Cleaning your playing cards

Over time, a deck of playing cards will spend much of its life in contact with either a table or players’ hands. Neither of these are particularly clean: tables often have dirt and food residue on them, and human hands usually have at least a layer of skin oil on them, if not more dirt. All of this nastiness has a tendency to end up on your cards.

Paper cards tend to absorb the dirt and oils, to the point where eventually they simply have to be replaced. Since Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards are not porous, the gunk just sits on the surface of the card. Under some conditions, top-layer inks (which are not as well-bonded as those closer to the card surface) can also be displaced from the backs of the cards and settle around the edges of the cards, forming a patina that looks like a fuzzy haze of red or blue on the face of the cards. A dirty deck of cards can usually be identified by the presence of this patina and slight stickiness during game play.

Fortunately, it’s easy to restore your cards to like-new condition. You just have to clean them! Fill the kitchen sink with warm water—not too hot, as hot water may warp the plastic—and add a mild dish soap. We found that Dawn® Antibacterial Soap works well. Dump the whole deck of cards into the sink. Then, use a soft towel—a microfiber towel works well—to clean the surface of the cards, especially near the heavily-handled edges, where the patina and skin oils tend to build up. Don’t use abrasive soaps, like those containing pumice, or an abrasive cleaning tool, as these may damage the surface of the cards. Run the cards under cool water to rinse off the soap, then dry them off with a paper towel, or leave them sitting on a bath towel until the water dries. Don’t use a heater or hair dryer to speed drying.

After the cards are dry, you should notice that your cards handle much better, and with much less stickiness! It’s probably a good idea to verify them before putting them away to make sure that you didn’t lose any cards during the cleaning process.


Pyramid (a.k.a. Tut’s Tomb)

Pyramid solitaire layoutPyramid is possibly the solitaire game with the most interesting layout. Like Golf, interest in Pyramid was revived by Microsoft, who included a program called Tut’s Tomb in their Microsoft Entertainment Pack 2 add-on for Microsoft Windows 3.1. Also like Golf, Pyramid is mostly luck-based, and difficult to win.

Object of Pyramid

The object of Pyramid is to entirely dismantle the tableau, which forms the titular “pyramid”, by matching pairs of cards whose values total thirteen.


Grab a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, shuffle, and deal 28 cards in the shape of a pyramid, as shown at the image to the right. One card goes on the top row, partially overlapped by two cards on the second row, followed by three in the third, and so on down to the seventh row. This pyramid forms the tableau. The deck stub becomes the stock. Set aside room for two discard areas, one for waste from the stock, and one for out-of-play discards from the tableau.

Game play

All game play revolves around the numerical value of each card, which is devised in the most natural way—aces are one, all number cards are their face value, jacks are eleven, queens are twelve, and kings are thirteen. Any accessible pair of cards may be paired with another card and discarded, so long as they add up to thirteen. Kings have a value of thirteen and thus can be discarded whenever they are available. Examples: a queen and an ace, a jack and a 2, an 8 and a 5, etc.

Cards are considered available if they are not overlapped by any other card. In the starting configuration, only the seven cards in the seventh row of the pyramid are considered accessible. As cards are removed, upper rows of the pyramid are gradually uncovered and become available for play. For example, in the image at right, when the two kings are discarded from the bottom row, this leaves the J♥ without any cards blocking it, and thus it is available for play.

Variation: In Microsoft’s Tut’s Tomb implementation of Pyramid, a quirk in the programming causes a card that is part of a matched pair to be disregarded for the purposes of determining availability for the second card. Therefore, if the Q♦ had been previously cleared, the 9♥ and 4♦ would be able to be matched, because the 4♦ is disregarded by nature of its being part of the pair. This is an extreme edge case that doesn’t really matter in the majority of games, but we recommend allowing yourself to match in this way if you wish, because, let’s face it, anything that makes a win in Pyramid more likely is probably a good thing.

When the player cannot make any more moves from the tableau alone, they may draw cards from the stock, one at a time, and match those cards with any accessible cards on the pyramid, if able. When the stock is depleted, the player may flip the unused cards from the stock face-down and run through them again.

Game play continues until all of the cards in the tableau have been paired off (which constitutes a win) or no further moves are possible (which is a loss).


