Conventions / Partnership Agreements in the game of Spades

User avatar
Joe Andrews
Active Poster
Posts: 412
Joined: Wed Jan 14, 2004 10:48 pm
Contact:

Conventions / Partnership Agreements in the game of Spades

Post by Joe Andrews » Fri Jan 16, 2004 3:32 pm

This is quite a controversial subject. The world of Bridge has allowed the use of card signals and partnership understandings for many decades. Each Pair or Partnership is required to complete a "Convention Card" identifying their signals and systems. The passage of time has standardizied many of these conventions (e.g. "Stayman", "Blackwood", Standard leads, five card Majors, etc.)

Spades has blossomed since the advent of the Internet. There are very few "live" Spades tournaments. Thus, most of the Spades "action" occurs on line. Let us exclude from this discussion the Cheating methods which are blatant (use of the phone, headsets, two computers, etc.)

Some pairs have tried to apply Bridge "gadgets" to the game of Spades. Others have created their own private "language" or systems. Because there is no National Spades Organization or Official governing body of Spades which has jurisdiction over all venues of play, we have a "free for all". And since there are no Convention cards, "Alerts" or enforceable standards for the use of these "systems", it is difficult, indeed, to say that it is cheating. However, if it is not cheating, then what is it? Should one pair in a typical game be able to use a private system?

I now present Exhibit "A" - A real-life occurrence from a "live" Spades event in Atlanta, GA in 2002. It was the finals of a Cash Prize event. Although the Prize was not large, a Grand Prix qualifying berth was on the line. - And there were some pretty nice Trophies for the Winners!

THE "BIG 5" - Legal or Illegal?

Two Pairs sat down at the table. One Team was using no special systems other than their regular bidding and playing skills. The other team was using several sytems (Rusinow leads, Big 5 Bid, Nil Reverse signals. Suit preference signals, MUD, etc.) The "Big 5" bid is the focal point of this discussion. Basically, the Big 5 bid, which can be used only in 1st or 2nd bidding position, promises to partner - 4,5, or 6 expected tricks PLUS the Ace or King of Spades in the hand of the Big 5 bidder. It is intended to encourage partner to bid Nil, if he/she has a safe hand with a possible winning high trump (eg. the King, Queen or Jack) and no other potential winning trump, or plain suit winners.

Sometimes this info can be very useful - even if the partner of the Big 5 bidder is not looking for Nil. In any case, with the score tied at 354 in the game, the North player (of the Team using the system) picked this up:

NORTH

Spades - A 9 4 Hearts - A K J 8 Diamonds - K Q J 4 Clubs - 10 9

South was the dealer. West opened with a four bid. North had second call. With 4 pretty sure tricks, and good play for 5 tricks, North called 5. It was the Big 5 bid. If he did not hold the Ace or King of Spades, he could not (according to the requirments of the Big 5 bid) call "5". The next player, East, bid 2. South held this collection:

SOUTH

Spades - K 5 2 Hearts - Q 9 7 5 2 Diamonds - 7 3 2 Clubs - 5 3

Knowing that his partner had the Ace of Spades, thanks to the Big 5 Bid, South bid "Nil" in flash. West closed out the bidding with a call of four. Now, the N/S team was threatening to win the Match! West got his side off to a good start with the lead of the six of clubs. North rose with the ten spot, and East followed with the Jack as South dumped the five. East continued with the four of clubs, South played the three and West hopped up with the Ace, as North let go of the ninespot. Because North and South were playing a "high low" system to show a doubleton in a side suit, each knew that the other person held EXACTLY TWO CLUBS. West now shifted to a small diamond, and North inserted the King. East overtook with the diamond Ace, and immediately plunked the two of clubs on the table.
South flamboyantly trumped with the KING of Spades, as West's jaw dropped. -And North overruffed with the Ace of Spades, as East and West cried "foul". Actually, the words were much more profane. Then the accusation of cheating was made. While North and South tried to defend themselves by stating that they used "hi-lo" count signals in the side suits, and "The Big 5" Bid to promise the Ace or King of Spades in partner's hand, East and West continued to cry bloody murder.
I will admit that South's cut (with the King) on the third lift of clubs was a bit too extravagant, the argument raged for five minutes until I made the Ruling that the play stood. And since E/W had thrown their cards down on to the table, I also Ruled that Nil and 5 bids successful. Game over!

