Webmaster's note:  The following was contributed by David Roberts (right), a rising star in the Texas 42 community and former Board Member of the National 42 Players Association (N42PA).  He proposed making 42 the State Game of Texas and helped get HCR 84 through the Texas Legislature.  His opening comments were unexpected; however, they are greatly appreciated, and I am humbled by them.  David most graciously consented to my posting his thoughts and playing tips for sharing with other 42 players. Enjoy.
(The domino graphics were added by me. - PP, Feb 2008)

TexasTinCup's Comments on the Game of 42

I felt honored when Paul Proft asked me for my thoughts and experiences playing 42, but before I get to those, Iíd first like to thank him for the work heís done on what is "the" FAQ for 42. Iíve watched www.texas42.net grow over the past few years and am always amazed at the effort Paul has put forth into this FAQ. This is undoubtedly the best destination for anyone interested in 42 whether they are just learning the game or if theyíve been at it for fifty years.

Forty-two is much more than just another domino game, or card game for that matter. For most of its players, itís a connection to their ancestors. Paul delves into that history extensively in his website in a way thatís very insightful. Iíve spoken to him in the past about otherís views on 42, and he has always striven to present both sides of an argument dispassionately. The 42 community certainly owes him a debt of gratitude for his work.

My grandparents, RC and Josephine Harvey, taught me to play 42 when I was a child. Living next door to them, I was able to play often. Unfortunately, I never seemed to be able to find a game outside of family reunions. In 2002, I started searching the Internet for a place to play and found Paul Proftís FAQ page and Curtis Cameronís Win42 game. I was an instant addict, and that September I played in the Hallettsville Koloche Festival tourney for the first time.

Forty-two is not just a connection to family though, it has the rare mix of being easy to learn, but impossible to master. There are so many nuances to the game that I really believe a person can play a lifetime and still continue to be challenged. That has certainly been the case with me.

I always remember my Uncle Randy telling me to watch what people play. Thatís the best advice Iíd give anyone who wants to improve their play. Find the best players you can, and play at their table. Right now, the best players out there are found in tournaments so I go to as many as I can. A schedule of upcoming tournaments may be found at www.n42pa.com. The National 42 Players Association also holds quarterly invitational tournaments as well as a Tournament of Champions the first Saturday in December.

Tournament 42 is different than the game I was taught though. I was taught you could go Nel-O (doubles separate) and Iíve played all the other variations out there. Having played 42 for several years though, Iíd agree with most purists that those variations have no place in 42. Straight 42 requires that you work with a partner. Only one of the variations out there even involves a partner, plunge, and it only involves them as far as picking a trump suit. Iíll play them occasionally, but all they really do is dumb down 42 and make players lazy.

The majority of players that attend tournaments do so with the same partner year after year. At first glance, this seems to make sense as the more you play with one person, the better you will be able to predict their actions in different situations. Predictability does provide an advantage when playing a pair that may not have played together much. The problem becomes that the pairís skill is greater than the combination of the two individuals. Perhaps they may even have developed a set of private signals, or conventions, to further improve their "predictability."

Before I go any further, Iíd like to say that I never accuse players of cheating. What may appear to be cheating to some is probably just a higher skill level of play. It could have just been a calculated gamble, or even just blind luck. Either way, there is very little one can do to prove it even if it was cheating. Cheating definitions also vary from player to player based on their style of play and experience.

Some purists argue that ďindicatingĒ your double (by playing a domino of the same suit) is a form of cheating. Others say that bidding thirty to indicate a helping hand is also dishonest. These two practices are so prevalent in the game though, that I consider them a part of well-played 42. A study of other partnership games yields the same conclusion. I just bought a book entitled 25 Bridge Conventions You Should Know by Barbara Seagram and Marc Smith. Any serious bridge player would laugh to your face if you told them they were cheating by using these conventions.

The test I apply is whether I can sit across from an unknown player and can read what they are telling me, or their partner, by their bidding habits or by the dominoes they play. If I can do that, Iím being an observant player and should be rewarded for that ability through an advantage in the game. It should be noted that a player is not only communicating with their partner, but also with their opponents.