Mexican Sweat

Mexican Sweat is a simple poker game that turns poker on its head—instead of betting based on what you think your opponents have and what you know you have, you know exactly as much information about both your hand and your opponents’ hands as they do, which isn’t everything! We’re not entirely clear on what, if anything, this game has to do with Mexico, although the “sweating” is very clear: the suspense while worrying about whether a kill card will pop up next can definitely get you sweating!

Object of Mexican Sweat

The object of Mexican Sweat is to have the best five-card poker hand, out of seven cards, without having a kill card in your hand.


Mexican Sweat, like most poker games, requires a 52-card deck of playing cards. We recommend Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards—should your players take the game’s title literally and sweat on the cards, it will be pretty gross, but it won’t ruin the cards. Prior to beginning play, all players should agree on ante or blinds, and betting limits, or lack thereof.

All players ante or post blinds. Deal seven cards face down to each player. Players may not look at their cards. If any player prematurely looks at their cards, they are out of the hand and any ante or bet they have placed into the pot is forfeited. Two further cards are dealt to the center of the table. The first is designated as the kill card—any hand with this card is killed and not eligible to win the pot. The second is the card to beat.

Game play

The player to the left of dealer plays first. They begin flipping cards from their hand face up, one at a time, until they are able to beat a high-card poker hand consisting of the card to beat. For example, if the card to beat was a 7, the player would have to turn up an 8 or higher, a pair of any rank, a flush, etc. Merely tying the card to beat does not actually beat it. After the player has successfully beaten the card to beat, the player immediately stops revealing cards, and a betting round begins, led by the active player. After the betting concludes, the next player to the left begins revealing their hand, but instead of going for a higher hand than the card to beat, they are attempting to beat the exposed portion of the hand of the player preceding them.

If, at any time, a player exposes a card of the same rank as the kill card, they immediately stop revealing cards: their hand is killed and they can no longer win the pot. If a player has exposed their entire hand and is unable to beat the preceding player, or if they reveal a kill card, the betting round is started by the preceding player (or, if the first player to play reveals a kill card, the dealer).

Game play continues until only one player remains, due to all other players getting killed or because they cannot beat the preceding player. This player takes the pot.


If you feel unsatisfied with the relative lack of knowledge that vanilla Mexican Sweat leaves you with, allow players to peek at one card (usually their last card) prior to the first player revealing a card. This gives the player a small amount of information as to whether the player will be able to make a hand, or allows them to get out cheap if they know they have a kill card.



War is a classic game for two, whose outcome is determined entirely by luck. Because of that, it’s probably best suited for kids—or adults who just want to pass the time without thinking because they are sick or really sleepy.

Object of War

The object of War is to get all of the cards. All of them.


War requires a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. If we found out you’re not using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, we would raise an eyebrow. Really hard. Our eyebrows can actually detach and hover several feet off the ground when we are that surprised about something. It’s kind of impressive, but it’s really a pain to clean up, so we wish you wouldn’t make us do it.

Shuffle and deal the entire deck out, giving each player 52 cards. Cards are not to be looked at by either player. Each player’s cards should be kept in a neat stack in front of them, face down.

Game play

Each player turns one card face up, placing it in the middle of the table. The player with the higher card “wins” the skirmish, and both cards go face down at the bottom of the winner’s deck. Aces are high.

In the event that the two cards exposed are of the same rank, the two players “go to war”. One card is placed in the center of the table, face down, and another is turned face up, and the winner of the war takes all six cards on the table for their deck. If both of these cards are the same rank, the players go to double war, turning two cards face down and a third face up, and so on until the war is decided one way or the other.

Game play continues until one player has captured all 52 cards.


Mini Baccarat

Baccarat, also known as Punto Banco, and its predecessor Baccara, are very old games that have been played in European casinos for hundreds of years. Baccarat games have become the stuff of legend, appearing in works of fiction like the James Bond films. Baccarat is usually played by high rollers in a special, secluded area away from the prying eyes of run-of-the-mill casino patrons, with millions of dollars changing hands throughout the course of an evening.

