Spades

Spades

[speyd]
Spades is a partnership trick-taking card game, in which the object is for each pair or partnership to take at least the number of tricks they bid on before play began. This game is also known as call bridge. Spades is a descendant of the whist family of card games, which also includes bridge, hearts, and oh, hell. Its major difference as compared to other whist variants is that, instead of trump being decided by the highest bidder or at random, the spade suit is always trump, hence the name.

History

Spades was invented in the United States in the late 1930s and became popular in the 1940s. It is unclear which game it is most directly descended from, but it is known that spades is a member of the Whist family and is a simplification of Contract Bridge such that a skilled spades player can learn bridge relatively quickly.

The game's rise to popularity in the U.S. came during World War II, when it was introduced by soldiers from its birthplace in Cincinnati, Ohio to various military stations around the world. The game's popularity in the armed forces stems from its simplicity compared to bridge and euchre and the fact that it can be more easily interrupted than poker, all of which were also popular military card games. After the war, veterans brought the game back home to the U.S., where due to the GI Bill it spread to and became popular among college students as well as in home games. It also remained mildly popular in countries in which U.S. troops were stationed, both in WWII and later deployments. As of 2000, Spades is considered the #1 partnership game in the United States, surpassing Bridge. However, bridge, hearts, skat and other trick-taking games remain popular and eclipse spades in various regions and demographics of the U.S. and in other countries, especially in Europe.

Glossary of terms

Trick - A unit of play in which each player lays one card from their hand, and is "taken" or won by the player who laid down the highest-value card.
Book - in Spades, this is synonymous with "trick"; however other trick-taking games have a different definition.
Hand - A series of tricks in which all cards dealt to each player are played.
Bid - A guess regarding the number of tricks a player or pair will take.
Partnership - A pair of players when playing with an even number; their bids and taken tricks are summed.
Team - largely synonymous with "partnership", but when playing with six or more a team can comprise more than two players.
Contract - The result of a player's or partnership's bids for the hand; they are required to take at least that number of tricks during play of the hand.
(to be) Set - To be unable to take the number of tricks required by a contract, usually because the opposing players have taken enough tricks that there are fewer remaining tricks than are needed.
Undertrick - A trick that a partnership needed in order to make contract, but didn't take. The term is used more in scoring than in play; a pair who bid 6 but only took five has an undertrick, while a specific trick in play that the partners need to take from a tactical standpoint is simply a "must-have" or "must-win".
Bag - an "overtrick"; a trick taken by a player or partnership when their contract has already been met. The importance of bags or overtricks varies depending on house rules; generally, taking too many overtricks incurs a penalty, but the taking of some overtricks can be good strategy.
(to) Follow Suit - to play a card of the same suit as the first card played to a trick. As in many trick-taking games, Spades players are required to follow suit if they are able.
Trump - a suit or other subset of cards in the deck that is of higher value than all others. Most games in the Whist family use a trump suit; in Spades, it is always the Spade suit. The term also refers to the playing of a trump card.

Basic game play

Number of Players: Two+; the game is most commonly played with four players in pairs ("Partnership spades")

The Deck: Standard 52 card deck, can also be played with one or two jokers and/or predetermined cards removed. With 6+ players, a second deck is often used.

Rank of Suit: Spades is always trump. Other suits have no intrinsic value during play, but a card of the suit led in the current trick will beat a card of any other suit except a Spade. If a tiebreaker is needed in a draw for deal, the most common suit order from low to high is Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades.

Rank of cards (descending): Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

Object of the game: Score the most points; points are accrued by winning at least the number of tricks (also known as "books") bid in each hand, and are lost by failing to take at least that many (or in some cases by taking too many).

Basic game play mechanics

The deal

The first dealer is chosen by a draw for high card, and thereafter the deal passes to the dealer's left (clockwise) after each hand. The dealer shuffles, and the player to the right is given the opportunity to "cut" the cards to prevent the dealer stacking the deck. The entire deck is then dealt face-down one card at a time in clockwise order (with four players, each player should receive 13 cards).

Blind bidding: Virtually all games include a variant that may happen at this point; one or more players, having not yet looked at their cards, may choose to bid on the number of tricks they will take. When bidding "blind", the player's bid, if made exactly by that player, is rewarded with bonus points (see Scoring below), while failing to make the bid results in the bonus being subtracted from the player's or team's score.

