Written for Four handed 500There are many forms of 500, and these notes are prepared basically for four players.
You may find this different but it works much better. Begin by calling ACES.
The basic idea behind any call is to get the most points out of the pair of hands involved in that call. You must COMMUNICATE!!!. Communication must be POSITIVE. This method of calling requires calling the aces first, and your suit strengths later. Each caller must call the lowest ACE, or the joker when it is his turn to call and he or she has no aces to call. If the first caller holds the ace of spades, his first call is six spades, even if that is the only black card in his hand. A first call of six spades says to all players that that player has the ace of spades. It gives no indication of any other card in the hand. It certainly cannot be taken to indicate a strength in spades. It is just the ace.
A first caller therefore making a bid of six clubs has now said TWO things. One negative and one positive. It says " I have the ace of CLUBS, but NOT the ace of spades", for he would have been obliged to call that first. A first caller calling six diamonds is clearly now saying three things. No ace of spades, no ace of clubs, but yes I have the ace of diamonds. So a first bidder calling six hearts is saying four things. He holds the ace of hearts, but not one of the other three aces. It follows that an opening bid of six no trumps by the first caller is saying five things, no aces but I have the joker. In other words by making one call this player has conveyed to all the others five "Bits" of information.
It is rather unusual for the calls to follow such a simple routine as six spades, six clubs, six diamonds, six hearts, six no trumps. It does happen, but only on rare occasions. It is much more normal for the calls to happen in an entirely different sequence. Let us say that the first caller has called six hearts. It is not now possible for the next caller to commence calling his aces below a seven call. If he has the joker, he MUST call six no trumps, and it must be clearly understood that this discloses to all players where the joker is. So it follows that if the call immediately following a six hearts call is seven spades, this is saying just as clearly, no joker but the ace of spades. A seven club call would have meant, no joker, no ace of spades, but the ace of clubs. Again not a strength call. A seven diamond call would mean no joker, no black aces, but yes I have the ace of diamonds. A seven heart call following a six heart call can only indicate strength in hearts, as it says no joker, and no other ace. This is the first indication we have had that a hand is to be called on its trick taking potential rather than on an ace.
As a general guideline, players should have no hesitation in communicating (bidding) aces at a seven bid. Once you get used to it, you will find that you will make these bids without giving too much thought to the potential of the hand for taking tricks in any given suit. You will simply be calling aces. When it comes to bidding aces at eight or more, and the scoreline is not hampering your bids, you will need to feel that either the bid you are making, or a higher one in another suit, is attainable. I would certainly be wary of calling red aces at eight, when being left on it means that you have to go up to a nine bid in a black suit, to have a chance of success. Calling black aces at eight still leaves you the option of going to an eight red bid, and so is a lot safer.
When assessing the potential of a hand, I am sure it is usual and proper to presume that kitty may give you another trick, but of course it will not always be so. You must still be sure that all your bids are within your "bargaining power", unless your opponents are threatening to go out this hand. You are then in a do or die situation, and you just have to bid these aces at unpalatable levels.
Calling your aces MAY have to continue through eight, nine or even ten bids, depending on the scoreline of the game. It is not always safe to have your partner know that a specific ace is on your side if you pick up kitty, as there are times he has to know that particular ace is not in kitty. These situations arise when the scores for both sides are high, and you are in a situation where someone is in a "calling to go down" position. More about that later.
In general terms, avoid calling aces at such a high level that you will be embarrassed by being left on that call. If you take a few moments to consider what all the calls have communicated, you will realise that your partner will know that either you have that ace or it is in kitty! The bigger the points difference between any two successive calls, the more "bits" of information are being conveyed. If you are left calling an ace at eight and you know you cannot sustain that call as trumps, change up to a more likely looking suit, particularly when your partner has given you a strength call in an available suit. Do not change up if it means you are going from a "safe to go down" call to an "unsafe to go down call".