In modern American casinos, Baccarat usually takes on the form of Mini Baccarat (abbreviated as Minibac, especially amongst casino staff). This game takes place on a table that is just a little bit larger than a standard Blackjack table, and is dealt by a single casino dealer, unlike full Baccarat, which is spread on a massive table worked by several dealers, none of whom actually deal any cards—that is left up to one of the patrons! Mini Baccarat is dealt much more quickly than standard Baccarat, leaving out much of the pomp and circumstance that characterizes the latter game. Mini Baccarat is especially popular among the casino’s Asian clientele—so much so that signage and literature distributed at the table is often in both English and Chinese.

Despite all that, Baccarat is a trivially simple game to play—it is essentially betting on a coin flip. The real challenge to Baccarat is dealing it, due to the complicated rules that govern when cards are drawn. A word of caution about Baccarat: it is inherently a casino game, so the dealer has a definite advantage over the players, by design. If you’re playing at home with friends, don’t play with real money! It’s not fair to your friends, and will probably run afoul of local laws against illegal gambling anyway.

Object of Mini Baccarat

The object of Mini Baccarat is to successfully predict whether the player (punto) or banker (banco) hand will have a score closer to 9.


Mini Baccarat requires a lot of props and equipment to do properly, many of which you will have on hand already if you have dealt Blackjack. In addition to cards, doing Mini Baccarat well requires two cut cards, and chips for wagering. You also need a box to hold the cards called a shoe (or sabot), and a discard holder (an L-shaped piece of plastic designed to keep the used cards in a nice stack). The dealer should be seated on the opposite side of the table from the players, with a bank of chips in a rack in front of the dealer, to be used for payouts.

You also need a way of keeping the three wagers available to each player separate. The ideal method of doing this is to utilize a Mini Baccarat layout. Real Minibac tables have a felt surface with graphics silkscreened on them, designating nine player positions where punto, banco, and tie bets are to be placed (in order of closest to furthest from the player), as well as aiding the dealer in placement of the cards. While such a thing is not strictly necessary, it helps keep the game organized. You can find layouts printed on felt, for Mini Baccarat as well as many other casino games, inexpensively available on the Internet. These layouts can be placed over a normal table like a tablecloth, allowing you to set up your own faux Minibac table. If such a thing is not available, you can make do with something like disposable plates or bowls for each betting spot, or even by delineating betting areas on the table with tape.

You may wish to make pencil and paper available to the players. Baccarat players traditionally keep track of the various wins, losses, and ties of the two hands, in an attempt to follow the trends to pick the winning hand. Rules of probability dictate that this is ineffective for determining which hand to bet on—the banker’s hand is always more likely to win in the long term, and the large number of cards (many of which are dead) means that the score cards won’t yield much useful information anyway.

A mini baccarat game requires eight standard decks, or 416 cards. All cards in the deck should have the same back. Traditionally, paper cards are used for Minibac, due to the large number of cards involved, but there’s no reason you can’t use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.

Shuffle the cards (using the multiple-deck shuffling technique if needed). Square the deck up, then roll it forward, so that the back of the cards is facing the players and the cut card on the bottom of the deck is facing you. Offer the spare cut card to any player and have them insert it into the deck at any point. Complete the cut by sliding the bottom part of the deck behind the cut card away and putting it on the top (far side) of the deck. Remove the cut card that was on the bottom, and is now in the middle, of the deck, and place it into the deck near the bottom. This will signify when the cards need to be shuffled. This is normally placed about one deck from the end of the shoe. Place the cards into the shoe.

Before dealing any player hands from the newly-shuffled deck, discard one card, face-up. Discard that many additional cards, face down (e.g. if it is a seven, discard seven cards).

Game play

Players place their wagers in the appropriate betting area in front of them, depending on the wager they wish to make: punto, meaning they expect the player hand to win, banco, meaning they expect the banker hand to win, or tie, meaning they expect the two hands to tie.

Once all players are satisfied with their bets—which can take a while, since some players will annoyingly shift their bets back and forth for several minutes before settling on a bet—the dealer deals two cards, face up, to each hand. The dealer then computes the score of each hand: aces are one, number cards two through nine are their face value, and tens and face cards are zero. If the score exceeds 9, the offending first digit is simply dropped, resulting in a score of less than 9.

If either hand has a score of 8 or 9, this is a natural, and that hand automatically wins, with no further play. (A natural 9, of course, beats a natural 8, and two natural hands of the same value tie.) A winning hand is signified by the dealer pushing the cards forward, about an inch or two, toward the players. Bets are then settled, as described below.

