Spades Signals/Conventions

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dustin7609
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Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by dustin7609 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 10:44 am

I was just curious what conventions/signals people use in their regular partnerships. Have you discussed these things with your partner? Better yet, have you implemented any signals or system/s?

Make a list of what you have used or considered here and explain how you use them. I think it's an interesting subject for this game and one that hasn't been explored to the fullest extent yet. Has anyone experimented with a non-standard system or convention?

Also, how would you feel if it became a "standard rule" that you had to let your opponents know what signals/system you use? Should this be alerted, or remain secretive? Should organized tournaments have the partnerships fill out "convention cards" which lists the signals and conventions the partnership employs?

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by Galt » Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:11 pm

Hi Dustin.

I know that you have a big background in Bridge where convention cards are used.

I, though, have never understood the reason for them and certainly cannot imagine them being ustilized in Spades.

If you are smart enough to develop some secretive bidding/playing system that is superior to what your opps are using, more power to you.

I don't think that I have any right to know what the other team's third base coach's signals mean, and I also think that I have no right to know what your bids or plays mean to your partner as long as you are not engaging in any form non-bid or non-card related communication at the table.
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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by dustin7609 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:18 pm

Hey Galt, sorry I should have been clearer.

I know that there isn't much room for bidding conventions. Other than the "Big 5" and "N-1" (which I don't use or advocate btw), I can't see much room for bidding conventions in Spades. But I've been wrong many times before and right when I make that statement some upcoming pair will devise a devastating bidding system.

I'm referring more to carding signals such as attitude (high low or low high), count, suit preference, lead signals, etc. Just wondering if anyone uses anything here, and what they employ. I have some ideas on this that I'll share, but I'd like to see what people use first. I know these can make a significant difference and we haven't really scratched on it. Other than Tomlinson, no one has really explored it thoroughly. And while I think Tomlinson is a great theorist, his approach is a bit too Bridge focused in my opinion, and doesn't cater to the unique problems this game poses.

Interesting Baseball analogy. I can definitely appreciate your view on this, as I've thought about that. My own opinion is that any signaling or conventional methods should be alerted. Currently this is not a rule, and it's still the Wild West. It would be cool if Joe Andrews took the lead on this and required any agreed upon signaling or conventional method to be announced on a "Convention Card" before the Grand Prix begins. I'd be the first to support it.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by Galt » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:02 pm

Why are you in favor of it?

Further, where does it end? If my pard is Nil and in 2nd seat he plays the club 10 above what the opp led, what does that mean? In normal situations that likely means that it his only Club. If the score is tight, though, and there is a 12 bid on the table, he may be playing it to help me make my bid (both Jay and I have talked about making similar plays in that situation).

Should the opps be made aware of that approach even though it may be a lone 10 in both situations?

I know that situation is much less frequent than attitude signaling in every hand, but one does need to think about where the line would be drawn.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by dustin7609 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:13 pm

I'm in favor of it simply because I think a pair who utilizes a detailed signaling system has an unfair advantage. I've been using one for years, and I can tell you with certainty it gives us a very significant advantage.

The situation you described wouldn't fit under any sort of signaling as it's purely a strategical card play. It would fit under the category of a play like "2nd hand low" or "3rd hand high". Obviously there are situations you don't play 2nd hand low and you don't play 3rd hand high, and that has nothing to do with signaling.

It would be the same as at the end of the hand you hold:

North......Ax

West: xx...........East: Kx

............South
............Qx

When east leads small, South jumps with the Queen. Obviously this is not any kind of signal, and would not need to be alerted.

Also, just because you use a signal doesn't mean you must always use it either. You're allowed to falsecard still, and you only risk misleading your partner.

The types of alerts I'm talking about are regular signals your partnership uses in order to convey information about your hand.

I'm going to be doing a series of videos illustrating a fairly detailed carding scheme that is highly effective. And if a pair were using it against me, I would most certainly want it alerted (though the current rules do not force it). I think this area of Spades is highly undeveloped. A well oiled partnership with a detailed card signaling scheme is extremely difficult to beat very often.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by Galt » Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:20 am

I think that we will probably always disagree to some extent about this.

