Saturday, May 28, 2022

How to be a Good Teammate in Spades

I see bags in someone’s future…

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium, but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

The card game Spades is a team game. Despite that, I still see people playing it as if they’re going it alone. At least, that’s what it looks like to me. I sometimes question my own strategy: am I doing things that make me a bad partner? I don’t think so… but then, you can never be sure, can you?

This got me thinking, and I wrote up a list of 10 dos and don’ts that I think will help to make you a good partner in Spades. Leave a comment if you have any ideas of your own.

  1. Do use chat in a friendly way.

Many times, I’ve seen this brief conversation in chat: One person says “Tx” (translation: “Thanks”) to their partner for saving the bid. The other person says “team game” or “it’s a team game”. It’s a friendly exchange. This type of chat can go a long way in cementing a partnership. Of course, it’s kind of a no-brainer. You don’t need to say “thanks”, since it’s in your teammate’s own interests to make sure that your bid is covered. If you lose, they’ll lose too. But that doesn’t matter. It’s an acknowledgement that you saw what they did and appreciate it. I think it’s a rare personality that doesn’t warm to a friendly comment.

2. Don’t tell your partner how to play.

Some people may be scratching their heads here. If you don’t tell them how to play, how will they know what your brilliant strategy is? I’ve seen people instruct their partners to bag the opponents, or play low cards to set the opponent’s nil. Doing this is usually considered rude, and is known as “table talk” in card games. If you know that everyone at the table is okay with table talk, then feel free to disregard this rule. If you feel your partner is making tactical mistakes, then instructing them (or cursing at them) right in the middle of the game is not friendly. You are more likely to upset your partner than transmit wisdom, and playing with a teammate who’s upset with you is not likely to lead to a win. If you must have a strategy discussion, consider a post-game chat. You certainly have the option of avoiding someone whose strategy conflicts with yours in the future (you can use the “dislike” feature at World of Card Games to do this).

3. Do try to read your partner’s mind.

Now I hear you saying “But Marya, it’s not possible to read someone’s mind!”. Of course that’s true, but you can use the clues that you see at the table as the game goes on to get an idea about how your partner plays. If you see that your partner never leads with spades, hand after hand, that may mean they think it’s bad to lead with spades, and they may get upset with you if you do that. If you see your partner tends to bid risky nils, then you probably don’t want to lead with a low spade when they’ve bid nil, if you have a choice — you might flush out their one high spade. You get the idea. Pay attention to the signals that your partner is sending you by the way that they play their cards. You can adjust your behavior in some cases, and that can lead to more wins for your team.

4. Don’t hurl abusive chats at anyone at the table.

If your partner is a polite person, making angry comments at anyone at the table may very likely upset them, leading to poor gameplay. Just don’t do it. The card table is a public place. If you think it’s okay to curse at people in public, please get some therapy.

5. Don’t throw the game.

This one seems obvious. Throwing the game is a fast way to get out of an unpleasant situation for you, perhaps, but it completely blows your credibility. If you’re prone to throwing games, don’t be surprised if it becomes progressively more difficult to get a game going as time goes by. No one likes a sore loser.

6. Do cover your partner.

As a general rule, if the sum of all bids for the hand is 11 (with a maximum of 13), then one team may start thinking about setting the other team. Given that’s the case, you may want to think about taking an extra trick or two at any point during the hand. This can lead to bag accumulation, true. But it can also save your team from getting set. You will have to suss out how your partner feels about bags (see Rule 3). Some people are quite good at taking exactly the number of tricks that they bid. You might be one of those people! But I think that’s actually a pretty rare skill. Even if you’re quite good at counting cards, your partner may not be, and taking an extra trick is usually better than getting set.

7. Don’t assume your partner is against you.

There are cases when the rules of the game require your partner to play a card that’s not in your team’s best interests. For example, suppose you bid nil. Now your partner is leading, and to your surprise, they lead with the two of diamonds! I’ve seen this happen, and the nil-bidder will start cursing at their partner, assuming the worst. But it turned out that their partner had no choice. Spades had not yet been broken, and the only card they had left to play was that lonely, low card. The solution? First, don’t curse at people at the table (Rule 4)! Second, don’t make assumptions about what people are doing, at least until the hand is finished, and you can see what choices they had. You might want to collect the hand history to verify what they did, too.