I ask you, what would you have done if you were the Director?

Should North have alerted the opponents that his "5" Bid was really the
"Big 5" bid, promising the Ace or King of trump?

Make your posts.












'

User avatar
Just_Ice
Grand Master
Posts: 2918
Joined: Mon May 19, 2003 8:51 am
Location: Ozarks

Post by Just_Ice » Fri Jan 16, 2004 4:01 pm

You made the right call because using cards to communicate is not expressly forbidden. There is no host that would DQ someone for a conversation they held with their partner, weeks or months previously, while playing bots or casually at the kitchen table, where one mentioned, "If I have the Ace or King of spades I will bid 5 to tell you..."

I certainly see no evidence of table talk. If I was the losing party I would have simply said "very nice game and strategy. You did what you had to to win. I'm going to use this big 5 thingy next time (and I would ask them how it works)." After that I might go pick up a book on Spades that teaches some of these things. You can't read a Spades book where it doesn't talk about "conventions."

I want to know what rule you can DQ them with? I'm afraid you must arrive at the conclusion you did. To cheat or play unethically, you must first break a rule. To me, this is what Spades is all about. What rule was broken? If they didn't tell you that they used a convention, what proof would you have that they used it?

I think to DQ for cheating you must be able to prove it. No committee, in their right mind, would make undetectible signaling with the cards cheating. It simply can't be proved. No doubt, some would get DQ'd for making a play where they weren't thinking or paying attention. I say leave the cheating to those who can't do their communicating with the cards.

Your tourney champs are fully exonerated.
Last edited by Just_Ice on Fri Jan 16, 2004 9:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
duffer36
Big Poster
Posts: 607
Joined: Thu Mar 06, 2003 9:16 am
Location: Napoleon, Ohio
Contact:

Post by duffer36 » Fri Jan 16, 2004 8:28 pm

I have just one question in regards to the situation. Were there any requirements in place to announce conventions prior to the match taking place?

If there were none, or if there were and they were correctly made, then I think you made the absolute correct choice in not disqualifying the team, and also the correct choice in declaring the bids good as the other team threw down their cards. that right there to me was the DUMBEST thing that took place at that table. They should have kept their cards to themselves until such time as a decision had been made. Then the decision of whether they wished to continue play, or forfeit the game, should have been made.

By throwing their cards down, they could have conceivably taken away any possibility of winning they may have had, albeit slim to none.

User avatar
omni_555
Grand Master
Posts: 2946
Joined: Mon Nov 25, 2002 11:32 pm
Location: South Carolina

Post by omni_555 » Sat Jan 17, 2004 1:49 am

The example Joe uses here is a PERFECT example of what we have been talking about for days now.

IMHO, there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with how N/S bid and played that hand! There is NO known rule against it, and I can see NO CONCEIVABLE REASON for implementing one in the future! They played a BRILLIANT game, and deserved the win!

Let's look at an ALTERNATIVE situation here. What if the score was 358 to 350 in favor of N/S, and the same cards were held with the EXCEPTION that North did NOT have the A, 9 and 4, but instead held the Q, J and T, and held the A, K of Clubs instead of the lowly T, 9? Bidding 4 could easily result in 2 bags, while bidding 6 could result in a set if the opponents were able to cut. A bid of 5 would falsely tempt his partner to bid nil and likely be set!

Now, I know that with two EXPERT players this would be unlikely to happen, and N would NOT make the 5-bid, but a less experienced player probably WOULD, to the detriment of his team.

There is as much skill involved in knowing how to use the card signals as there is in ANY other part of the game. A team should NOT have the right to cry foul just because they have been outplayed because of the fact that their opponents were GOOD at doing this.

