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Subject: Conventions in Tichu and Bridge rss

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David desJardins
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Here is the definition of convention from the Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (not the latest version, but I doubt it has changed much):

CONVENTION A call that, by agreement, not inference, gives or requests information unrelated to the denomination named. .... In addition, a play by a defender that conveys a meaning by agreement rather than by inference is a convention.

Bridge players would generally say that if you pass your partner a low card there is a logical inference that you have a strong hand, because if you have a weak hand you know that strengthening your partner is probably more important than preserving the strength of your hand. On the other hand, if you agree specifically that passing a low card means that you have a certain number of high cards, that is a convention. And if you agree that passing an odd card means something about your hand, that is definitely a convention.

The history of bridge doesn't begin with this notion of conventions. The history of bridge begins with a set of rules and players who developed tendencies in response to them. The first bridge convention was the takeout double---people realized that a penalty double of a one-level opening bid is not a useful call, and so they started using it to say something else about their hand, a good hand but with shortness rather than length in the doubled suit. (I believe the takeout double even precedes contract bridge, and was used in auction bridge or whist.) This is on the border of being something that people can deduce from logic rather than explicit agreement; of course it is not a bright line. Yet as people adopted more and more of these sorts of partnership understandings, which to them were only logical, it became clear that there were advantages to having explicit partnership agreements and that players would do more and more of that if permitted to do so. And so, not without some resistance, organized contract bridge moved in the direction of allowing and regulating such agreements, rather than either barring them completely, or allowing them without limitation or disclosure. Bridge organizations do have the ability to ban all conventions and there are some bridge competitions where very few conventions are allowed (although a few, like the takeout double, are universal), while others allow a much greater range. So it's clear that there are a range of viable choices along the scale.

A game of unregulated conventions can be run if organizations prefer, yet essentially no major bridge organizations operate that way. Bridge players have found that allowing anything at all generally gives a large advantage to players who adopt unusual agreements simply for the reason of confusing their unprepared opposition. In bridge, it's easy to have agreements that work well if your opponents are unprepared but poorly if they are well-prepared. And so it is seen as not good for the game to allow people to play anything and therefore implicitly reward people who play the most unusual stuff for which their opponents are least prepared. It also turns out to narrow the appeal of the game, as people who don't want to do a lot of work to prepare for playing against unusual methods, or who are frustrated by playing in circumstances where they don't know what their bids mean, don't enjoy an unrestricted game. There has certainly always been a small but motivated contingent of players, usually young and energetic, who want to push the boundaries and play more unusual methods, and who often come into conflict with governing authorities because of that.

Card play conventions in bridge are probably a better analogy to most Tichu conventions. The possible complexity of card play conventions in bridge is less than that of bidding conventions, but still substantial. Most bridge players find that encoding information in the choice of a high or low card is more effective than systems like even-odd signaling, but the latter is not unheard of and is generally permitted with adequate disclosure.

The question of whether partnership agreements must be disclosed is almost nonexistent in bridge. Even people who want to play highly unusual and artificial bidding systems accept and agree with the idea that agreements must be disclosed. This may stem from the nature of bridge---it's impossible to have any coherent response when your opponent opens 1 Spade if you don't know if he has long spades or short spades. The game without disclosure would be highly random, would dramatically reward players who choose unfamiliar techniques, and could perhaps produce a spy-vs-spy metagame where players try to find out in advance what their top opponents will be playing. It seems pretty different from a basketball game where you can see the ball and know where it is going and that you want to stop it from going into the basket. Bridge without disclosure would be like playing basketball where the other side gets to put five colored balls in play and only they know which one counts.

I wouldn't be willing to play Tichu with opponents who have undisclosed agreements, but I don't think the game if played that way would necessarily be defective in the same way that bridge would be, because you don't really need to know what the opponents are doing in order to pursue your own strategy. I would rather say that it's just not to my tastes. Bridge doesn't have a long history of dialogue about the question of what should be disclosed (unlike the question of what agreements should be allowed in the first place) because the answer in that game is so obvious.
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Timothy Hunt
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Under that definition, (reverse)-Fuegi isn't a convention at all, as you do not convey (or request) any information to your partner when you pass cards to your opponents.

Fuegi is an agreement that aids in a specific task - reducing the occurrences of both players on one team giving a 4-of-a-kind bomb to one opponent. It's a sound strategic practice to do this, but it does not in any way convey any information about the strength of my hand to my partner, because I'm not passing those cards to my partner.