8. Don’t take your partner’s tricks.

This especially applies if the bid is 11 or more, or if it looks like your team might get set. I’ve been baffled at this behavior more than once when the bid was 13, and it was imperative that our team make our bid. In one example, I was the second person to play a card, and I’d managed to capture a trick with a low card… only to find that my teammate trumped the trick! They were the last person to play, so they could have saved a spade and let me take the trick instead. Being a polite person, I just keep my trap shut. I chalk it up to newbie behavior or distraction. Please try not to do this!

9. Don’t let your partner take bag after bag after bag.

I know I said not to take your partner’s tricks in rule 9. But here’s an exception. Suppose the total bid is low, 8 or 9. There are four or five bags out there, and someone is definitely going to take them. Suppose I’m long in clubs, and I’m leading. I have no choice but to play one club after another, and dagnabbit, the opponents have no clubs. I’ll play club after club, and the opponents merrily discard their high cards to dump tricks, while I collect bag … after bag … after bag. Meantime, my partner starts bagging me, too, by discarding their non-trump cards! I do not understand this behavior. If it’s pretty clear that your partner is just getting bagged, help them out by trumping in with your highest spade, and then try to escape the lead yourself with a low card.

10. Do graciously forgive mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes. Did your partner play a bad card? The most likely explanation is that they got distracted, or accidentally played the wrong card. Yes, some people are trolls, and will deliberately do things to annoy you. Most people are just trying to have a fun game of cards, and want to win. If your partner does something wrong, please consider that we’re all human and we make mistakes. Forgive and forget.

If you’ve got any rules of your own, or if you disagree with mine, please leave a comment! And if you want to play solo, give Solitaire a try. That can be a fun game too, but personally, I prefer multiplayer Spades for the teamplay!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

How to be seated at a new card game every time at World of Card Games

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium, but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

This week, I got an email from someone who had recently started playing cards at World of Card Games. The person was upset! When he clicked on the big Spades image to play a game, he’d very often be seated at a game that was already in progress. And worse, his team was losing, and the game was about to end.

That’s not fair, he said. It was a problem. But the real problem was that he didn’t realize that this situation was entirely under his control.

When you visit World of Card Games for the first time, and click on a game “button”, you don’t get taken to a game table immediately. Instead, you will see a dialog that looks like the screenshot below.

You can exclude games in progress at World of Card Games

In this example screenshot, the person just clicked on the Spades button. The dialog reads: How would you like to play “Spades”? And it gives you a few simple Options.

  • Play against the computer (with “robots”)
  • Play against people, with “robots” allowed
  • Exclude Games in Progress
  • Remember this choice (you can change ALL settings later by using the ‘Options’ button)

There are two buttons below these choices: “Go to table” and “Cancel”. Hopefully, it is obvious what they mean. If you click the “Go to table” button, you will be seated at a table with your selected Options applied.

In the example screenshot above, the “Exclude Games in Progress” checkbox is checked. If you click the “Go to table” button at this point, you’ll be taken to a table where the game has not yet started. And since you’ve got “Play against the computer” selected, your game will be against robots, and no people will be allowed at your table. If you want your Options to be saved, check the “Remember this choice” checkbox before clicking the “Go to table” button. Otherwise, you’ll see this dialog every time you click a game button.

At this point, I can imagine some people reading this are puzzled. They’re thinking “Marya, that’s crazy! Why don’t you just make sure that everyone gets seated at a table where the game hasn’t yet started.”

Here’s my answer. There are many people who just want to play one or two hands of a game, and then be done. Maybe they want to take a quick break from some boring task. Or they just just don’t have time to play a full game. After all, while some full games can take only 10 minutes, others can last for 40 minutes or more.

In fact, I’m one of the people who sometimes plays a hand or two. I do this for a couple of different reasons. Sometimes, I’m just taking a short break and I want to clear my head. I don’t have the time for a full game — but I want to finish a shorter game. At other times, I may have time for a longer game, and I find it interesting to get seated in the middle of a game to see if I can turn the tables and come back to win.

I’ve tried to make World of Card Games very flexible so that different people can use it in different ways, depending on their preferences. You don’t like being taken to a game that’s already started? You can fix that! If somehow you’re not seeing the dialog that I described above, you can still adjust your Options. Every game has its own Options that you can customize. Click the Options button, shown in the screenshot below.

The Options button for Spades is shown with a green ellipse around it

Clicking the Options button will open a dialog like this:

The Options dialog for Spades

Check the “Exclude Games in Progress” checkbox. Then click the OK button to save your new Options. Now you won’t be joining games right in the middle anymore. Have fun, and be nice 🙂

Saturday, May 14, 2022

You Got Disconnected

Photo by Jonathan on Unsplash

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium, but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

Recently, I had to work from a coworking space where my Internet connection was spotty, at times.

