November 05, 2019

Horse 2618 - 500 Is The Best Card Game

I will confess that I do not and never have played sport for my fitness: I play to win. Fitness might very well be a useful by-product but it is never my intention. I am a firm believer in the adage "it is not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" because, "how you play the game" should always be to win; including if you are losing badly. If you have done your best and you are still beaten, then that is because you have been bested by someone better; not through lack of trying. If you are not playing to win, then go home.
Even so-called "non-competitive" games still have some kind of win conditions. People playing at theatre sports, or comedy, still have an objective in mind; so play to win at that.

The reason why most of us can play sport with the attitude to win, is that it mostly doesn't matter if you lose. Unless you are a gambler (which is an idiotic pastime unless you actually make a proper professional effort at it) or a professional sports/game player,  then the real world stakes are nil. Play to win because you can afford to lose nothing.
That's also why I like playing board games and card games and would jump at the opportunity to do so. If you have been punished by a Draw Four Wild, have been made bankrupt by landing on four houses at Leicester Street, or swept through Asia and destroyed 46 armies and will gain an extra 7 troops at the beginning of your next turn, then playing games is bigger and better than 'grown-up' games like love and life.

Every so-often, my boss and I go to the Bridge Club in Mosman to play Bridge. Some of our clients like going there and while I am a very good player, it is still not my favourite card game. Bridge is an all too serious card game, in which people tend to play slowly and carefully. I have no objection in principle to slow and careful games (because I like Test Cricket) but Bridge is just a little bit dour. For that reason, I much prefer 500 which favours bravado, pig-headedness and sheer utter gall. Bridge is an expression of skill and poise but 500, which even has 6-player cut throat as a variant, is the purest expression of that adage. If you are not playing to win, then go home.
Although 500 shares elements with Euchre and the copyright for the rules was held with the United States Playing Card Company from 1904, it somehow became Australia’s National Card Game. I think that we are the only country which also introduced 11, 12 and 13 cards; for I have certainly never seen them overseas and people whom I have played the game with are confused the first time they see them.

500 is most glorious when if you are playing with partners, someone is carrying someone else. A terrible player who knows just enough, is the most unpredictable of all. If you have a partner who through happens to live in that grey valley of skill and ineptitude and makes you wonder what they are doing, 500 is even more of a mind-screw than Bridge. As someone who likes playing to win, and playing to win is made all the more difficult by playing with a partner who might not necessarily be the most skilled, that provides a unique challenge of its own.
500 is the most brutal of the whist type card games because it can swing so suddenly. Not only that, there can be a sense of mental pugilism and blood lust in the bidding auction before a hand. How can you force someone into going 8 tricks that they can not make, or Open Misere when they should not? Will you be shipwrecked because of your own bravado?

Due to the nature of the bidding auction before a hand, it is entirely possible to win a rubber in just one hand; likewise it is also entirely possible to completely self destruct and lose a rubber in just one hand. Most bids for 6 and 7 trick hands are the bread and butter of the game; so I find that even if you have a hand full of nominal trash, you can generally get to 6 or 7, just by taking the initiative of being able to declare what trumps are.
On that note, 500 inherited the notions of the Left and Right Bower from Euchre. The name 'Bower' is derived from the German word 'Bauer' for 'farmer'; and I think that the idea that a Jack should be higher in rank than the Ace or King patently absurd but it is what it is. I do however love the fact that the Joker came from a game called Juckerspiel, which has been documented as existing in the 1840s but nobody knows what the rules were. I bet that it informed the development of 500 over the next 60 years.

I have found by playing 500 online, that I can force people off of their calls by going straight to a 7 call. Do not dance around the subject; bang! Go straight for the kill. I will temper this by saying that I also like to make all of the tricks in trash early. If you lead with an off suit 5, then your partner immediately knows that they have the responsibility to do something with it. This might sound insane but I think that I make more tricks for the good, with the 5, 6 and 7 cards than I do with K, Q and off-suit J. On that note, it is my opinion that the 9 and 10 in any suit serve almost no valuable function.

When you haven't won the bidding auction and someone else has won the call, your job is still playing to win. The stakes of a 6 call aren't very high and you need to win 5 tricks to break it but every trick is valuable. Winning just one trick means that your opponents can not go 'slam' and win 250 points. If you can force your opponent to an 8 call, then you only need to win 3 tricks; which can be joyous, despite it appearing to be so few.
That's probably why I think that 500 is the best card game and better than Bridge. A games of 500 sits on top of a knife-edge more often; so you always have to play to win. Play to win because you can afford to lose nothing.

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