If either hand does not have a natural, each hand may have one card drawn to it, with the player hand going first. If the player has a total of 6 or 7, the player hand stands (does not take a card). Otherwise, the player hand hits (takes a card).

The banker hand acts after the player. Its actions are quite a bit more complicated, and are tied to the action of the player hand:

  • If the player hand stood, the banker hits on 5 or less and stands on 6 or more.
  • If the player hand drew any card and the banker has a total of 2 or less, the banker draws a card.
  • If the banker has a total of 3, the banker draws if the player drew anything other than an 8. If the player drew an 8, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 4, the banker draws if the player drew a 2 through 7, inclusive. Otherwise, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 5, the banker draws if the player drew a 4 through 7, inclusive. Otherwise, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 6, the banker draws if the player drew a 6 or 7. Otherwise, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 7, the banker always stands.

There is only one round of drawing. After this is complete, the dealer evaluates the hands, and the hand with the higher total wins, and bets are settled. If the hands are tied, the dealer signifies this by tapping the table between the two hands in a sort of upside-down karate-chop gesture.

Winning player bets are paid at even money. Winning banker bets are paid at even money, less a 5% “commission” (the easiest way to figure this is to take 10%, halve that figure, and subtract it from the amount of the bet). Winning tie bets are paid at 8 to 1. Losing bets are cleared away and added to the dealer’s rack. Cards are moved to the discard holder, and the next hand begins.

Strategy of Mini Baccarat

As a player, the best strategy is to simply bet on banco every single time. Even with the 5% commission, the banco bet has the lowest house edge. Betting on ties is never a good idea, because the house edge is just too high for such a bet to make sense (think about it—do you usually see ties one eighth of the time?)



Pinochle (pronounced pea-knuckle) is a classic game which peaked in popularity in the early twentieth century. As such, dozens of variations exist, for varying numbers of players, with partnerships and not, and introducing auctions to determine the trump suit, although the classic form (as described here) is for two players. Pinochle requires a modified deck unique to this game.

In this game there is more room and need for strategy than in any other two-handed game currently being played…In two-handed Pinochle the element of skill is decisive, over the short or the long run.” —John Scarne, Scarne on Cards

Object of Pinochle

The object of Pinochle is to score points by winning tricks and forming melds.


Pinochle requires the use of a 48-card Pinochle deck. Some card manufacturers produce specialized decks for this very purpose, though they are, of course, lacking in utility for any other game. Such a deck can be made using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards by taking out all of the eights through twos from two decks with the same back design and color, then shuffling the decks together. This will result in a 48-card deck with only nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings, and aces, in each of the four suits, with two copies of each card in the deck.

You will also need some sort of scorekeeping apparatus. Pencil and paper work just fine, though if, through some sort of twist of fate, you find yourself playing Pinochle in an abandoned elementary school, you could just use the chalkboard instead. It is also possible to score using chips; give each player a pile or rack of chips representing 1,000 points, from which chips can be removed and transferred to a score pile as points are scored.

Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player, either three or four at a time. The 25th card of the deck is turned face up; the suit of this card becomes the trump suit for the hand. The rest of the deck is placed face down in the middle of the table, partially obscuring the 25th card (so as to keep it from getting confused with a card in active play), forming the stock. If the 25th card is a 9, the dealer immediately scores 10 points.

Card ranking

Contrary to most other games, the cards rank “out of order” in Pinochle. The 10 ranks higher than the face cards, coming in right below the ace. Therefore, the cards rank (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9 (low).

Game play

Phase one

Game play begins with the non-dealer, who leads any card from their hand. The dealer then plays any other card to the trick. The trick is won by the card led unless the other player’s card is a higher card of the same suit, or a trump card (if trumps are both led and played then the higher trump wins). The winner collects the trick and places it face down in front of them—these cards are out of play and cannot be consulted for information regarding what remains in play. After winning a trick, the player may meld cards from their hand, placing them face up on the table in front of them, if able. Melding must follow certain rules, as described below. The winner of the trick then draws one card from the stock, followed by the player that did not win the trick. The winner of the first trick then leads to the second trick.

Once a player has melded, they may play cards either from their hand or from their exposed, melded cards.