Typically, the problem would rear its ugly head as follows: I’d be in the middle of developing something, need some documentation, open a web browser, and do a search. And then I’d wait… and wait… and wait. Eventually, I’d give up, close my browser, reopen it, and then my search would quickly load up.

After a few of these incidents, I decided that slow loading meant I should just turn off the WiFi on my computer, and then turn it on again. This usually seemed faster than just waiting to reconnect, or getting timed out.

I couldn’t figure it out. What was causing this strange and annoying problem? Was the WiFi router really that bad? I expect a coworking space to have really good Internet. After all, most people who use a coworking space are doing work on the Internet. You generally don’t see stacks of books and people typing away on a typewriter at a coworking space 🙂

One day, as I waited and wondered whether I needed to reset my WiFi, I noticed the droning of a microwave in the next room over. And then it hit me — the microwave was interfering with my WiFi! It seemed quite odd, but the next few times I got disconnected, I noticed the microwave running. It wasn’t exactly a science experiment, but I’ve become convinced that microwaves can interfere with WiFi! I’m guessing it depends on the router and the microwave, but I think it has happened to me too frequently to be a coincidence… Perhaps I need to place a tinfoil hat on my computer (or on me!).

When this happened to me, it was so frustrating! And I felt a lot of empathy with any player who has been frustrated with a disconnect from World of Card Games right smack in the middle of a game.

Sometimes, people will email me complaining about getting disconnected from the site. There have definitely been times in the past when everyone playing at the site got disconnected due to a problem with the hosting service (the “hosting service” is the company that maintains the big computer that runs World of Card Games software). However, the truth is that most disconnects are due to local problems — and often the culprit is bad WiFi. According to technology writer Geoffrey Fowler at the Washington Post, “Bad Internet connections are [Americans’] №1 tech problem”.

That Washington Post article outlines some things you can try to fix your Internet connection. And there’s a follow-up article with reader fixes for WiFi problems as well. Next time you get disconnected, try some of those suggested solutions. If they don’t work, check out my blog post where I describe my own experience with game player issues.

Or, just make sure the microwave is turned off before you play 🙂 And please comment here if you find anything that helps you, since it might help someone else.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

This is an off topic post. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. If you’re a mom, then Happy Mother’s Day to you!

My mom was not perfect — who is? But my childhood was pretty happy, in large part due to her. She encouraged me in so many ways. I was lucky to have her, as a child, and still am.

When I look back on how we celebrated Mother’s Day as a kid, it seems so corny. I recall giving her various little hand-crafted gifts, like a necklace made of painted pasta shells, drawings, a sculpture made of acorns, or crocheted potholders. She claimed that she really liked these handmade things, and preferred them over something that could be bought. I think we might have given her the classic breakfast in bed, one time, but I don’t think that was something she really wanted… Probably because she had to clean up the mess in the kitchen afterward!

Thanks Mom! I hope you have a great day!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Play Cards with Friends at Private Tables

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

One of the most common features that people use at World of Card Games is the “private table” feature. Does this surprise you? I didn’t expect it when I first started running the site. I imagined the typical player was someone who really enjoyed a specific type of card game: Euchre, Double Deck Pinochle, Hearts, Spades, etc. Maybe they missed playing with their friends from the navy, or from college, or with relatives as they were growing up. They’d do an online search, find the site, and hop right in to play with complete strangers online. After all, it’s so easy to play, even without being registered (although there are some benefits to registering). But it does take a bit of courage to play with total strangers. Let’s face it, not everyone is so nice!

People who are pretty extroverted like that might never even realize there’s a private table feature at the site, unless they dig around for the information in the blog or in the FAQ.

Well, it turns out that a lot of people don’t enjoy playing with just any old stranger (imagine that!!). For them, I guess, the fun is not just about the game per se. A lot of the fun comes from the social contact with loved ones and friends — people that they know. They could do a Zoom call or Skype or FaceTime, but you can’t play cards together so well that way. No one is coordinating the deck of cards. Well, World of Card Games solves that problem. The site’s server (a big computer in the “cloud”) is basically a robotic dealer that keeps track of cards that are dealt and makes sure that everyone plays by the rules. And there’s a chat feature that lets you type in what you want to say while you play.