Blind Nil: The most common blind bid, the player bids that they will not take a single trick during play of the hand. Bidding nil offers an additional bonus on top of the blind bid. A failed nil bid, similar to a failed blind, results in the bonus being deducted from the score.

Double Blind Nil: It is possible for both players of a partnership to bid Blind Nil. If this is done successfully, the team wins the game outright or takes double the combined bonus. If either or both players take tricks, however, there is no penalty.

The players then pick up their cards and arrange them as desired (the most common arrangement is by suit, then rank).

Misdeal: A misdeal is a deal in which all players have not received the same number of cards. A misdeal may be discovered immediately by counting the cards after they are dealt, or it may be discovered during play of a hand. If a hand is misdealt, the hand is considered void and the deal passes to the next player.

Sometimes a misdeal is also called if a player is dealt 2 or fewer spades, 7 or more of any other suit, or is dealt no face cards. A player must throw down his hand face-up, so other players may verify, and declare "misdeal" before he or his team has bid. This is optional; a player may instead be required to bid "one" or may try to bid "nil" if dealt such a hand.

Bidding

Each player decides how many tricks he/she will be able to take. The player to the left of the dealer starts the bidding and, in turn clockwise, each player states how many tricks he/she expects to win. There is only one round of bidding. Every player must make a bid; no player may pass and the minimum bid is one. As Spades are always trump, no trump suit is named during bidding as with some other variants. A common variant borrowed from the related game Oh Hell is that the sum of all bids must not equal the number of tricks to be played; this ensures that at least one player or team will be set or be forced to take an overtrick. Another game variation allows each player to optionally increase their bid by one point after all players have bid but before game play starts. A reduction in bid, once bids are made, is never allowed.

Nil: A player that has already looked at their cards can bid nil, but not blind nil. As with blind nil, the object of the bidder is to take no tricks during the hand. The player's partner may make a normal bid and then help them by attempting to take tricks the nil bidder would otherwise take. If successful, the bidder receives the nil bonus; if unsuccessful, the player or team subtracts that bonus.

Double Nil: If both players in a partnership decide that they will take no tricks and successfully do so, the team's nil bonuses are doubled. If either or both players fail to make their nil bid, there is no penalty.

When playing in partnerships, the players may either bid individually (the bids are then summed), giving no information other than their bid to their partner, or they may discuss their hands (without mentioning specific cards) and make a single partnership bid. The bids are recorded by a designated scorer, and if passing will not occur, play of the hand commences.

Passing

Passing, or the exchanging of cards between players, is optional and rare in Spades. However, one more common exception relates to Nil bids, which are generally considered difficult to make (especially when the bid was blindly made). To offset this difficulty slightly, a partnership in which one player has bid Nil or Blind Nil can choose to pass up to 3 cards between players; the most common arrangement is one card for regular nil and two cards for blind nil. When passing, the partners agree on a number of cards to pass, then select that number of cards and place them face down in front of their partner. Neither partner should look at the cards passed to them before they have passed their own cards. In passing this way, the idea is for the partner who bid Nil to offload their highest trumps or other face cards in return for low cards from their partner, which both decreases the likelihood that the nil bidder can be forced to take a trick, and increases the likelihood that his/her partner will be able to "cover", or overplay high cards the nil bidder still holds that would otherwise take a trick.

Passing does not have to be limited to this one case; players may agree that both partnerships may choose to, or must, exchange cards before beginning a trick under any circumstances. Players can then attempt to void suits or balance their hands. However, the requirement to pass cards can be counterproductive, as regardless of whether the passing is done before or after bidding it can interfere with contracting and, unless a player has bid Nil, the object of passing is usually unclear as the players have little information about which cards would benefit their partner.

Game play

Each hand consists of a number of tricks or "books" (the 4-handed game contains 13 tricks using all 52 cards). The player on the dealer's left makes the opening lead by playing a single card of their choice. Players in clockwise fashion then play a card of their choice; they must follow suit, if they can, otherwise they may play any card, including a trump Spade. Once a card has left the hand of a player, it stands and cannot be retrieved without the penalty of losing three tricks.

A common rule, borrowed from Hearts, is that a player may not lead Spades until a Spade has been played to trump another trick. This prevents a player who is "long" in Spades (having a large number of them) from leading Spades one after the other towards the beginning of the game to deplete them and thus prevent other players using them as trumps. The act of playing the first Spade in a hand is known as "breaking Spades".