Ad Duffy said, the E/W team's HUGE error was in throwing down their cards before the hand was over, but they probably thought that would make their position stronger when they made their protest. It was an all-or-nothing situation for them - if their charge of cheating was upheld, then they win the game, if NOT then they were going to lose anyway (so they felt). 8)
Playing games should be FUN - seek out your own level! Don't frustrate others unnecessarily. 8)

User avatar
1TOP MUSH
Active Poster
Posts: 428
Joined: Sat Nov 30, 2002 4:48 pm
Location: West Virginia/USA
Contact:

hmmm

Post by 1TOP MUSH » Sat Jan 17, 2004 2:28 am

I think that, before the first card was ever played in the tourney, the tourney directors should have made it clear to all players that conventions were legal during this tourney, thus alerting the teams so they could plan and play accordingly.

That would have made the whole mess much less likely to happen -- andwould have given the tourney directors a stronger position when and if players cried 'foul'.

And no, Omni and Just_Ice, this is NOT the same discussion we have been having in hearts. I despair of the two of you ever grasping the difference and I have given up trying.
Melinda/Mushy
MissMush@hotmail.com

Image

User avatar
Joe Andrews
Active Poster
Posts: 412
Joined: Wed Jan 14, 2004 10:48 pm
Contact:

Conventions - Update

Post by Joe Andrews » Sat Jan 17, 2004 3:36 pm

Hi! I have been reading the reply to the original post. I like Melinda's suggestion. Allow any Conventions, or card signalling systems to be used by any player or Team. There is no other workable solution. An "Alert" Protocol similar to that of Bridge cannot be enforced in the Internet arena. Although Spades is a hugely popular "on-line" game, "live" organized Tournaments are still very infrequent.

I would be willing to say that if a Pair want to develop a "rapport" with each other via the Convention route, that is probably OK. I still loathe the use of Card Counters, headphones, cell phones, etc.

Thanks for some very insightful and thoughtful commentary to my original post. And FYI, if any player throws his/her hand on to the table in a "live" game, that is a surrender or forfeit of that hand.

User avatar
American Beauty
Grand Master
Posts: 3163
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2002 5:57 pm

Post by American Beauty » Sun Jan 18, 2004 12:33 pm

So, was card signaling agreed upon and accepted before the game or not?

If the others did not forfeit the game, and if it was not agreed upon prior to the tournament, then in my opinion, the best ruling would have been in favor of W/E.

I have been giving this issue a lot of thought. What we are coming up against is cultural. This is called relativism. One culture believes something is right because it has been done for generations, and another cries foul. (I remember relativism by thinking -- my relatives say it's ok)

In the situation that Joe shared with us, had the team not forfeited and lost that way, then their loss would have been based not on ignorance of how the game is played, but on ignorance of an elaborate form of signaling. Some say this is fair, I maintain that it is not.

Let us not confuse what the issue is. The issue is signaling. Is signaling acceptable? Some claim that signaling in acceptable as long as it is the cards that do the signaling. Some have rationalized that the natural flow of the game is a form of signaling itself. In the purest form, yes, it is. But this falls within the lines that govern the universe of the game.

Let's say in Partnership Hearts that if I play the Ace and King of Spades, this is a signal to my partner that I have the Queen. Not only is that a signal to my partner, but to everyone else as well, and now they can pull my Queen. If I play a low diamond early in the game, this is a signal to my partner that I hold the Jack. Of course, because who would be fool enough to play a low diamond when they do not know where the Jack is? This is a natural flow of the game, and are open and understood by all.

A shallow stream will naturally flow around a large rock, and if I am avoiding playing the suit of Spades, it is because i do not want to leave my Queen vulnerable, however this will cause me to play aggressively with my other suits... this is all within the natural flow of the game. It is not supernatural.

Now, in the example that Joe provided us with, the shallow stream did not flow around the large rock, but miraculously it defied logic and leaped right over the rock, behaving in a way that is not a natural flow, but a supernatural one. This created shock in some, and applause from others. The stream leaped right over the rock with a grin and with utmost confidence because it had shared secret information (faith) that it was safe to do so.