There has been much discussion of late on the Giffin website as to whether or not there are times when it is important to advise that you possess the joker before disclosing that you may have other aces. This has been my own thought for many years, but have been advised by friends that it may be complicated for some to cope with. However I feel quite strongly that when the score is critical it is often essential that your partner knows you have the joker right from the start. I consider the score to be critical when both sides are 250 or more. From this score even an accidental 10 bid can give you 500 and a win. It happened for me recently when my score was 250. Normal bidding would enable you to call aces, kings and queens starting bids after the joker was bid at 6, now at 7, 8, 9 and sometimes even 10. The joker of course takes only one trick, but that trick means your opponents cannot safely bid a 10 bid. Bids are often forced to this level if you are playing ATF properly, and possession of the joker, and your partner's knowledge that you have it is essential.
Following this through seven diamonds says no aces, joker, no strength in either black suit....eight things. Likewise a first call of seven hearts says some potential in hearts, but no aces, joker, strength in black suits, or in diamonds. A seven no trump bid as an opening bid is very rare. It means that the player holds four kings, but no joker or aces. A hand containing no aces or joker, but 5 strong spades and 5 strong hearts should make a jump bid in the black suit, leaving the way open to escalate the call to the red suit if you are left on the call, without having to lift the call from seven to eight.
What constitutes a jump bid can vary considerably according to the score at the time. For a first caller five good trumps could be considered enough to make a jump bid, especially if the offsuit is reasonable. Three "rags" to a bower, or one rag to both bowers with a critical score line may justify a jump bid, even though it may only convey to your partner that you could stop a ten call against you in that suit. Where the scores of both sides are say in the range of minus 100 to plus anything, jump bids can be made freely, but they must be made with caution when your score is in a low minus level. You should never make a jump bid when its point value if lost will lose you the game, unless your opponents score is getting close to 500. Where both scores are high pluses, jump calls MUST be made on hands with some suggestion of strength.
This is a bid none of us like making, but we often have to pass because of the cards we are dealt. It is most important that players understand exactly what they are saying when they PASS. You are saying eleven things to your partner. Yes 11 things.
If you pass on your first bid you need to know what you have told your partner, but more particularly your partner needs to know the full implications of that bid. So let me spell it out for you.
Pass means that you have none of the four aces, and you do not have the joker. That is 5 things. It also means you have no strength in any suit, or you could have bid it at a jump bid at 7. So that is another 4 things.
You also have no potential strength in no trumps, or you could have bid 7 no trumps. Since I am often asked what do I consider a 7 no trump bid I will say if you have the four kings, or a hand mostly of court cards but no aces or joker. Another 1 thing. That makes 10.
What is the 11th thing?
You are telling your partner that you will not be taking any further interest in this round of bidding. You are also telling him that he is now responsible for making whatever bid that is necessary to keep you in the game. This is most important. I guess that is really 12 things you have told him.
Once your partner has passed like that, you are not obliged to bid the truth of what you hold because you know that he has a rubbish hand and there is no point in you bidding what you hold or do not hold to let your opponents know what you hold. You should bid to confuse them and his partner must not be influenced by what he bids. Sometimes tell the truth, but more often tell lies.
The most important aspect of bidding Pass comes when the scores are high and your opponents are threatening to win immediately. Your partner must realise that it is his responsibility to stay in the bidding until either your opponents make a bid which he alone has got stopped, or the bidding is so high that there is no way, given the best of kitty, that he can lose that bid and stay above minus 500.
The same situation arises whenever you pass. You are handing over responsibility to your partner to make the bids necessary to keep you in the game.
There can be exceptions as usual! If the scores are perhaps modest plus scores and there is no apparent threat of a win you need to be on the alert if your opponents have stopped bidding early and when your partner the calls no trumps and starts bidding aces at 8 you may be able to support those aces with kings and queens to get game winning scores, by bidding those kings and queens and jacks at 8, 9 or even 10. This can force opponents to make huge losing bids. You do not have the assurance that his bids have been meant to bring the opponents back in rather than to inform you. You can get a "feel" for it. Just keep an eye on the scoreboard.
