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.