The trick is won or taken by the player who played the highest value card; if one or more trumps were played the highest Trump wins, otherwise the highest card of the suit led wins. The player who wins the trick gathers the cards up into a face-down arrangement that allows players to count the number of tricks taken. The contents of each trick can NOT be viewed after this point except to determine whether a player failed to follow suit when it later becomes apparent that they could have. The number of tricks a player has won cannot be disguised, if asked each player must count out their tricks until everyone has agreed on their "trick count". The player who wins any given trick leads the next one. Play continues until all players have played all cards (all players should exhaust their hands at the same time; if not, it is a misdeal).

Reneging: A player or partnership not following suit when possible "reneges" on their contract. In such cases either the contract becomes null and no points can be scored by fulfilling it, or the team is declared as having not made their contract and its point value is subtracted from the team's score. To determine whether a player suspected of reneging did in fact fail to follow suit, it is often necessary to examine a previous trick; in such cases the opposing team or partnership can only view the exact trick during which the renege happened. If the wrong trick is chosen to view, the opposing team or partnership surrenders three tricks.

Alternatively, the reneging player or partnership may be penalized a set number of tricks for the hand, generally three: thus a reneging player or partnership who bid four may still make bid by taking seven tricks; however, overtricks are still counted by the actual total of tricks taken; a team who bid four and reneged, but took eight tricks, is counted as having made their contract with four overtricks. In some variations of partner spades, it may be advantageous for a player renege on purpose (they are going to make their bid but will not make their nil bid) in order to lose tricks already won. In these cases, it should be agreed upon before starting the game that a renege renders a hand "mucked." The offending team goes down their bid and then next hand is dealt.

TRAMing (The Rest Are Mine): It is generally accepted that if one player has cards remaining such that the player cannot help but take all of the remaining tricks (e.g. the AKQ♠ when there are three tricks left, or QJ♠ with two tricks left if the Ace and King have already been played) then that player may simply lay down his hand and claim the remaining tricks, allowing the game to progress more quickly.

TRAMing should only be done when the player is sure they cannot lose a trick; however, TRAMing can be done feasibly even if one of the cards held by a player can be beaten by an unplayed card in someone else's hand. An example might be a TRAMing player holding the KQ9♠ when the JT♠ have not been played. The rationale is that if the player hadn't TRAMed, he/she would have led the King and then the Queen, likely forcing the holders of those cards to follow suit. TRAMing in scenarios like this requires good card-counting skills; a player may hold the J and/or 10 with one or two extra low Spades, and thus could follow suit on the first two tricks and still top the 9, taking a trick claimed by the TRAMer.

Scoring

Once the final trick is played, the hand is then scored. Many variants for scoring exist; what follows is the basic method.

Contract score

Once a hand is completed, the players count the number of tricks they took and, in the case of partnerships or teams, the members' trick counts are summed to form a team count.

Each player's or team's trick count is then compared to their contract. If the player or team made at least the number of tricks bid, 10 points for each bid trick are awarded (a bid of 5 would earn 50 points if made). If a player/team did not make their contract, 10 points for each bid trick are deducted (a bid of six when the team only made 5 loses 60 points). If a player or team took MORE tricks than they bid, a single point for each overtrick, called a "bag", is counted (a bid of 5 with six tricks taken results in a score of 51).

Bonuses or penalties

To this contract score, players add bonuses earned and subtract penalties assessed based on whether the player successfully did or failed to do any of the more specific things they said they would in the bidding phase. Many variants exist that award or penalize according to certain behaviors; they are covered below. For the basic nil and blind bids, points are awarded as follows:
Bid made If bid met exactly If player took fewer If player took more
Nil 100 N/A -100
Blind 100 -100 0
Blind Nil 200 N/A -200
Double Nil 400 or Game N/A 0 or -200
Double Blind Nil 800 or Game N/A 0 or -400

Though some variant bonuses or penalties are based on the contract score, normally a bonus or penalty does not affect and is not affected by any other bonus or penalty, or the contract score. As a result, a partnership can have a net positive score even if they failed to make their contract. For instance, if one player successfully made a Nil bid, but their partner bid 5 and only took 4 tricks, the partnership still gets the bonus so the net score is -50 + 100 = 50. Conversely, a partnership can have a net negative score in much the same way; if a player failed a nil bid but the partnership bid and took 5 tricks, the net score is -50.