The following are valid melds and their point values:

  • Class A
    • Flush: A, K, Q, J, 10 of trumps, 150 points.
    • Royal marriage: King and queen of trumps. 40 points.
    • Marriage: King and queen of the same suit, other than the trump suit. 20 points.
    • Dix (pronounced deece): The 9 of trumps. 10 points.
  • Class B
    • 100 aces: One ace of each suit. 100 points.
    • 80 kings: One king of each suit. 80 points.
    • 60 queens: One queen of each suit. 60 points.
    • 40 jacks: One jack of each suit. 40 points.
  • Class C
    • Pinochle: The Q♠ and J♦. 40 points.

A meld is formed by playing it face-up to the table in front of the player. For clarity’s sake, the cards forming the new meld should be grouped together on the table (this group will not necessarily stay together as play continues, but it should be clear to the opponent what is being melded at the time that it is melded). Upon forming a meld, the player immediately scores its value.

A player can only meld when having won a trick, and then may only meld once per trick. The exception to this is to the dix, the melding of which does not preclude any other meld being made on that turn. Instead of simply melding the dix, a player may also take the 25th card from under the stock and exchange it with the dix, taking the exposed card into their hand; doing so scores 10 points, just the same as if the dix were melded.

A meld may also be made using cards on the table from previous melds. Such a new meld must include at least one card from the hand, and a card may not be moved to a meld that is both of the same class and of equal or lesser value.

Only the highest-scoring meld is scored at any one time. For example, when melding a flush, you cannot also score for the royal marriage contained therein, nor can you later split the royal marriage out as its own meld (since this is a lower-value meld of the same class). However, you can meld a royal marriage and then later upgrade it to a flush by adding an ace, jack, and ten. In a similar vein, cards cannot be shared between two melds at once; for example, K♠ Q♠ J♦ may not be played at the same time to score for both a marriage and a pinochle, because scoring two melds at once is not permitted. As an alternative, the marriage can be played, and on a later turn the J♦ may be introduced to ruin the marriage like the little homewrecker he is.

Despite being exposed and on the table, a melded card may be played to a trick. This card takes no part in further melding, however—it goes into the inaccessible won-tricks pile of whoever won that trick.

Phase two

When the stock is diminished to only one card, that card is exposed before being drawn by the player who won the trick. This is to make good for the fact that the loser of the trick will take either the upturned 25th card of the deck, or the dix that replaced it, which has already been exposed to the winner of the trick.

The players then collect their remaining melded cards and return them to their hand. This starts the second phase of play. Play continues as before, except for two key differences: 1) there is no further melding, and 2) the player who does not lead off is required to follow suit, if possible, and if not, must play a trump; if trumps are led, a higher trump must be played.

Play continues until the hands are exhausted. The winner of the final trick of the hand scores ten points.

Each player then looks through their won-tricks pile, tallying a score using the following values:

  • Aces: 11.
  • Tens: 10.
  • Kings: 4.
  • Queens: 3.
  • Jacks: 2.
  • Nines: 0.

When a final tally is reached, it is rounded, with a ones digit of 7 rounding up and a ones digit of 6 rounding down. This rounded tally is then added to the player’s score. The next hand is dealt by the player who was non-dealer in the last hand.

Game play continues until one player exceeds 1,000 points at the end of a hand. If both players exceeded 1,000, then regardless of who is ahead, game play continues, with the target score now 1,250, and then 1,500, and so on, increasing by 250 points until one player exceeds the target without the other. That player is the winner.

See also


Five Hundred

Five Hundred (not to be confused with 500 Rummy) is a game for two to five players, though it is most frequently played as a four-player partnership game. It was copyrighted in 1904 by the United States Playing Card Company, makers of Bicycle cards. Since then, it has spread throughout the world, taking root in places such as Australia and New Zealand, and pockets of the United States, such as Ohio and Minnesota.

It is worth noting that the rules of Five Hundred vary greatly from locale to locale. Southern Cross, an Australian game company, has even adapted the game for six players by producing a 63-card deck that includes 11s, 12s, and a 13♥ and 13♦. (One has to imagine that, aside from being used for Five Hundred, such a deck has considerable use in pranks.) The following outlines one form of American partnership rules.