Jump bids which follow jump bids must of necessity start with at least an eight call, and could easily start at nine. Of course the hand will have to be strong, or may have to be made in an emergency when one side or the other is going to have to go down to save the game. The golden rule is that the higher the score of your opponents, the more important is the need to jump bid. A jump bid may fall in any sequence in the bidding. Thus a call of six clubs, followed by a call of seven diamonds by the next caller, means just the same as it did before. No aces or joker, but something in diamonds. Likewise a call of seven clubs following a bid of six clubs says no aces or joker, but something in clubs. The ace of a suit which has already been jump bid can still be called by bidding it in its correct sequence.
Thus an eight diamond call, following a first call of seven diamonds is communicating the ace of diamonds. Never make a jump bid higher than is necessary to indicate that the call is a jump bid. You may think that because you hold a sure eight diamond call, you might as well go straight to that call. This means that if your partner has to tell you of his ace or aces he has to go to a nine call, and he may find his hand too weak to support that call. So keep your jump bids at minimum level, allow your partner calling space to tell you of his aces, and make your own discarding decisions easier when you pick up kitty.
Situations will arise, especially when both teams are on high plus scores, when drastic action is required urgently by one player, usually the one who holds the joker. He or she will make a bid which is suddenly so high that his partner will realise that this bidder wants control of the bidding. A "control" bid would normally be made beyond the level of a normal "jump" bid, so it is clearly a special bid. It would be normal for this bid to be pitched at such a level that any further bid by their opponents would not be attainable by them. They will normally be forced to bid to go down to save the game. You can expect a "control" bid early in the bidding rather than after the bidding has developed. It could happen, especially after an opponent has made a jump bid, say in a red suit, which suggests he cannot defend a game winning "control" bid in a black suit. Unless both opponents are sure they have this "control" bid stopped, one or other of them will be forced to a bid they cannot achieve. There is usually an element of threat of loss of game if the bid is not responded to. There is also a good element of bluff. If you are outbid by a bid you do not have stopped for sure, then you will be forced to a bid you cannot achieve. There is a real skill in knowing where to pitch this bid, which only playing experience will teach you. The "control" bidders partner should never re-enter the bidding, but leave the "control" bidder in charge of the situation.
The reason for this is because the fourth caller knows from the calls that the ace of spades and the ace of hearts are against the no trump call. His partner having called only the ace of diamonds and joker, will know that you are supporting the diamonds in no trumps. If the fourth caller has not got the king of diamonds, but has strength in diamonds he wants to call, he would call eight diamonds indicating diamonds but not the king. Thus eight spades would mean strength in spades, or eight clubs as strength in clubs.
So watch out for opportunities to call kings, and in the same manner queens, after your partner has given you a joker call, and has indicated he has aces to which you hold kings, or queens and jacks to which he holds ace and king. Basically it is quite simple. If your partner has called the joker, and then calls the ace of hearts at seven, if you hold the king of hearts call seven no trumps, but if you want hearts as a suit go to eight hearts, and your partner will know you do not have the king. Exactly the same situations arise to talk about the queens and jacks, but naturally your calls are now at the nine and ten level. No problems with that as you see your no trump bids build successfully. You will realise that you can call support of kings to your partners aces in more than one suit. Make sure the opportunity is given in calling to make these supportive calls by not taking each call beyond its next logical step, or the calls may get too high for proper calling to continue.
Just take it step by step. Only practice will teach you how to do this successfully.
It is clear from your opponents calls that they do not hold either of the black aces, and if your hand is not otherwise strong, and the scores are such that to call both those aces at eight, (assuming you hold them both) would be too risky, you may safely pass. This is because your partner would already realise that those two aces are either in your hand or one or other or both in kitty. So he may safely call on knowing that he can rely on these cards being on his side. Knowing where the key cards are is absolutely vital when it comes to rejecting cards after picking up kitty. You will never have to trump when a suit is led that you know your partner holds the ace. Just discard an unwanted card. You can safely keep solo offsuit cards to lead to your partners aces. It makes all the difference between calling the true value of your joint hands, and you will find that calling often gets to the eight, nine and ten level and you can be more certain of getting those high calls.
