Spades is one of those games with fairly simple rules but can have a complex strategy. While we can’t possibly share all there is to know about Spades strategy, here’s a few tips that will give you something to think about next time you play.
Are bags really such a bad thing?
Most people will be pretty cautious about collecting too many bags, due to the hefty 100-point penalty assessed for collecting ten of them. But it’s worth remembering that in some situations capturing a bag or two can be a decent strategy, if you have a good reason for doing so.
The reason for taking bags that is easiest to spot is when your opponents are at risk of breaking contract. If it’s the end of the hand, you’ve made your contract, and your opponents are still a few tricks away from making theirs, it is generally a good idea to set them by denying them those last few tricks, ensuring they score zero for the hand, even if it means taking in a few bags.
If your opponents are within a few bags of getting that 100-point penalty, it may be a good strategy to risk taking a few bags yourself to try to trick them into going over the edge. Aggressive play at the beginning of the hand can put your opponents in a frame of mind where they’re worrying about making their contract, causing them to play even more aggressively and potentially take in tricks they don’t need.
On the other hand, keep your number of bags in mind. If you have more than seven or so bags, it’s probably not a good option to risk taking the bag penalty unless your opponent will be taking it with you.
In some games, you don’t need to worry about bags at all. In games played to only 200 or 300 points, chances are you simply will not have enough time to accrue ten bags. Longer games, such as 500-pointers, make the bag penalty more dangerous.
Since Spades is only played with one fifty-two card deck (like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards), players with a good memory can easily keep track of what cards have been played and what haven’t. You don’t even need to remember every card; just keep track of those that are important to your hand. If you hold the Q♦ and you know the K♦ and A♦ have not been played, you know that it’s more likely that your queen will be beaten. Of course, no matter what your hand is, it’s usually a good idea to keep track of the spades that have been played, since those cards can be used to trump most any card in your hand.
When you have a lot of spades
Holding a lot of spades opens up a few new opportunities to a player. Naturally, you know that there will be fewer spades in the hands of your opponents, and you can trump many more tricks. You can lead spades, and the other players will be forced to follow suit. This can give you useful information; if you lead spades and someone plays a different suit, you know that they will be less likely to overcome your non-spade cards. Repeatedly leading spades can force players to sacrifice all of their spades to follow suit, leaving them unable to use them to capture tricks.
The importance of position
Where you’re sitting can be as important in Spades as it is in poker. If you are the second to play, that is, right after the lead, playing a spade to try to take the trick can be a bad move, because your opponent to the left may simply play a higher spade, and your partner will have to play an even higher spade to win the trick. It is often better to play conservatively and use the opportunity to burn off a less valuable card.
On the other hand, when you are in the third seat (your partner is the leader), it is usually appropriate to play to lock down the trick. The only times you might not want to are when your partner leads with a nigh-unbeatable card.
Remember your partner
And above all, try to keep tabs on what your partner’s doing. If you notice that they appear to have no cards in a suit, but you’re long in it, you may want to lead that suit repeatedly so that your opponent can take the opportunity to play whatever they wish and potentially win the trick with spades.
Keep their bid in mind too. If your partner made a very high bid, they likely have an exceptionally powerful hand, so you should let them use it and try to stay out of their way. Likewise, if they made a very low bid, they probably have a weak hand, so you will have to be the one scoring the tricks for your partnership.
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.
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.