Updated 10 Jan 2021

Extended Commentary on the Game of 42

When I learned to play 42 circa 1985, the playing group taught me that a 30-bid meant the bidder had three or more doubles and could indicate at least one by sluffing a domino whose high end indicated the suit of the double, highest double(s) first. Everyone in the group was privy to the indication. There were few available written rules for playing 42 in those days, and each group played the game they learned from other players.

Fast forward to the 1990s when the internet became available to 42 players. It allowed players to compare notes online and later to access old 42 documents as far back as the 1940s and 1950s. There were few online discussions regarding indicating practices. I posted the rules online (as I learned them) in 1997. Player feedbacks said the indicating methods I posted were cheating. (I found nothing online verifying indicating doubles via the 30-bid or sluffing was illegal.)

Feedback convinced me that bidding 30 to indicate specific information about the bidder's hand was not fair play. "Talking across the table," though undefined, was understood by many players. Other groups used the 30-bid to indicate the bidder held the double-five. This was my first exposure to contested indicating practices. I updated my rules accordingly. (I stayed with conventional sluffed domino indications since many players at that time knew them.)

So, here we are today. The National 42 Players Association (N42PA) was founded in 2005. It established written rules for playing straight 42 (no variations like Nello and Plunge). That was a significant advancement in the game for tournaments sanctioned by the N42PA, but it shouldn't have ended there. There were still indicating practices that needed addressing. Some of that was done circa 2016 when the N42PA rewrote the rules and made specific bidding signals illegal.

The only other issues left that needed addressing at that time were the multiple ways of indicating doubles (or lack of). The common practices were sluffing the double to indicate the next highest domino might be held by the sluffer, or the high end of a sluffed domino might indicate the suit of the double held by the sluffer. Other indications, e.g., the low end of a sluffed domino, required a private or culturally learned signaling agreement between partners to be effective.

The earliest "official" written rules I'm aware of are the rules by Richard Wall in 1955 (surfaced via the internet in 2011). It says that "signalling your partner by bids or in any other manner is against the rules and is not permitted." If the playing culture has changed since then, it is appropriate to address those changes in the modern day rules for sanctioned tournaments. All it takes is defining acceptable indicating practices. All others would be unacceptable.

Lastly, some traditional players are unaware of subtle indicating practices, and many players are silent on indicating issues. If traditional players prefer modern day strategies, that's their choice, and 42 will probably continue to follow its present course, i.e., crafty indicating tactics accepted as subsets to winning strategies. And, yes, 42 will still be a fun game for both traditional and modern players, with winners enjoying prestige and sometimes large cash prizes in formal competition.

Contrary to opinion by some that I am stirring the pot for my own amusement, I feel that these issues need to be addressed to move the game of 42 forward. If there is no consensus to "level the playing field," then "modern 42" will move forward as is. I seem to be one of few players who hold onto and actively defend traditional fair play values in the game, e.g., "Players shall not provide any physical cues or verbal statements (talking across the table) to their partner" (pre-2011 N42PA rules).

I'm just an old 42 player trying to preserve traditional values in a game "invented" in the 1880s, spread by word-of-mouth, with "official rules" printed in 1955, and further definition in the 2005-2010 N42PA rules. An excellent, long overdue definition of "talking across the table" is defined in the proposed rules posted in May 2019. The definition of "talking across the table" was officially approved by the N42PA on 27 Sep 2019 and is included in an update of the rules linked at the N42PA website.

I believe most winners in formal competition are observant, do not use unconventional signaling tactics, and have a keen sense of sniffing out opponents' unorthodox indicating strategies. For others who exploit undefined acceptable indicating methods (and place in competition), they have possibly prevented other teams who don't use unconventional tactics from advancing in formal tournaments. Those players surely change the landscape in competition leading to the winners circle.

I have tried to be thorough and objective in my research findings and comments regarding the history of fair play in the game of 42. If you find inaccuracies in this document (or linked documents), please do not hesitate to call them to my attention. If you prefer anonymity, you can use the anonymous feedback form; however, I will not be able to respond to you directly. Pertinent extracts from feedbacks will be posted below, anonymously unless instructed otherwise.

Paul Proft, e-mail


visitors since 1 Oct 2019