My issue is with arrangements made between players, which must be discussed privately prior to a match. After all, the partner you are explaining your system to might be an opponent down the line. I also have a problem with any communication happening by the physical way a domino is selected or played. If I notice this going on though, Iíll just attempt to use it against my opponents. For example, I think itís wrong to assign certain bids to specific dominoes, such as bidding 30 to indicate the 5-5. If I notice this happening though, I definitely wonít bring attention to it. Itís just as helpful for me to know where the 5-5 is, especially if the opponents are not aware I know. Perhaps their Grandparents taught them to play in that manner anyway, and who am I to suggest they change their twenty-year habit. I just make use of all the information I can and do my best to win.

Itís for the above reasons that I believe playing with multiple partners makes anyone a more skillful player. Having to adjust to different styles of play and use each one to your advantage teaches a player to watch for those styles in opponents. Playing with multiple players also helps deflect cheating accusations from others, although it never eliminates them.

After someone has a basic knowledge of 42, the most important thing they can do to improve their game is to be observant and apply logic to what they observe. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

Example I:

Iíve won the bid for 35 with the following hand:


My trumps are fours and I lead out . Left plays , partner , and Right plays .

Most players will automatically lead to hopefully pull their last two trumps. If you look at the situation logically though, that isnít the correct play.

1. I assume my partner would have given me the if she had it since it was worth 5 points and my was the high trump.

2. Since I obviously need my partners help to make this bid, I must find a way to get her in the lead.

3. There are three possibilities for the location of the and :
a. Left has both.
b. Partner has both.
c. They are split.

My lead in this situation is always to play the . If the person to my right has both, it's unlikely I will make 35 on that hand anyway. If they are split, it's logical to assume my partner has the and my left has , which means I will pull the last trumps and my partner will have the lead. If my partner had both, then the result is the same, but my partner still has a trump. This is a classic situation where a less experienced player may think Iím cheating, but in reality, Iím just playing the odds (66%) that the distribution will work in my favor.

Example II:

Iíve won the bid for 35 with the following hand:


On my lead, each player played a trump. I lead the , and Left plays , Partner plays , and Right plays .

Most players will be frustrated by the information this provides. My partner is telling me that I can get her in the lead by playing the , , or , none of which I have. If really think about it though, I know much more than that. Itís logical to show your partner the easiest way into your hand. That means most players will show their largest double first unless there is a compelling reason not to. Why play the to indicate the when the only domino your partner can lead to you is the when you can show the to show the . There are five other sixes in the deck. By playing the , she is telling me she has the , which is the next highest three after the double. I can also assume though, that my partner doesnít have the . If she did, I would have expected her to play the instead of the .

By dumping the , the player on my right appears to be ridding her hand of sixes and/or aces. By getting rid of a suit, she will be able to drop count on a six or ace lead if her partner has that double. Some players might lead trumps a third time in order to get another indicator from their partner or perhaps a count domino. That would be pointless though. My partner may have the , but if she didnít show it before the , she is not able to show it. The was dumped by my left opponent so even if my partner has the , she wonít be able to show it, unless she also has the . If that is the case, she may waste a double in an effort to show me what my best play is anyway.

For all these reasons, the correct play is the instead of a third trump. If my partner does have the and , then she can catch the trick with , and still have to lead for me.

Obviously, a team cannot sit down and work out a strategy for each possible situation, as they are endless. Logic and observation are the skills needed to improve 42 play, and using them will never be associated with cheating. They will also work with any partner, or against any opponent.

The ability to indicate a double is not some magical skill that will turn an average player into an excellent one. Itís just a part of a good players skill set that must be used differently depending on the situation at the time. Perhaps you expect the opponent to take the lead this trick; do you really want to show them you have the ? If your opponents have noticed you are indicating, not showing a five may mislead them into thinking their partner may have it. Forty-two isnít a game that can be mastered with a list of skills, good players need the observational skills and reasoning ability to play each hand to its fullest. Thatís the attraction 42 has to me.

Thanks once again to Paul for all his work on this site and for asking for my thoughts on the game.

David Roberts (texastincup)
Fredericksburg, Texas
February 28, 2008

David's 42 website

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