 42 is based upon the notion of winning at 42 via strategy and analysis. Hence there are chapters on Strategy and Advanced Strategy. Although I briefly touch on indicating here is an excerpt on the section:
The last strategic tactic we will cover is what is called ‘indicating’. Indicating is the practice of communicating to your partner key dominos you may hold so that on his next lead he can lead out a domino that can work with your ‘indicated’ one. As you may recall, in the section on protocols, it is illegal or at least unethical to ‘signal’ your partner with body movements, code words, etc. However, it is accepted in recreational play that one can signal by what domino is played. Indicating of any type is not allowed in tournament play.
There is considerable controversy about indicating – what it is, how valuable it is, and whether it is legal to use and when.
I would rather use good analysis as outlined in this chapter to determine the domino to be played, instead of depending upon a faulty system to let a partner know what a player holds – a method that does not necessarily mean that the best team or players win the game.
If a couple have played together a lot, and practice indicating, then it can be assumed that they can win a lot of games (everything else being equal). If there are generally accepted techniques used for ‘indicating’ and players have used them for years then even a random draw of partners can still deliver this advantage.
At this point are we still playing 42 or are we becoming wizards at silent communication between two players?
My feelings are that the game should be played utilizing random chance and strategy. In my chapters on strategy, I show how reading what is played can tell you much about what is in each players hand. This is, in essence, indicating. However, it is entirely proper and is what makes playing strategy enjoyable. This is not the same as the current practices of indicating, taking a short cut, looking over your partner’s shoulder, so to speak. One can only imagine if Poker was played with partners, how advantageous this would be, especially with high poker pots.
So, is indicating cheating? It depends. If the goal is to hone one’s indicating skills and 42 is just the vehicle to do so, then no. If there are prizes for tournament winners and the tournament is for deciding a winning 42 team, them in my opinion, yes. That is why most tournament rules state that certain types of indicating is not allowed. If indicating wasn’t cheating, then there would be no reason to add this to the rules. One has to honestly admit that the desire for indicating is to obtain an advantage that the opposing team does not have. Any mental gymnastics to explain otherwise is just that.
However, I have learned through life that people will always do what they want to do, and, if the stakes are high enough, will exercise any advantage they can, whether legal or illegal.
Is there a solution acceptable by all? I really don’t know. Maybe there should be two classes of tournament play – the classic, strategy only one, and an ‘open’ or freeform class for those that only play with any advantage they can conjure up. That way all parties can be happy.
Personally, if I am matched with a partner in a game, I would get more enjoyment playing with someone who exercises great strategy than someone that wants us to get our indication signals synched so that we can crush our opponents. I would also not like to play against an opposing team, that by using indicating techniques, seeks to obtain an unfair advantage.
But, that’s just me.
visitors since 21 June 2019