I have dealt and examined hundreds of hands and found that there is nearly always at least an eight call attainable by one side or the other, and this calling system is aimed at letting you find out where it is. Be careful to remember from ALL the calls made what key cards your partner has, either from his having called them, or your opponents calls having denied them. It also helps you to know that while your partner is holding one or more suits covered, you can keep cover on others. This is particularly important when defending against strong no trump calls.
To call an ace you do not have, could lead to an overcall by your partner for a trick he wrongly thought you had. To jump call to something else may again lead him to interpret your call incorrectly. You cannot call no trumps as you do not have the joker. What must be called is seven of whatever suit your partner called first, in this case seven spades. Your partner must recognise this as a "convention" call which tells him you have nothing but have kept him in the calling. He is now free to call his hand to the level he feels he can get. The situation is entirely different if your partner opens the bidding with a jump bid. Since this is now an indication of strength in a suit, you may safely leave him as first caller as at least he has some strength in that suit.
There has also been discussion on the Giffin website forum about not leaving your partner on an ace bid, and the need to make a bid no matter what to allow him to change his bid. Some players are recommending that you bid 7 spades just to keep him in there. I disagree with this because if you make a 7 spade bid after your partner opened the bidding with any bid higher than 6 spades you are telling him you have the ace of spades. So while you are trying to keep him alive to bid again you are, in ATF, telling him you have an ace on which he may well finish up making a large bid, which he could well lose. So I recommend you just put him up one in the suit he bid at 6, and you are no longer at risk of misinforming him. ATF 500 likes to remove as many maybe's as possible.
Let us suppose both teams are plus 470 at the beginning of a new hand. You pass, bad luck, you have nothing to communicate. Your partner has a strong hand, and must find out where the joker is. The second caller opens the bidding with a jump bid. He has therefore not got the joker! Your partner should now, regardless of what is in his hand, call seven hearts. Now it is the fourth players call. He must call the joker if he has it, to let his partner know where it is, as from his partners call he knows that his partner is vulnerable to a big no trump call from your partner. So now if his next call is eight of anything, and not seven no trumps, then he has not got the joker! It is of course in kitty, and only your partner is certain where it is. His call of seven hearts forced that information from the opposition. Similarly he could have put his opponents in the position of disclosing say the ace of clubs by calling eight spades.
There are great skills in pitching calls to gain valuable information. If you have passed on your first call, be very wary of believing your partners calls. He is most likely not telling the truth. Only often enough to keep your opponents on their toes. There may be times when your partner may be the only one left in the call, and he may continue to escalate the call slowly. It is possible in this event that he has a strong hand, most likely in no trumps, and he may still be trying to find out if you have just one king that is vital to him. So no matter how bad your hand is, you may find you have one card which really matters to your partner. Keep alert to his calls.
Here is another sequence of calls. You are dealer, and the calls are six diamonds, pass, seven clubs. Looking at your hand you have joker and ace of hearts, and a strong king high run of spades. Once again you know from the call that neither of your opponents have the ace of spades, so it must be in kitty. Your opponents know that they do not have the ace of spades but are not aware you do not hold it. The odds are that you do. It is always advisable for all players to locate which hands hold which aces. It is quite astounding how much alive a hand can come once you discover that a couple of aces, or the joker are in kitty.
Your best policy is often to call a call one below where you are wanting to go. For instance, if you intend to finish with an eight diamond call, you may be able to block out communication by jumping to an eight club call, changing to eight diamonds if you get left on it, and taking them down on any eight red call they make if they carry on calling. Unless your hand is very weak it will often pay you to pass, or make a low false call, and listen to what your opposition call. From this you may well discover that the key cards you lack are in kitty, so you profit from their calls. If your hand is weak, and your partners is weak as well, you may have to make very high jump bids to stop your opposition communicating.
