Spades was created in the 1930s and since then has been one of the most played card games in the USA. Similar to Whist and Bridge, it follows a trick-tacking style of play. However, the spades suit is always trump (therefore the name). There are different variations, but the most common is a pairs game.
The goal is to be the first team that reaches a certain amount of points. Players take turns and put cards on the table. The card with the highest rank wins the trick. An intriguing aspect is that a team can lose points under specific game conditions.
The game has 4 main stages – dealing, bidding, playing, and scoring.
Cards and Players
Spades is played with a 52-card French deck. The cards are ranked from Ace (high) to 2 (low).
There is also an option to include jokers and thus making it a total of 54 game cards. When used, the two jokers are the highest-ranked cards.
Typically, Spades is played by 4 people that form 2 teams. But there is an alternative version suited for 3 players and even a 2-player Spades variant.
Dealing the cards
Each player takes a card from the deck, so whoever has the highest one is the first dealer.
The dealer shuffles the cards and deals in a clockwise direction. Each player gets 13 cards. Players check to see if they received the correct number of cards and sort them by suit and rank.
If there is a misdeal, the whole hand must be dealt again. Often that can happen when a player is dealt more or fewer cards by mistake.
The Bidding stage
Players evaluate their cards and bid the number of tricks they will win during the round. Since this is a pairs game, the bids of the two partners are collected. The sum is the number of tricks that team must win to have a positive score.
For valid bid is considered any number between 0 and 13. Bidding 0 is called a Nil bid and rewards more points if successful. A Nil bid applies for the player who declares it, meaning only that player must not win any tricks during the round.
One of the riskier strategies is a Blind Nil bid. It is to declare 0 tricks before seeing your cards and can reward many points. But if you fail and take even a single trick, your team gets a significant penalty and can lose the whole game.
When playing the cards, players must follow suit. If that is not possible, they can play any card, depending on their strategy.
In general, players are not allowed to lead with a spade. This rule applies until a spade is used to trump a trick. That action is called Breaking Spades.
A player can lead with a spade if they have no other suit in their hand.
Scoring and wining
To score points, a team must win the number of tricks they bid. For example, if you bid 2 tricks and your partner bids 3, your team has to take 5 tricks in total. So it is acceptable for you to win 1 trick as long as your teammate takes 4 tricks. If you succeed, you will get 50 points (10 points for each tick). But if you take fewer than 5 tricks, you will lose 50 points.
Extra tricks are called bags. Every extra trick counts as 1 bag, and once you collect 10 bags your side will lose 100 points.
If you bid Nil and don’t win tricks during the round, your team gets 100 points. But if you fail, 100 points are reduced from your score.
Depending on the outcome, Blind Nil gives 200 points as a reward or penalty.
Most of the games are played until a team reaches 500 points.
You can download a free Spades score sheet.
These are the most used terms that are specific to the Spades card game:
- Bag – Penalty for each additional trick a team wins compared to their bid.
- Bid – The number of tricks players must declare before the beginning of each round.
- Book – Some players use the term as a synonym to trick.
- Cut – To trump a suit and thus win the current trick.
- Long suit – When you have 4 or more cards of a suit in your hand.
- Nil – A bid to win 0 tricks. It applies only to the declaring player and not to the team.
- Overbid – When a team wins more tricks than the bid.
- Renege – A cheating practice. It occurs if a player can follow suit but plays another one instead.
- Sandbagging – To accumulate bags because of overbidding.
- Singleton – To have only one card of a suit in your hand. Sometimes it’s called a bare.
- Underbid – When a team wins fewer tricks than the bid.
Find additional info about the game terminology here.
Here are some tips that can help you to make a decision during a game of spades:
Evaluate your hand carefully – What cards can help you win more tricks? Aces and Kings are the obvious answers. Having a long trump suit will also benefit a lot of winning tricks. Sometimes having fewer cards from one particular suit can be in your favor too.
Bid Aggressively – Spades is a game that rewards brave bidders. Try to bid one more trick than what you think you will win. In reality, most players will underbid and try to lose tricks on purpose. These tricks are free points to take if you are more aggressive. Situations like this often happen because of how the scoring works. If you win fewer tricks, your team will lose many points. But if you get 1 or 2 extra tricks, there won’t be a big penalty.
Know when to bid Nil – If your partner bids aggressively, they possibly have a strong hand. That gives you a better chance to bid Nil and be successful. Additionally, if you are missing cards of any suit, then also consider bidding Nil. Look how long your suites are and where you have your high cards.
Maximize your tricks – One strategy for that to happen is to avoid playing your Aces earlier in the game. Don’t rush to take your tricks in the beginning. That only gives the other players easy access to getting their tricks.
Always watch your partner – Cohesiveness is a strong aspect of the Spades game. So always watch the actions of your teammate. A united tactic is key to accomplishing your team goals.
Is it worth going Blind Nil? – If you are severely behind the opponents in the game, you should always consider doing it. Also, if a successful Blind Nil bid will get you the win and it isn’t too risky, probably go for it too.
Be aware of the score – If you can end the game sooner, it is important to go for it, even if it seems risky. Figure out what you actually need to do to finish the game in your favor.
We hope these strategies will help you win at Spades.
Numbers and game psychology
Several interesting Spades facts:
- According to web searches, at least 75% of the Spades players worldwide are located in the USA.
- Spades is mainly popular in English-speaking countries.
- Most players prefer to play the game until they win 500 points. Other relevant options are 300 or 200 points.
- Around 80% of the players start a game with a high card when they lead – an Ace or a King.
- The rule of 3 applies almost every time – when a suit is played for a third time during a round, it’s highly possible to be cut.
- There is less than a 2% chance of having the Ace of Spades in your hand.
- The chance of getting a face card (King, Queen, Jack) of any suit is 23%. More card odds in Spades.
- Usually, players will try to hold onto the Ace of Spades until the end of the round.
Few small twists to the classic rules:
- The dealer plays first – Usually, the game starts with the player who sits on the dealer’s left side. But there is an option where the dealer always leads the first trick.
- Lowest club – Players are obliged to play their lowest club card on the first trick.
- Lead with a spade – Some players prefer a variation where you can always lead with a spade.
- Double Nil – When a player bids Nil, that applies to the team. Meaning both players must not win any tricks.
- No spades misdeal – If a player has no spades in their hand may ask for a misdeal.
- Bags are not bad – No penalty for accumulating 10 bags.
You can see more different gameplay interpretations here.
Playing Spades has never been easier. You can find thousands of players on the web, eager to compete in another game. There is no need to be an expert, and a basic understanding of the rules will be enough to start playing.