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Sean McCarthy
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I think it's fair to use a slightly different definition of convention for bridge than for tichu, since the bridge definition obviously doesn't care about things that can't happen in bridge.

The idea of a convention is to have an agreement about something. In the context of a partnership game, this probably means an agreement between partners to do things a certain way, in a way that benefits the partnership.
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Nate Straight

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GREAT information.

DaviddesJ wrote:
Here is the definition of convention from the Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (not the latest version, but I doubt it has changed much):

CONVENTION A call that, by agreement, not inference, gives or requests information unrelated to the denomination named. .... In addition, a play by a defender that conveys a meaning by agreement rather than by inference is a convention.
That's kind of what I figured.

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Bridge without disclosure would be like playing basketball where the other side gets to put five colored balls in play and only they know which one counts.
Nothing to add, except that that sounds like the best sport EVER.

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I wouldn't be willing to play Tichu with opponents who have undisclosed agreements, but I don't think the game if played that way would necessarily be defective in the same way that bridge would be, because you don't really need to know what the opponents are doing in order to pursue your own strategy. I would rather say that it's just not to my tastes. Bridge doesn't have a long history of dialogue about the question of what should be disclosed (unlike the question of what agreements should be allowed in the first place) because the answer in that game is so obvious.
Fascinating. I can't really [won't really] contribute anything to this thread, as I don't like the idea of conventions in the first place.

I think it's a very worthwhile discussion you've started, though.
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David desJardins
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Timotheous wrote:
Under that definition, (reverse)-Fuegi isn't a convention at all, as you do not convey (or request) any information to your partner when you pass cards to your opponents.
I would agree with Sean about this. There's not really any analog in bridge to the Tichu pass; there's no situation where what you do is going to improve or not improve your opponent's hand. So bridge players don't have rules for that kind of thing because it doesn't come up. I do think they would include this sort of thing in the definition of a convention if the possibility existed.
 
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Mark McEvoy
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DaviddesJ wrote:
The question of whether partnership agreements must be disclosed is almost nonexistent in bridge. Even people who want to play highly unusual and artificial bidding systems accept and agree with the idea that agreements must be disclosed. This may stem from the nature of bridge---it's impossible to have any coherent response when your opponent opens 1 Spade if you don't know if he has long spades or short spades. The game without disclosure would be highly random, would dramatically reward players who choose unfamiliar techniques, and could perhaps produce a spy-vs-spy metagame where players try to find out in advance what their top opponents will be playing.
But the major (and possibly relevant) difference is that, in Bridge, all of your signalling is public. Your opponents hear your calls every bit as much as your partner does; your opponents see what card you led every bit as much as your partner does. Disclosure of the conventions allows your opponents to make sense of the public information you've presented to them - what does a call of 3-clubs MEAN?


In Tichu, the card you pass to your partner is secret. Your opponents aren't misled by that card having a convention-driven purpose rather than a common-sense inference, because they don't even know what that card is. That, to me, is a substantial reason why "convention disclosure in Bridge is vital" to me, does not imply "convention disclosure in Tichu must therefore also be vital". Your opponents aren't being misled by the coded meaning of a card they never saw.
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David desJardins
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thatmarkguy wrote:
But the major (and possibly relevant) difference is that, in Bridge, all of your signalling is public. Your opponents hear your calls every bit as much as your partner does; your opponents see what card you led every bit as much as your partner does. Disclosure of the conventions allows your opponents to make sense of the public information you've presented to them - what does a call of 3-clubs MEAN?
This isn't a logical necessity. Some bridge theorists have proposed "encrypted" bidding systems, where, for example, my bid means one thing if I hold the ace of spades, but something different if I hold the king of spades. If my partner holds the other one of these two cards, he can know what my bid means, while the opponents don't.

As a practical matter, such systems have been banned by essentially all bridge organizations. Some people don't agree with that ruling, of course.

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That, to me, is a substantial reason why "convention disclosure in Bridge is vital" to me, does not imply "convention disclosure in Tichu must therefore also be vital". Your opponents aren't being misled by the coded meaning of a card they never saw.
Since I also made the point that the games are different, and the reasons for universal disclosure of conventions in bridge aren't necessarily good reasons to apply the same principle to Tichu, perhaps we are in some agreement here.