Now, in a world governed by these rules, it is no longer how you play the game, but who you play the game with.

As far as I'm concerned, might as well play with a marked cards. At least then then everyone will know.
Last edited by American Beauty on Sun Jan 18, 2004 12:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
1TOP MUSH
Active Poster
Posts: 428
Joined: Sat Nov 30, 2002 4:48 pm
Location: West Virginia/USA
Contact:

I love dat woman

Post by 1TOP MUSH » Sun Jan 18, 2004 12:39 pm

AB, you said it so well, and rock analogy was wonderful. I bow in the presence of greatness. And applaud every word.
Melinda/Mushy
MissMush@hotmail.com

Image

Fiery Jack
Active Poster
Posts: 187
Joined: Wed Dec 11, 2002 7:53 am

.

Post by Fiery Jack » Sun Jan 18, 2004 12:43 pm

Personally... I think adopting any "X always equals Y" strategy in Spades is as much of a handicap as it is an advantage.

If bidding 5 is a signal that you have certain cards... it follows that if you don't have those cards then you CANNOT bid 5. If you're SURE you'll get a total of 5 tricks due to other suits or a bunch of low spades.... who wants to bid 4? You deprive yourself of 10 pts each time and pick up a bag.

When you consider, too, that the "signal" only applies to certain spades.... your partner ain't gonna nil cuz you can cover their Qs if they're likely to have their nil set due to having high cards in one or more of the other 3 suits. Unable to nil.... your parner then has to GUESS if you have a genuine 5-hand... or if you overbid just to "tell" them you had the top spades. There's a good probability that the partner who CANNOT nil, despite the "signal"... will underbid by one to "cover" the possible overbid by the "signaller".

Even on those hands where the partner can nil..... if the "signal" 5-bid is, in fact, a hand worth only 4.... the successful nil is only gonna be worth 50pts if the "fake" 5-bid is set.

With regard to all that.... I think I prefer a more traditional "signal". Namely... when my P bids 5... he/she is telling me that his/her hand is worth 5. If I can nil.... GREAT.... if I can't.... at least I don't have to be GUESSING whether my P's bid is genuine or not... so I don't need to consider underbidding to cover a "fake" bid.

Overall... while the "signalling" strategy might pay off in some circumstances..... I'm convinced that my "regular" bidding strategy is the better of the two.

User avatar
1TOP MUSH
Active Poster
Posts: 428
Joined: Sat Nov 30, 2002 4:48 pm
Location: West Virginia/USA
Contact:

I wondered about that, too

Post by 1TOP MUSH » Sun Jan 18, 2004 1:42 pm

I wondered about that "5 bid" too. It's not often that I bid 5 in a no-pass game, but it happens several times a week. I may have the other 3 aces and a couple of kings and some good spades -- though not ace or king -- and there's no way I'm gonna not bid 5 just because my partner "might" mistakenly think I have ace or king of spades.

I'm with you, hun, I'd rather just bid my cards -- and let my pard bid his or hers -- and not worry about 'sending a message' other than that a 5 bid means I've likely got some pretty good cards!

I can't tell you, though, how many times I've had really strong spades -- enough to bid 5 on alone -- and my partner will nil....... and I may be sitting there with practically no cover in the other 3 suits.

Sigh. Why do I love the game so much?

Must be because Omni & Just_Ice are just so danged adorable and sweet!

LOL! (I DO amuse myself sometimes!)
Melinda/Mushy
MissMush@hotmail.com

Image

User avatar
omni_555
Grand Master
Posts: 2946
Joined: Mon Nov 25, 2002 11:32 pm
Location: South Carolina

Post by omni_555 » Sun Jan 18, 2004 3:15 pm

...AB, you said "As far as I'm concerned, might as well play with a marked cards. At least then then everyone will know" in reference to using card signals or conventions in the game. But there is ONE BIG DIFFERENCE between the two. As Fiery Jack alluded to in his post, card signalling is at BEST very tentative, not at all certain. Many times a player will be forced into a situaiton where the card signalling device will be detrimental to his playing of a hand.