I would suggest, though, that the reason that you and your pards use the system that you do is becasue you are a superb card player, which lends itself to the interest in and deveopment of such systems.

It is your willingness to put in the work that gives you the advantage, not the system itself.

If you were playing against a less invested pair, your team would deserve to have an advantage at the table and I don't think that you should have to 'give it up" simply because you did the work to earn the edge.
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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by qetzal » Thu Sep 09, 2010 12:33 pm

Dustin,

I'm nowhere near your or Galt's card playing abilities, but I'll throw in my uninformed opinion anyway. :D

I don't see why signaling conventions constitute an unfair advantage. Especially not in tournament play, where the goal is to win (and determine which team is 'best').* To me, it seems like just another element of skill that any partnership is free to develop. Why minimize that skill aspect by forcing disclosure to the opps? Are private conventions any less fair than having 5 years experience playing with the same partner?

But I'm just a mediocre spades player, and I've never played bridge (where I understand convention cards are the norm). It wouldn't surprise me if there are good reasons that I'm just not seeing. Any further explanation you can offer would certainly be appreciated.


*Voluntary disclosure seems to make more sense in a friendly or pick-up game, where keeping things competitive and interesting matters more than winning. A bit like handicaps in golf, maybe.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by dustin7609 » Thu Sep 09, 2010 12:50 pm

Hey qetzal, it's a very good question. To be quite honest, there are very very few players that seem to employ many gadgets so maybe this discussion is moot. I hope to change this, and help advanced players see the benefit of devising a carding system.

And by no means is there a clear cut answer to this. I respect anyone who thinks systems should remain undisclosed. And Galt provides a very good reason with his baseball analogy. In fact, there are better reasons why they are disclosed in Bridge as opposed to Spades (which I won't get into here). It's likely really not that big of a deal that they aren't disclosed in Spades. However after thinking it over quite a bit I think I have good reason for them to be disclosed.

Then it finally occurred to me that by disclosing this information, the game actually becomes even more complex. In my own humble opinion, this complexity adds rather than detracts from the game. Spades has quite a bit of guesswork involved -- what I call "scrambling around". I don't think it needs to become a highly technical game since we already have Bridge for that, but there is certainly some room for more precision.

If both sides are using detailed carding schemes, and both sides are disclosing these methods to the opponents, now each player at the table has a LOT more information to aid his or her decision making process. Without this information, you have the excuse of making a wrong guess when you don't find the right line of play. The potential is there to literally picture all four hands with a pretty good degree of accuracy. And when you have the information at your disposal, it becomes your responsibility to use it in order to place cards and make an intelligent play. This, in my opinion, makes the game more challenging and more skill-based.

One of the most important things Fleishman contributed to Spades Theory is the concept of reading the opponents cards and how to accomplish this task. The funny thing is, a huge gap that never was addressed in detail by any author is the subject of reading our PARTNER's cards (it has been covered, but not in depthl)! Now by having BOTH skills at our disposal, it becomes important to picture all four hands. This, in my opinion, is the most difficult thing to do.

When playing a hand at the very highest levels of the game, this is what I envision an expert-level player's thinking process to look like before making an important lead:

First, the elementary questions:
1) What is the score?
2) What are the bids?
3) What is the skill level of my opponents?
4) What has been played so far?

Then, a second layer of questions:
1) Who is likely to hold what based on their bid and what they have already played?
2) What do my opponent's playing tendencies tell me?

Then finally, the highest layer:
1) What have my partner's signals told me?
2) What have the opponent's signals told me?
3) Does this change my initial plan?

Then deductions...
-- Since my LHO/RHO led this or played this, he CANT or MUST have this _____

etc

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by Galt » Thu Sep 09, 2010 5:36 pm

By the way, regarding your question about what techniques do you actually use.

I can tell you what I get the most postive feedback on from my readers.

That is using the high/low discard to identify 3rd round control of the suit (either void or the Queen).

