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Subject: Strategy: Counting Cards rss

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Shannon Appelcline
United States
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One of the important things in Gang of Four is to always know how many cards each other player is holding in their hands. This can be be valuable for a number of different reasons.

Watching for the End of the Game
Counting: The Leading Player

The top reason to know the number of cards each player is holding is so that you can figure out when they might go out.

9 cards is the top danger level, because a player can potentially go out by playing a Gang of Four, followed by a Poker Hand. If no one has a better Gang, no other plays will be possible once these 9 cards start going down. However, you really only need to worry about this if a player has been implying a very powerful hand.

Practically, 5 cards is the first level that you really need to worry about. If you let a lead get back to a player with just 5 cards in his hand, it's possible that he'll go straight out when he leads.

You can benchmark your concern level to a lower number of cards (typically 2) if a player has highly implied that he doesn't have any Poker hands. These could always be held in reserve for a few final plays, but in all likelihood if a player passed on some low Poker Hands, he probably won't be able to go out with 5 cards.

If a player is starting to get down to the danger levels, then you need to take one of two tacts:

1. Try your best to gain the lead, even if it means throwing out a high card or set that you'd be planning on as part of your win-the-hand strategy. Otherwise, you're taking a big chance of getting stuck with those good cards in your hand.

2. Otherwise, try your best to dump as many cards as fast as you can. Sometimes this means playing cards that you'd hoped to save for later, and sometimes it means breaking up pairs or Poker Hands, just to get a couple of cards out of your hand (whether this is worthwhile or not ultimately depends on whether it drops you to one of the "10", "7", or "not highest" card levels, as described in the strategy article, Win, Place, and Show.

Guessing Future Plays
Counting: The Leading Player

Looking at a player's hand size can sometimes give you a bit of information about future plays. For example, if a player drops down to 10 cards there's some possibility that he has two Poker hands left. However, when he drops further to 9, his best bet is a Poker hand, a singleton, and a couple of pairs (or, much less likely, a Poker Hand, a three-of-a-kind, and two singletons).

By knowing which types of cards a player has left in the best-case scenario, you can choose to lead away from those, if desired.

Leading Away from Strengths
Counting: The Leading Player

Unless you're purposefully trying to end a hand early (see below), you want to generally avoid leading a hand size that could put a player out. Most generally: leading a Poker hand toward a leader with 5 cards or leading a pair toward a leader with 2 cards are usually bad ideas.

There are three very general exceptions to this rule:

1. If the leader has already implied he doesn't have that trick-size through other plays, it gets a bit safer.

2. If the lead drops you below one of the Win, Place, or Show levels (most typically, if playing a Poker hand will drop you below 7 cards), it's 100% worthwhile.

3. If the play could give you a potential hand-win, by leading toward your own strengths, it's often worth the chance if you don't have too many cards left.

Better than leading toward a leader's hand size is, usually, leading under his hand size, letting him drop below the desired hand size, then playing the larger trick-size (e.g., if an opponent has 5 cards left, if you lead a singleton, and he plays on it, he'll now have 4 cards left and that Poker-hand lead becomes entirely safe ... presuming you can hold onto the lead to do so, of course).

Counting Points at the End
Counting: The Losing Players

Most of this has been concentrated on watching out for the leader's cards remaining. However, it's also helpful to watch the losing players. If you're already at 7 cards or below and one or more opponents are either at 8 or more, or even better at 11 or more, cards, you stand to gain a lot of ground in the game if the round ends early.

In these situations you might want to purposefully lead toward a leader's strengths in the hope that he'll be able to go out before other players play addition cards from their hands. You might want to purposefully play a low card in the hope that the leader will be able to take the lead, or you might want to play a trick-size that goes directly toward the leader's strength.

It's entirely possible to win a game of Gang of Four without ever winning a trick, provided that more points keep going, on average, to the other players. Even aside from that optimal situation, making sure other players get points can help you rise up to a second or third place finish when much worse looked likely.

This article was originally published at the Gang of Four strategy site:
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