Bags and bagging out

An extremely common feature is designed to penalize players for underestimating the number of tricks they will take, while at the same time not removing the possible strategy of intentionally taking overtricks, or "bags", in order to "set" the other team. This is accomplished by keeping track of bags in the ones place on the scorecard, and assessing a 100-point penalty when 10 bags are accumulated and the ones place rolls over.

For example, if a team's bid is five and they take eight tricks, the score for the hand is 53. If the team's total score before this hand had a ones place of 7 or more, for instance 108, the team has "bagged out" or been "sandbagged"; the hand's score is added to the total and then 100 points are deducted. In the example, the score would be 61 after the penalty. The 10 bags could be considered to make the penalty 90 points; a common way around this is to deduct 110 points, to not carry the 10, or to simply count bags separately. The resulting score would be 51 in any of these cases. Any bags over 10 are retained in the ones place and count towards future overtricks; a player or team can bag out multiple times in a game.

Keeping score

One of the players is the scorer and has written the bids down, so that during the play and for the scoring afterward, this information will be available to all the players. When a hand is over, the scores should be recorded next to the bids. Alternately, the scorer can turn the bid into the contract score by writing in the number of bags (zero if there were none) behind the bid, and a minus sign before it if the team was set, then add bonuses and subtract penalties beneath. A running score should be kept so that players can readily see each other's total points.

Winning

The conditions for winning should be agreed on before play of the first hand. The most common condition is the first to reach 500 points, but any point limit, such as 250, 800, 1000, etc. can be specified. Alternately, the game could be played for a fixed number of hands or a fixed time limit; with four players, eight hands can generally be played in about an hour. If there is a tie, then all players participate in (at least) one more round of play until a winner is decided. Bags, while dangerous, do count as single points, so a team may win a game 507 to 503 through the judicious taking of overtricks.

Game variations

As with any widely played game of such flexible nature, there are any number of ways to change and tweak the game play to an individual or household liking. These are some of the different ways a person can play Spades. It should be noted these are not considered the standard rules, although some of these are widely employed in friendly social games.

Dealing variants

Face-up Deal: In this variant, the dealer can lay out up to four cards per player face up as long as the same number is revealed for each player. Revealing the cards can also set up the psychological warfare of bidding and later playing, and are known in this respect as "power checks", but face-up deals are sometimes done by dealers who 'set the deck' to determine if the cut has disrupted their preparations. When a face-up deal is made, "blind nil" can still be bid if the player has not viewed any face-down cards.

Bottom Deal: In some four-player games the dealer is permitted to deal from the bottom of the deck as long as all players are consecutively dealt from the bottom. In theory the teams would be getting the same cards, but this also gives experienced dealers opportunity for sleight-of-hand replacement of cards or order of dealing.

Kitty: In games with players where the cards cannot be dealt evenly, there is a variation in which no cards are removed from the deck, but instead a "kitty" composed of the leftover cards (or one trick's worth of cards plus the leftovers) is placed at center. Whoever is dealt the 2 of clubs picks up the kitty before bidding begins, integrates it into their hand and then discards the same amount of cards. If a round of cards in addition to the leftovers is placed in the kitty, the discard by the player who picked up the kitty counts as a trick. This introduces more uncertainty in bids because usually the person with the kitty tries to void one suit and trump earlier in the game.

Deuce Starts: In this variant, regardless of which player dealt, the player with the 2 of Clubs leads it to begin the game, similar to Hearts.

Bidding variations

Auction Spades: This variant combines Spades gameplay with the auction-based bidding of Bridge; Each player bids the number of tricks, given a minimum 6, that the partnership must win. Subsequent bidders must raise the bid or pass; once they pass, they cannot bid further. Once all other players have passed, the winning partnership must make their contract, while their opponents have two choices; "set" the bidding team by taking enough tricks that the contract cannot be made (resulting in the contracting team losing ten points per bid trick), or force them to take overtricks. The team who made the winning bid gains 10 points per trick bid if they make their contract, and lose 10 points per trick if they are set. The bidding team gets no points for overtricks. The "defending" team gets one point per trick that they win, and 10 points for each overtrick the bidding team takes. This variant allows for a lot of strategy for the defending team; it is possible, given a conservative winning bid, for the defending team to earn as many or even more points than the bidding team if the defenders can force the bidding team to take most or all of the tricks.