Object of Five Hundred

The object of the game is to be the first partnership to score five hundred points—thus the name Five Hundred—by accurately predicting the number of tricks you will take during a given hand.


The players divide into two partnerships, with partners sitting across from one another, so that the turn of play alters between partnerships when going clockwise.

Five Hundred for four players uses a 45-card deck formed by stripping the threes and twos from a standard 52-card deck and adding a joker. Just because the Bicycle folks dreamed up the game doesn’t mean you have to use their cards—Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards will do a better job of it. You will also need some form of scorekeeping device, such as a pencil and paper.

Deal ten cards to each player, plus an extra batch of five cards to the middle of the table, using the following procedure: a batch of three cards to each player, a batch of two to the middle, two more to the players, two to the middle, three to the players, then two to the players.

Card ranking

In the trump suit, Five Hundred ranks cards differently than most games, and since the ranking of cards depends on which suit is trump, some cards will have different rankings from hand to hand.

The rank of cards in the trump suit is as follows:

  1. Best bower. The joker.
  2. Right bower. Jack of trumps.
  3. Left bower. The jack of the suit as the same color as trumps, despite not being of the trump suit, is considered a trump, and is ranked here. (For example, if diamonds were trump, the J♦ would be the right bower, and the J♥ would be the left bower.)
  4. All of the remaining cards, in their usual order, with ace high. (A, K, Q, 10, 9, … 4.)

Cards rank in the usual order, ace high, in the non-trump suits (save for the jack serving as the left bower). In hands with no trump, the joker stands alone as the only trump in play.

Game play


Prior to the beginning of bidding, a player may declare “ace, no face”, meaning that they have exactly one ace but no face cards or joker. Upon making this declaration, the player’s partner may agree to have the hand redealt by the same dealer. The opposing partnership does not have any input into this decision. If the partnership declaring “ace, no face” decides to play on, they may not make a nullo bid (as described below).

Bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left, and continues to the left, with players either bidding or passing. A bid consists of both a number of tricks the partnership is aiming to win, and a trump suit, such as “seven spades”. Bids of six, called inkle (as in “inkle clubs”), are only available to the first two bidders; thereafter minimum bids start at seven.

Bids are ranked according to their score value, which is listed in the following table:

Proposed trump Inkle (6) 7 tricks 8 tricks 9 tricks 10 tricks
Spades 40 140 240 340 440
Clubs 60 160 260 360 460
Diamonds 80 180 280 380 480
Hearts 100 200 300 400 500
No trump 120 220 320 420 520

In addition to the above bids, there is a special bid of nullo, which counts for 250, and grand nullo or granola, which counts for 510. A bid of nullo is a bid of zero tricks with no trump, and the player’s partner sits out of the hand. A grand nullo can only be bid if the player’s partner has previously bid nullo, and is a zero bid for both players of the partnership. Players may also pass if they do not wish to bid. Nullo is outbid by any bid of eight or more; grand nullo cannot be outbid.

If all players pass without bidding, the game is played with no trumps and no contract, with the target being simply to capture as many tricks as possible. Otherwise, bidding continues for three rounds. The final bidder becomes the declarer, and their bid becomes the contract for that partnership, which is the target number of total tricks for both partners to capture. The opposing partnership becomes the defenders, and their goal for the hand is to prevent the declarer’s partnership from making their contract.

The middle

After bidding, but before the beginning of actual play, the five cards in the middle of the table are dealt with, depending on the outcome of the bidding:

  • Normal bid or nullo (i.e. not grand nullo): the declarer takes the cards in the middle into their hand, and discards five cards, face down, back into the middle.
  • Grand nullo: the player bidding grand nullo takes the middle into their hand and discards five cards. Their partner, the player bidding nullo, takes the five discards into their hand and discards five cards themselves.
  • All players passed without bidding: The middle is not exposed.

Play of the hand

After the middle’s fate has been resolved, game play begins. The declarer leads to the first trick, unless there is no declarer, in which case the player to the dealer’s left leads. Play continues to the left. All players must follow suit, if able; otherwise, they may play any card. If the joker is led, the leader declares a suit which the other three players must follow, although this suit cannot be one which the player has already demonstrated they would be unable to follow themselves. The trick is collected by the player who played the highest card of the suit led, or the highest trump if one was played.