The really important thing is this. There are times when it really hurts to pass, or have to make a jump bid, as by so doing you are saying a lot about your hand. To tell other than the truth is to risk deluding your partner into a sense of false security, or worse to oblige him to make a large unnecessary sacrifice call. Here is another series of calls which illustrate this point. As first caller you call six spades, the next player seven spades, your partner seven clubs, and the dealer eight spades. Now if the dealer really had either red ace or joker and supporting spades he might think he can fool you by not calling them, and going to his eight spade call.
The reason why this call is dangerous is that his partner has now been told that the joker and all four aces are against him, and he may easily be panicked into a very large lock out call to stop you and your partner communicating. If the player whose partner has made a jump bid does hold key cards and is in a position to force you to an untenable call, and wants to be sneaky about disclosure, he should make a large enough bid to let his partner know he wants control of the hand. In general terms it is much better to follow the system than to try to beat it.
YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR SACRIFICE CALLS.
There is hardly a game played where some sort of sacrifice play is not used. Chess and draughts abound with good sacrifices. In Aussie rules football the ball is not always moving toward the goal. In rugby there is the quick kick backwards to the touch line. Golfers know that if the direct line to the flag is blocked by an obstruction they may have to chip sideways or even away from the hole. How often in soccer do you see the ball returned to the defenders own goalie, the wrong end of the field to score goals. But it allows regrouping and preparation to launch a new attack. A bowler often gives away a few runs to lure a batsman into a false sense of security.
In 500 the early deliberate loss of no trump tricks is frequently necessary if you are going to make your bid. There is no limit on the INTELLIGENT use of sacrifice bids, and play. In 500 we must think of our greater playing field. Think about the scoreboard as if it represented a soccer field. 0 represents the centre of the field, plus 500 the goal you are aiming at, and minus 500 the goal you are defending. The area behind 0, the minus scores, are part of your playing field. Players of 500 would perhaps not be so unwilling to get into minus scores if the game was called 1000, scores to begin at 500 each. There is for some a psychological barrier about that minus before your score.
GET RID OF THAT MENTAL BLOCK. RIGHT NOW.
The player on your left has dealt. Your partner passes. He has said ten different things!!! No aces, no joker, no strength in any suit, and no no-trump support. The second caller calls six clubs. He has the ace but not the ace of spades. You have a hand with only one court card, say a solitary unsupported queen. Obviously your opponents have got all the goodies, well at least they will have if they pick up kitty. What are you to do now. If you pass you can see that unless you can intervene they will easily make a call, as indeed they already have, that will put them out. And if they really wanted to keep on calling they would easily discover their ten no trump potential. Just to allow one of them to call the joker may be fatal.
So you have to make a call and you have to make it big enough to lock out communication. The very minimum call I would make with that hand would be nine no trumps, and pray that my bluff would work. In the "school" where I played most of my 500, it would not work. Nothing short of a ten no trump call would have been safe, and I would have had not the slightest hesitation in making that bid. In fact, we all got a bit cheeky, and standard procedure for this call would have been to pick up kitty, which we always understood was a ten no trump call, without the need to say anything.
The rule is that in these circumstances, the weaker your hand is, the higher must be your call, and its limit is only determined by what you can afford to call without losing the game that hand. Of course we are going to lose 520 points, so our score as we go into the next hand is minus 70, and my partner and I would make a mental note that our next limit call to go down is now reduced nine no trumps. We would not hesitate to make that call. After that we will run out of what we call "bargaining power", and hope our cards will improve next hand. It is quite astounding how often games can be won from what looks like a hopeless situation. I do not acknowledge there is a hopeless situation in 500, just opportunities to get back into the game. In just three more hands the scores could be, and often are, reversed.
Last Updated April 7, 2011