All posts by Jeff Reed

Strength of Hand bidding and Culture of 42

Culture is the basis for the problems in tournament 42 and the grand discussion of 42 ethics (what is right vs what is wrong). Culture is defined as the manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. I suspect everyone understands culture and can give examples of cultural differences such as eating, sleeping, housing, sports, etc. Do these cultural differences make one way of doing something better or worse? Well it’s neither better or worse, its just different and that’s OK.

The cultural differences of 42 are subject to deep discrimination at the tournament level. Groups of people play the game generally the same way as everyone else, but culturally they have differences that they’ve grown up experiencing and are inherent to their interpretation of how the game is played. Does this make someone’s way of playing the game more right or wrong than someone else’s? Again, it’s simply different. Some cultural examples are single vs double stacking on a marks bid, opponents draw dominoes first then partner then dealer vs simply dealer last, winning by 2 vs first to 7, playing nello, splash, plunge, 7s vs straight. What I want to illustrate here is that groups of people playing 42 have established some means of playing 42 that have become standard to them. It’s just the way they play and its not right or wrong, its just different.

The core cultural difference and subsequently the most discriminated are bidding practices. Groups of people playing 42 will develop an understanding, observe patterns, and grow their skills around bidding that will become second nature to them. Hell, these folks will obviously talk to each other and discuss these patterns to garner a general understanding. This conversation will be different depending on the level of culture at the tables (intellectual achievement), but the group will no doubt generate an understanding.

So wow, a whole lot about culture and not a lot about Strength of Hand… let me get to that. As an engineer i’m always analyzing, problem solving, and figuring things out. After 15 years of playing 42 and a good 10 of them in a highly competitive environment, I would say I’ve come to have figured out a great deal when it comes to 42. What I’ve come to understand is that there are 14 dominoes to a team in 42 and that 14 dominoes are way better than 7. If you agree with that notion then the problem you’re trying to solve is how to make the best use of those 14 dominoes and not just your 7. To that end I’ve been developing the culture (in the groups I play with, we all play with a similar style and understanding) that there are two types of bids. There are bids you place with the intent of taking control and the bids you place with the intent of communicating to your partner… it’s all about 14 dominoes. Bids you want to take are obvious because they hinge on the break points and generally speaking they just make obvious sense (31, 35, 36, 42). All other bids are consequently bids you dont want, but you want to share some information with your partner because perhaps they want to take the bid.

A strength of hand bid is a bid you place to communicate the strength of support in your hand for your partner. It’s not a bid you want to play yourself per say, but you’ll obviously have to play it if forced so you consider that before you bid. Any bid I’ve not delineated as a bid you want to take is a SOH bid (30, 32-34, 37-41). These bids simply tell your partner the level of risk your team should take in working together with 14 dominoes to win the hand. Anyone that has experience playing 42 knows that getting into your partner’s hand is pretty much a game winner. SOH is how much of a help your hand can be to your partner.

For example, taking a 34 as the first bid is certainly odd right? Why not start smaller? First, you’ve pushed the opponent to higher levels already and eliminated any communications they might make via their bids (at least at levels below 34). Second, you’ve told your partner ive got a better helping hand than 32 or 33. NOTE, there is nothing specific about the help, its simply the degree of justification you personally have between the various bids. Your 34 SOH could be 4 doubles and a 6:4 while my 34 could be simply the 6:4 covered. And frankly, the variations from game to game, hand to hand, moment to moment are what make it compelling to use. No one knows what it really means except that its more than a lower number. So now a partner picks up on this idea (it was odd to start with) and sees they have 35-36 still available which is reasonable and accomplishable so they go for it. After all, the partner put the team on a limb to start with that 34.

The culture of players im involved in have taken this to a higher degree and often use 37-40 to indicate a SOH that’s worth a 2 marks bid. The strength is so good that the first bidder will put the team at a 5 count mark loss position by bidding 37-40 because they believe if the partner bids over them there is a small chance they could lose. Maybe this means the partner has all the count or a ton of doubles… Its a high SOH bid and you should go for all the marbles.

Obviously from this book of a rant I care a bit about the subject. I feel its important to note that I understand that many believe that this is a faux pas of 42 (SOH bidding) and goes against the “Spirit of 42.” There is a lot of support in other games for this style of play via Euchre, Bridge, and even Spades (via Nello). There is no specific information about dominoes being conveyed, however culturally patterns and understanding will develop over time. To unlearn what you have learned culturally is not only unnatural, but super difficult (can you renounce a team you’ve been a fan of all your life because now you’re somewhere else in the world where they hate your team?). Again, it’s these cultural differences that make tournament 42 so incredibly difficult. Teams are within the rules of straight 42 and honestly, these cultural differences are just what you have to accept when competing at a high level. The idea of the random draw tournaments is that you strip everyone of their cultural advantages… but also take away their interest in playing with the friends.