However, I find your analysis somewhat lacking in considering the kinds of inferences that bridge players make. Consider two auctions, one of which goes 1 Heart - 6 Hearts and the other goes 1 Heart - 4 No Trump - 5 Diamonds - 6 Hearts. Suppose you know that 4 No Trump in the second auction is an asking bid that is asking partner how many aces he has. Then bridge logic tells you that the players are not lacking two aces, or they would likely stop short of bidding 6 Hearts (which requires taking all but one trick). On the other hand, on the first auction the bidders are guessing to a greater extent, and it's possible that they have adequate strength but are missing two aces. This could make a big difference to you in deciding what opening lead to make.

Note that it's not particularly important that you know exactly what information the 5 Diamond response conveyed. What is important to you is that you know the opponents communicated with each other about how many aces they have. Rightly or wrongly, bridge players almost universally think this is the kind of information that you should be entitled to. It's not just about knowing the content of the signal, it's about even knowing that there was a signal.
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Curt Carpenter
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Nice writeup. +2 points for the basketball analogy. The only change I would suggest is that since no one is suggesting that only one team be allowed to have secret information, it's more like you have five balls, and two count, one chosen by each team. But it is inherently fair, unless one team simply chooses not to select a ball, because they find the game as played that way distasteful. (And assuming that one team doesn't know the other's selected ball, based on scouting reports, their tendency to select a certain ball, or whatever.) But I totally get and accept the point that some teams simply would not prefer to play the game this way.

Nate highlighted one portion of the bridge definition of convention: "by agreement, not inference". I think there's another part worth noting: "gives or requests information". Is a pre-agreed upon system of partnership play (including but not limited to the pass) still a convention, if the purpose is not to convey information, but rather to achieve specific goals desired by that particular partnership? For example, high/low passing to partners has been largely accepted by people if for no other reason than it is logical, but what about adding the simple clause that kings be considered "low" for the purpose of avoiding passing kings to each other? I don't really have an opinion, I'm just asking the question. I think it could be useful for a discussion on conventions as applied to Tichu to make this distinction between pre-agreed upon systems used to secretly convey information, and those used to simply result in play the partnership deems desirable, which may be different from commonly held wisdom you might get from a random partner.
 
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Sean McCarthy
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Like I said I don't see a good reason to restrict the definition of a convention to information passing just because in bridge it's possible to classify all convention-related moves as "information passing".

In bridge, any bid that can be the final bid isn't just information passing, it's also hoping to make sure you're in a reasonable contract. Sometimes, the fact that it passes a little information is tangential, just like the K-passing example.
 
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David desJardins
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curtc wrote:
Is a pre-agreed upon system of partnership play (including but not limited to the pass) still a convention, if the purpose is not to convey information, but rather to achieve specific goals desired by that particular partnership?
In general, bridge players would say that if you don't have or make use of information that your opponents don't have, then there is no disclosure requirement. For example, if your partner jumps to 6 Spades, and that's obviously the end of the bidding, then you don't need to tell the opponents anything more than, "He wants to play 6 Spades." You don't have to tell them what you know from your experience about what he's likely to have to want to play 6 Spades, because you don't have any way to use that information.

In the simultaneous Tichu pass with "even left" or "odd left", you're definitely making use of the information that you have about how your partner is likely to pass in order to make your own pass. There's no precise analogy to this in bridge, but it's clear to bridge players that there is a disclosure obligation because you have and are making use of information that your opponents otherwise wouldn't have.

Note that I may not have been clear about one thing: although the above is the definition of "convention" in bridge, you have to disclose partnership agreements even if they aren't conventions. For example, a weak 2 Spade opening is not a convention, it is a natural call suggesting spade length and a spade contract, but you still have to disclose what you know about your partner's likely hand type and strength for this call.
 
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Marshall Miller
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The only things that have ever come up in Tichu games I've played are that you usually pass odd numbered cards left and even right (this is usually mentioned in the rules explanation as it is a common strategy) and passing a dog to your partner means you have a good hand and want to maintain the lead. Usually passing high or low cards to your partner either depends on your cards in hand or you naturally gravitate to passing high or low to keep your hands equivalent.

Can you give some examples of some possible conventions and how they would benefit your partnership?
 
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David desJardins
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Mease19 wrote:
Can you give some examples of some possible conventions and how they would benefit your partnership?
SevenSpirits' partner passing convention
 
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Jeff Chunko
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There is a huge difference between using elements of the game to communicate information vs using things outside of the game. Any legal bridge style convention could be while playing online. Gestures, vocal inflection, or timing/hesitation are all very illegal.