World of Card Games gives you the option of allowing turns that take up to 5 minutes at private tables, too. So you can chat away for quite a bit, if you like, while considering what to bid or which card to play. And you don’t have to worry about anyone kicking you under the table if you take too long for your turn.

If you know someone who used to play cards in person, but had to stop due to lack of mobility, or because their crowd of friends just doesn’t hang out together anymore, please let them know that they can play cards online with their friends using private tables at World of Card Games. The site’s not perfect for everyone, but it could be a way to get your games started up again within your social circle. I’ve had many emails from people telling me that they are so happy they found the site, and that they get together with a group on a regular basis for a game of cards and a fun chat with friends. Some people tell me they’ve been doing this for years! That’s pretty amazing, and I’m glad I’ve been able to help all these people by providing them with an online space to play cards.

You can choose from a lot of different “wallpapers” (background), too!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

It wouldn’t kill you to be nice

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

Why is it so hard for some people to be a good sport?

Sometimes, I’m playing a game of cards online, and one of the people at the table starts in. Their partner can’t do anything right. Maybe it’s me that they have it in for, or else it’s their partner on the opposing team.

I wonder what they think they’re accomplishing by being so rude? Surely, they’re aware that sometimes one has no choice but to make a bad play due to the constraints of the rules. For example, in the card game Spades, a player might bid nil. The opponent leads a 2 of clubs, their partner plays the 3, and the other opponent plays a 4, and oops the nil got set. The nil bidder then proceeds to throw a tantrum. “How dare you, p, you’re incompetent and come from a long line of incompetent Spades players!!!”. You get the idea — it’s usually much worse than this. And then the next time clubs are played, it’s clear that their partner had exactly one club, the 3. All is forgiven, if only briefly, before they start going at it again.

Yep, I know that it’s more often the case that someone actually did make a dunderheaded play. Maybe they were distracted or tired or not feeling well. Or, perhaps, their tactics are just different. They might be learning the game — or maybe they’re really pretty experienced, and the ranter doesn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish.

I don’t believe that any words on my part are going to change the behavior of someone who behaves poorly online. I suspect that in some cases, hefty amounts of a mind-altering substance are involved in their commentary. Other times, I just wonder why people think it’s okay to be so uncivil because they’re hidden behind a veil of anonymity. Overall, I have to think that if they can’t get through a game without blowing their top, they might be in for some serious problems in other, more consequential parts of their lives.

If you run into someone who behaves like this, I suggest that you don’t use their behavior as a license to respond in kind. Doing that doesn’t help you, and probably does more damage to yourself than good. If you find they’re getting your goat, turn off their chats. And remember that you never know what someone is going through. Try to find it in your heart to be patient with them. We could all use more civility, online and off.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Do Video Games Put You To Sleep?

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

I used to play cards at World of Card Games all the time. These days, I don’t have much time for it, because I’ve got a regular job. But I find that playing card games online is a good way to unwind at the end of a day, or even in the middle of the day, when I’m on a break from dealing with some intractable work problem.

Are video games relaxing? In fact, I heard something interesting the other day. I was listening to the Timothy Ferriss podcast where he interviews Jane McGonigal, a futurist and games researcher. She claimed that playing video games before bedtime is a good way to help you get to sleep! Tetris was mentioned specifically in the interview. Tetris is very different from a physical, in-person card game. But the card games at World of Card Games are video games. I wonder if the research would apply to the types of games at the site, as well.

It’s hard to imagine any game making me sleepy. My adrenaline usually surges when I play a video game, and that’s not ideal for sleeping. However, apparently there really is some research that shows video games can have a relaxing effect that helps you more easily fall asleep. Perhaps this is because you can’t focus on the intricacies of playing a game without getting a bit detached from other problems in your life. It helps to distance you from things which may not be that important, after all. Kind of like meditation, in that respect.

I can’t speak for card games as a sleeping aid. I think that if anything, they kind of perk me up when I’m feeling a bit sleepy. But they do seem like a good distraction from worries. If something’s bugging me at work, I can play a game or two, and find that the problem was just not so important after all.

One funny thing that I’ve noticed is that if I play card games just before bedtime, I’ll often see the images of cards being played in my mind as I’m falling asleep! That was mentioned in the Timothy Ferriss interview, too — that people who play a game will see the game images as they fall asleep.

I’m curious to know if other people at the site have used games to get to sleep. Leave a comment if you’ve tried it, and let us know what happened!

Start of a fun game of Spades with the bots!