Strategic handoffs in 42 with indications

42 is a game of patterns. You’ll see common patterns regularly over the course of a game where you’ll instantly understand your situation… However have you ever played a hand and said to yourself, “I have no idea what’s going on right now?” That’s probably because the pattern is vastly different from the ones you’re used to seeing.

One of the most common patterns, especially for novice 42 players, is the 4-5 winners (2-3 offs). In this pattern the bidder places a bid to win the bid exactly without much, if any, help from their partner.

E.g. Tony has the 6:6, 6:5, 6:2, 3:3, 4:4, 2:1, 5:3 (Winners in BOLD) and bid 31. Tony’s partner is Gail and Gail has the 2:2, 0:0, 2:0, 5:4, 6:3, 2:3, 4:1.

Tony plays his dominoes in the order listed above pulling in the 6:4, 2:3, and 4:1. Tony is 6 points shy of his goal of 31 and now must toss an off, either the 2:1 or the 5:3. Without any help from his partner thus far (either with tossed count or indications), his best option is to stay out of trouble and toss the 2:1 since he knows the 2:3 is already taken. There is nothing wrong with any of this play, it’s very common, but what if you could increase your chances by adding a cultured lesson to your game?

42 veterans have learned over time to improve the decision making process when throwing an off. Veterans will use the process of indicating to help decide the off to throw. A domino is considered to be an indication domino when it is played at the first Void opportunity.

E.g. Tony plays his 6:6 and then his 6:5… Gail follows the 6:6 with her 6:3, but is Void on the 6:5 and has to decide what next to throw…

There are two methods of indicating, Straight and Reverse.

Straight indicating is when Gail throws an indication domino where the high end indicates a double her hand.

E.g. Gail has the 2:2 and the 0:0. To help Tony get into her hand, she is going to try to indicate that she has the 2:2 by playing her 2:0. The high end indicates the double in her hand.

However i’m sure you’ve already noticed that with he 2:1 in Tony’s hand and the 2:0 being played as an indication, Tony won’t be able to take advantage of this indication to get into Gail’s hand. This is where Reverse indicating is superior.

Reverse indicating is where both ends of the indication domino do not lead into a double.

E.g. Gail has the 2:2 and the 0:0. To help Tony make an educated decision about what off he throws, she indicates with her 5:4. As a reverse indication she is telling her partner don’t lead a 5 or a 4.

This all sounds great Jeff, but how do I know which way my partner is playing? Straight or Reverse? Culturally, straight is the most common format in the 42 communities, it has been learned and practiced by generations.  However, Reverse is growing rapidly in favor of Straight. If you’re environment is friendly enough, chat with your partner openly at the table before the game about indication methods. Otherwise, just be consistent with your own strategy and look out for the same in your partner. You’ll be able to tell quickly and use it to improve your game!

League Registration is Open!

Starting on February 9th, we”ll begin our next league season! Folks of all skill levels should feel encouraged to participate. Email with the your name, the name of your partner, and your team name. Looking for a partner? Let Jeff know; he’ll help you get matched up!

What does it mean to play in the league?

You are committing to 7-9 matches of 42 to be played out over 10 weeks. Each match is a marks game, first to 7. Winning a match means taking 2 out of 3 total games. The format is standard 42; there are no variants such as nello, splash, or plunge (etc).

What does it cost to play in the league?

There is no cost to play in the league. The winners will receive a set of custom puremco tournament dominoes.

Do I have to play my match at Billy’s every Monday night?

No, you’re free to play your weekly match whenever and wherever you like. However, it would be in the spirit of the league format to play together regularly on Monday nights at Billy’s.

Understanding various 42 player types

playing 42 at Crown

The national game of Texas has all sorts of player types. When you sit down at a table, you should quickly figure out what type of players you’re playing with and act accordingly.

Defensive players bid less frequently and when they do, they typically have a solid hand. Consider overbidding a defensive player’s bid as you might have a better shot at winning a poor hand then setting a great hand.

Aggressive players bid much more frequently on the average. They often have a solid understanding of the order in which dominoes should be played and the dominoes that will fall in each of those tricks before they declare their bid. Bluff bid aggressive players to get them to take a larger bid than is probably prudent. Additionally, push points whenever possible against an aggressive players bid. They are riding a fine line with their bid and even the slightest 5 count could upset the balance.