Card play/bidding conventions are impossible to prevent. If you outlaw them, you'll just end up with people playing "expected habits" instead.
 
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David desJardins
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someotherguy wrote:
If players pre-arrange a set of codes to give information about their hands, it violates the inherent idea that, in a card game, your cards are yours to be known only.
Why don't bridge conventions violate that same idea?

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Imagine that you are playing poker for money and two or more of the players at the table are colluding against you and using codes -- touching a part of their clothing, using particular words in conversation -- to indicate what cards they hold. This is patently cheating, why should it be acceptable in another card game?
It's not legal in Tichu to use hand signals to tell your partner what you hold. No one thinks it should be.

It is legal for Tichu players to collude in ways that would not be legal in poker, because they are partners. I can make a deceptive play in a Tichu game that's designed to get you to misread my partner's hand. If I did the same thing in poker, betting in a way that's designed to help my partner win more money, that is cheating. It's a fundamental difference between the two games because in Tichu playing to help your partner is a normal, intended part of the game while in poker playing to collude with another player is cheating, whether or not you exchange information.
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DaviddesJ wrote:

Bridge players would generally say that if you pass your partner a low card there is a logical inference that you have a strong hand...
When did Bridge introduce the concept of passing cards?
 
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David desJardins
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byronczimmer wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:

Bridge players would generally say that if you pass your partner a low card there is a logical inference that you have a strong hand...
When did Bridge introduce the concept of passing cards?
I don't think that sentence is so confusing. It is about passing cards in Tichu. Lots of bridge players also play Tichu.

Do you really not understand what I mean?
 
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someotherguy wrote:
Telling your Tichu partner, before a game, that you will always pass odd cards to your left is no different than telling them that you will scratch your nose when you have a bomb, and will pass a green card when you have the dragon.
I think the first part is the most important - it only matters if its a secret. In most games I've played where this has come up, it really has either been announced or been mentioned in the rules explanation as a default strategy. I think that does make it a convention - not an unspoken rule but a spoken un-rule.
 
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Mease19 wrote:
Can you give some examples of some possible conventions and how they would benefit your partnership?
If I pass you a King, it means I have no Aces.

This is one of those intuitive things you could have inferred, without the need for an agreement beforehand, if you play with a steady partner.
 
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Chris Rudram
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If lead a different Ace from the one you passed me, you know I have at least one more ace left.

That's something I'll do, my opponent will know, but my partners won't, even if I tell them I'm doing it.

If I keep leading singles, I probably want you to play singles if I lose the lead.


Passing odd right does not communicate any information to my partner during that hand. It is something pre-arranged, and I'd expect any Tichu partnership at a convention to have it's own convention like that. Certainly we all play that way -normally- where I play regularly. However, sometime you don't want to pass an odd card (you might not have any, or not want to break up a straight or pair, or bomb). Perfectly valid to have it as a convention, and I can't imagine how you'd enforce it in Tichu if it wasn't :: "Ref, he always passes me a 3 and he always passes me a 2! They are cheating!"

To borrow a basketball metaphor, it's like complaining 90% of the Suns plays go through Steve Nash...
 
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Mark van der Werf
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This discussion is quite moot when it comes to tichu as you don't have signalling that is open to all players..
You only have the pass to opponents and the pass to your ally which are both disclosed. Telling your opponents of conventions about these passes is virtually irrelevant as by the time they find out what the pass was the hand is already played..

Knowledge of the opposing team's conventions only matters for deducing probabilities of what you receive a little bit. Many conventions even break down a little or become not effective at all if your opponent knows about it.
 
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David desJardins
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Markwerf wrote:
Telling your opponents of conventions about these passes is virtually irrelevant as by the time they find out what the pass was the hand is already played.
Some inferences from how my opponents likely passed to each other are pretty important to me. E.g., if one opponent shows up with dragon and phoenix, and the opponents have one ace, then it's almost always in that same hand. If not, there are some inferences I can draw.

Another example would be, some opponents have a convention about which color ace to pass to their partner if they do have two and pass one. That's information I can use too.
 
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Thanks for this post, David! I've found it as a would-be bridge player (my wife and I had our first lesson at a local club this weekend) who wants to understand how bridge and Tichu compare, especially from the point of view of being a "lifestyle" game to play with the same partner for years to come. Actually I just asked about this in a new thread, over here. If you have a moment, I'd be grateful your more general thoughts comparing the two games.
 
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