Collected tricks are not added to the hand, but rather kept in a discard pile in front of one of the partners. Since it is important to keep track of the number of tricks captured, each trick should be placed onto the pile at right angles, so that the tricks can be easily separated after the hand. The individual player that won the trick leads to the next one.

The hand must be played out to the end, despite the fact that the outcome of the contract may have been decided. This is even true for nullo and grand nullo hands.


When all ten tricks have been played, the declarer’s partnership counts the number of tricks collected and compares it to the contract. If they fulfilled the contract, they score the value of the contract, as shown in the above table. If the partnership broke contract by failing to collect the contracted number of tricks (or by collecting one or more tricks on a nullo bid), the value of the contract is charged against them. There is no penalty or bonus for exceeding the contract, although it does deprive the defenders of points.

Regardless of the outcome of the contract, the defenders score 10 points for each trick collected. In nullo and grand nullo hands, the defenders score 10 points for each collected by the declarer’s partnership. In a no-contract hand where all players passed without bidding, both partnerships score 10 points per trick.

The player to the left of the dealer deals the next hand.

End of game

Game play continues until one partnership exceeds a score of 500 by fulfilling a contract. If a partnership exceeds 500 by scoring tricks as defenders or on a no-contract hand, play continues.

If a partnership ever reaches a score of –500, they automatically lose and the game ends.



Denexa Games Ace of Spades
Spades is a relatively new game, coming to life in the twentieth century, but one whose popularity has spread throughout the United States. Spades is a game for four, in partnerships of two. While game play (and the name) shows a passing resemblance to Hearts, it would be much more accurate to describe Spades as a stripped-down version of Contract Bridge than anything else. All of the elements are there—partnerships, bidding, and a trump suit—in a greatly simplified form. Most game books agree, categorizing Spades in their chapters on Bridge and Whist.

Object of Spades

The object of Spades is to score 500 points (although the threshold for winning can be lowered to 200 if a quicker game is desired) by accurately predicting the number of tricks you will take during a given hand.


The players divide into two partnerships, with partners sitting across from one another, so that the turn of play alters between partnerships when going clockwise.

Spades uses a standard deck of 52 cards. You could use something other than Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, but why would you want to? You’ll also need a scorekeeping apparatus of some type. Most people just use pencil and paper, but if you want to set up two of those big ten-key adding machines with the loud tape printout whenever you hit the plus key, we promise we won’t judge you. Those things are still kind of neat.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player.

Game play

The first item of business to take care of is the bidding. Unlike in Contract Bridge, this isn’t so much of an auction as it is a simple declaration of how many tricks the player intends to take. The minimum declaration is two. The two partners’ bids added together forms the contract for that partnership, which is the target number of total tricks for both partners to capture. The individual players do not need to fulfill their own bids. For example, if Alpha bids three and their partner Bravo bids four, it does not matter if Alpha captures six tricks and Bravo only one, since between the two of them they collected seven tricks. The contract is recorded on the score sheet for future reference (if you’re doing that adding machine thing that we promised not to judge you on, you can use the “#” key for that).

The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick, and may play any card they desire. Play continues to the left, with each player following suit if able. If not, they may play any card, particularly spades, which serve as a trump suit. (This is in contrast to All Fours, where a player may play a trump at any time and not just when they are out of the suit led.) The highest played card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a spade was played, in which case the highest spade wins. Aces are high.

Collected tricks are not added to the hand, but rather kept in a discard pile in front of one of the partners. Since it is important to keep track of the number of tricks captured, each trick should be placed onto the pile at right angles, so that the tricks can be easily separated after the hand. The individual player that won the trick leads to the next one.

When all thirteen tricks have been played, each partnership counts the number of tricks collected and compares it to the contract. If the partnership broke contract by failing to collect the contracted number of tricks, they score zero for that hand. Otherwise, they score ten points for each trick collected, and one point for each trick in excess of the contract, which are referred to as bags. The points for bags are not a bonus—they merely allow the scorekeeper to keep track of the number of bags accrued by each partnership; for every ten bags a partnership collects, 100 points is deducted from their score!

After scoring is completed, the cards are collected and the next player to the left of the previous dealer deals a new hand. Play continues until one partnership reaches the predetermined number of points, usually 500.