As Mushy said about the "Big 5" convention, "I may have the other 3 aces and a couple of kings and some good spades -- though not ace or king." I have pointed out MANY OTHER situations where using pre-arranged card signals can be even MORE devastating to the team using them!

I would like to interject here a point about MY personal playing. I currently have over 2000 games logged at HW Spades. Of those, I have used pre-arranged card signalling in MAYBE three or four of them!!! My most common method of play is, as Mushy and some others have said, to use knowledge that I have gained from playing with a partner, or else take a chance that my partner KNOWS some of the more common card conventions.

Why then, you might ask, am I being so vocal in my defense of a system that I rarely ever use??? The answer to that is simple. Even tho it is NOT a significant part of my card-playing strategy, I DO see it as a legal strategy, and therefore I do not object to anyone using it in a game against me - in fact, I would ENCOURAGE it in many cases BECAUSE of some of the points that have been brought out here!!!

There have been at LEAST a dozen games that I have won almost totally because the opponents WERE using card signalling, and it got them cornered into situations where they either could not make the best bids/plays possible, or else provided information to their partner that was SO misleading that they ended up getting set, bagging, etc.

There is JUST AS MUCH skill involved in being able to successfully use card signalling in your play as there is in using ANY OTHER strategy. While card signalling may give a team the advantage at some point in the game, OTHER strategies can work even BETTER for the opponents, especially if the opponents are skilled in using THEIR strategies!

I find the whole concept of thinking that the use of card signalling is cheating to be very disturbing. One might make similar arguments for ANY OTHER strategy that gives one team an advantage over their opponents.

AB's referenct to "marked cards" tosses a red herring into the discussion. If, for example, the Spade Q is "marked" so that it can be identified, then there is NO CHANCE that if a player sees that marked card that he will doubt that it IS the Spade Q. If his partner says "I have the Spade Q in my hand" there is no doubt about where it is. If the partner tugs his left ear twice in a pre-arranged signal to let his partner know that he has the Spade Q, AGAIN there is NO DOUBT about where that card is. BUT if I say that I will play a low Diamond if I hold the Spade Q, and circumstances make that play to be detrimental to the REST of the hand for me, then I am in a quandry. Do I make a play that gives my partner false information, or do I make the play ANYWAY and suffer the consequences?... In this case, playing the low Diamond indicates the POSSIBILITY of holding the Spade Q, but it is NOT a CERTAINTY, unlike the OTHER examples I just described!!!

And Mushy, you answered your OWN question "Sigh. Why do I love the game so much?" It "Must be because Omni & Just_Ice are just so danged adorable and sweet!" You are SOOOO perceptive!!! (BTW, WE think YOU are adorable and sweet TOO, don't we, Just_Ice?!!!) 8)
Playing games should be FUN - seek out your own level! Don't frustrate others unnecessarily. 8)

User avatar
duffer36
Big Poster
Posts: 607
Joined: Thu Mar 06, 2003 9:16 am
Location: Napoleon, Ohio
Contact:

Post by duffer36 » Sun Jan 18, 2004 3:47 pm

omni_555 said:
There is JUST AS MUCH skill involved in being able to successfully use card signalling in your play as there is in using ANY OTHER strategy. While card signalling may give a team the advantage at some point in the game, OTHER strategies can work even BETTER for the opponents, especially if the opponents are skilled in using THEIR strategies!
No, there isn't. If card signalling indicated wrong holdings as often as you and others say it does, it wouldn't be used. It would be too fallible. When you have a large set of specific meanings set between you and your partner, it is never as hard as simply trying to read the others cards. No amount of rhetoric spouted by you or anyone else will ever change that fact.

Why do you think card signalling was invented in the first place? TO MAKE BIDDING AND PLAYING EASIER!!!!! If it didn't make it easier, it simply would not be used. C'mon people, you do not have to be Mensa members to understand this!!