I know that it is not the most sophisticated technique, but it does take it one step farther than the standard void signal. I think that for the average player here at HW, he or she would probably get about as much bang for the buck out of it as anything.
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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by bubblegum » Thu Sep 09, 2010 7:08 pm

I really only use the high/low technique, although I can see the advantages of employing more signals to convey information to your partner about what you are holding. Now, if you did employ other techniques, and they were shared with all players prior to the game, I imagine there will be some plays at least seldomly if not more often, that will deviate from what we have shared. I'm sure some players will complain when this occurs, accusing it was done on purpose to deceive the opponents. I don't see how this type of rule, if obligated to share your signals, can be enforced. There will always be partnerships that withhold information, or use certain signals to confuse the opponents. Maybe I'm missing something, or don't quite fully understand how this could enforced fairly, but I think this could just cause more problems then the amount of benefit it could potentially add.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by dustin7609 » Thu Sep 09, 2010 7:17 pm

What you're describing is a simple falsecard. While perfectly legal and it has the advantage of misleading the opponent/s, it also risks misleading your partner. Tread carefully with falsecards, as you can lose your partnership trust. And that is hard to gain back. Next time you make a certain "signal", partner might not be sure whether to trust if it's "true" or not. In other words, you better have a damn good reason for false carding -- and you better not do it very often. Sure, sometimes a falsecard turns out brilliant and the opps are completely misled. Of course, you've also lost some of your partnership trust. Hopefully it was was worth it. Caveat Emptor.


And if you regularly deviate from your signal agreements, then you are no longer using any sort of conventional system, as partner won't know when you are deviating and when you aren't. At that point it loses its effectiveness and you may as well have no signal scheme.

On the other hand, if you have agreements on when to deviate and when not to, this would also need to be disclosed. This will all be a lot more clear when I finish my videos, which should be pretty soon.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by KingZachary » Wed May 08, 2013 4:26 am

My two cents...for what they're worth...

First of all, I think it is the sign of any good partnership to have developed a system of card signals. I also do not believe it is the business of the opponents to be alerted to them. Letting your opponents know your methods destroys any advantage to be had by having such signalling methods. That said, I employ some or all of these methods (it really depends on the partner - sometimes if I have a random pard, I am not able to use any):

-high/low to signal doubleton
-if my partner has lead, attitude signal if i have to follow suit; if i'm void in the suit but my pard has winning trick, then i play a card from the suit i want led to me
-if opps have lead and i'm in 2nd position with no reason to trump, i'll signal which suit i want from my partner but discarding a card from that suit
-echo on nils
-In most cases, I use N-1 if bidding after my partner
-In most cases, I use N+1 if bidding nil cover or last bid and bidding one extra will take the table total to still less than 11

I know it was not the question, but I do not employ signalling card count. The reason for this is that I strongly believe it can be highly misleading. It really only tells my partner if I have an odd number of cards or an even number in that suit. It doesn't tell my partner HOW MANY I have in that suit or even if I want that suit led back or not. Furthermore, it gives no indication of strength in that particular suit. I think it is far more important to show your partner where your strength lies than have them guess if you have 2-4 cards or 3-5 in any given suit.

To go along with the N-1 convention, I almost always bid one less ace than I have. So let's say I get dealt this hand:

H: 5,10,A
C: 2,Q,K
D: 6,9,J,A
S: 8,10,Q

On such a hand, I would bid 3, counting one ace, king club, and either Qc/Q spade. If the bid is 11+, I would play as a set hand and lead away from my Ah, or in 2nd position play under any heart lead less than a Kh.

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Re: Spades Signals/Conventions

Post by dustin7609 » Tue May 28, 2013 2:32 pm

"Letting your opponents know your methods destroys any advantage to be had by having such signalling methods."

You'd be surprised how untrue this statement is, if it were true Bridge players would have stopped using signaling eons ago. However, normally the signal we give to partner is more important than the information given to the opponents, especially in a game w/ no dummy hand (Spades). The game actually gets more interesting/complex when carding methods are disclosed. It also makes the game more ethical imo.

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