User avatar
omni_555
Grand Master
Posts: 2946
Joined: Mon Nov 25, 2002 11:32 pm
Location: South Carolina

Post by omni_555 » Sun Jan 18, 2004 3:55 pm

...YOU say "toe-MAY-toe", I say "toh-MAH-toe"... 8)
Playing games should be FUN - seek out your own level! Don't frustrate others unnecessarily. 8)

User avatar
duffer36
Big Poster
Posts: 607
Joined: Thu Mar 06, 2003 9:16 am
Location: Napoleon, Ohio
Contact:

Post by duffer36 » Sun Jan 18, 2004 3:57 pm

omni_555 said:
...YOU say "toe-MAY-toe", I say "toh-MAH-toe"...
Brilliant respons....................NOT!! :evil:

User avatar
Just_Ice
Grand Master
Posts: 2918
Joined: Mon May 19, 2003 8:51 am
Location: Ozarks

Post by Just_Ice » Sun Jan 18, 2004 10:34 pm

When I was a kid we challenged the neighborhood rough guys to a football game. It was a "street" football game, but it was played on the grass at the park. We showed up with memorized plays. We called audibles at the line of scrimmage. We used fairly complex blitz packages. The quarterback (me) knew where everyone was going to be and what they were going to do if they were covered. We had special teams plays. We planned and prepard for days in advance.

I can't tell you how many times I heard during the game, "hey, this is just a pick up game, I didn't know we could run plays and stuff!" from the other team. "You're cheating!" was the common cry.

We knew the game would be close and wanted to prepare so we would have the edge. No one made a rule that said we had to come UNPREPARED. We barely won and it was ONLY because of this preparation that we won.

Did we cheat?

Well, we had an unfair advantage. We had pre-arranged our plays in a setting where the other team did not CHOOSE to. They didn't KNOW we were going to do it and they felt we cheated because we did. There was no agreement one way or the other BEFORE the game.

I choose to play my spades prepared. If you come to play me and you are unprepared, you will probably lose. I want to give myself every advantage to win.

You know what? The next time we played, the other team came prepared and they kicked our butts.

What did this accomplish?

While we did not break any rules, we made the field of play and competeiton better. A new standard had been set. We improved each time we showed up, both teams. Our skills didn't increase as fast as our planning and preparing did, but the preparation made us much better. It made the games much more enjoyable and challenging.

AB said...

So, was card signaling agreed upon and accepted before the game or not?

If it was agreed that conventions WERE allowed, then there wouldn't be a question. If it was agreed that conventions WEREN'T allowed, then it wouldn't be a question. The very reason this topic exists is because it is never discussed SPECIFICALLY as a topic before ANY spades game or tourney; there is NO rule governing this topic. It just simply is not there.

Omni, I really don't think the fact that "signaling is limiting" is a defense on whether it is right. If it is limiting then I have chosen that by virtue of choosing to signal. If it is cheating, then it is still cheating, even if limiting. Just as my football example, after our preparation we weren't allowed to move freely as we would if we didn't plan. But, it was what we chose to do. If we felt it wasn't a better method we wouldn't have done it.

Mush said...

...Omni & Just_Ice are just so danged adorable and sweet!

Oh.. No, wait.. that's not it.. it's this one... (hehehe)

I'm with you, hun, I'd rather just bid my cards -- and let my pard bid his or hers -- and not worry about 'sending a message' other than that a 5 bid means I've likely got some pretty good cards!

I can't tell you, though, how many times I've had really strong spades -- enough to bid 5 on alone -- and my partner will nil....... and I may be sitting there with practically no cover in the other 3 suits.


This statement is precisely why I see it as legal. When you are a beginner, you understand that there are things you don't know. So, you learn. If you get beat by better players who PLAN their moves, then you accept it. You endeavor to learn those better moves as well. Those moves are available to you to learn and use. If you choose not to, well then...

That was your choice.

If me and my partner choose to get together a week before the tourney and discuss strategy, we do it because we choose to. It's not cheating or a foul, it's simply a choice to attempt to gain an advantage (albeit with risk) by engaging in planning that is not stated as being illegal in the rules.

Post Reply