No Trump Bids: This variant's name is misleading as it is not the same as the equivalent bid in Contract Bridge; Spades are still trumps, but a player who bids some number of tricks with "no trump" promises not to win any tricks with spades, except when spades are led. A player may only bid "No Trump" if that player holds at least one spade in their hand, and their partner agrees to let them bid NT. A player who successfully makes a No Trump bid counts each trick taken by that player as double (normally 20 points).

10-for-200 (also known as bidding a "flight" or "wheels"): Bidding 10-for-200 commits a side to win at least 10 tricks; if successful, the team scores 200 points. If the side wins less than 10 tricks, they lose 200 points. Some play a lost bid only loses 100, not 200. In some variations, to make a 10-for-200 bid, the side must win exactly 10 tricks. Some play that any bid of 10 is automatically a 10-for-200 bid. In some places the 10 for 200 bid is called 10 for 2 (which is written on the score sheet as 10-4-2). Another way of writing the 200 score is with the two zeros linked together at the top; this is called "wheels", as the zeroes are supposed to look like train wheels.

"ACES": s Player who is dealt all four aces can call "ACES" along with his/her bid. If the player wins all four tricks containing an Ace, the player is awarded 100 points. There is no penalty if the player cannot accomplish this.

Big and Little Moe: Big and Little Moe are bids where the partnership states their intention to take, respectively, eight or six tricks consecutively. Any capture of a trick by opponents "resets" the count. A partnership bidding Big Moe and capturing eight tricks in a row gains 300 points; one bidding Little Moe and capturing six tricks in a row gains 150 points. Bags or overtricks, if applicable, are not counted.

Bemo: A specialization of "Moe" bidding, bidding Little Bemo commits the team to win all of the first six tricks. It is additional to the normal bid; the team scores an extra bonus of 60 if successful and loses 60 if not. Big Bemo similarly commits the team that bids it to win the first nine tricks; they score a 90 point bonus if successful and lose 90 if not.

Blind 6: This must be declared by a side before either partner looks at their cards. It scores 120 points if the side takes exactly 6 tricks. If they take some other number of tricks they lose 120. It is also commonly played that the side must win at least six tricks and overtricks are not counted, or that failing to make six tricks only loses 60.

Trailing blind bids: In this version, played with or without the jokers, only a player or partnership that is 100 points behind the leader may make blind bids of any kind, and they are scored at 20 points per bid trick, with no overtricks scored. Failing a blind contract is penalized at the normal 10 points per trick bid.

No Blinds No 9's: In this version, no blind bids are allowed, nor are bids of 9 tricks - only bids above or below 9 are allowed.

Boston/Shooting the Moon: Related to but opposite of a Double Nil bid, if a team bids to take all the tricks in a hand, and does so, that team wins the game outright regardless of the score before the hand. A team cannot bid to Shoot the Moon if the other team bids Double Nil, and vice versa.

Boston on Fire/Blind Moon: This is a blind bid to take all tricks in a hand, made before either partner has looked at their cards. Again, the first team to bid either Double Blind Nil or Blind Moon has precedence.

Lexington: Similar to a Boston but 12 tricks are made. Variations include automatically scoring 240 points regardless the bid.

Half Tricks: In this variation, the first partner of a team to bid may, if he chooses, bid tricks in increment of one-half instead of one. (i.e. "I bid three-and-one-half"). His partner is then required to bid such that the team bid rounds out to a whole number. (i.e. "I'll bid two-and-one-half" for a team bid of six tricks). This gives some information between partners; a player is bidding that they will take three tricks and might take a fourth. Their partner can then use this fact in determining the other half of the partnership's bid.

Suicide: Suicide is played by four players, playing as partners. The bidding is as follows: each player must bid either Nil, or at least four tricks. The second player to bid in each partnership may either bid the opposite (i.e., nil if partner bid four or more and vice versa) or may bid what their partner bid, thus forcing their partner to take the opposite bid.

Another version of suicide spades is played by four players, playing as partners. The bidding is the same as normal, except that one person in each team is forced to bid nil, so if the leading partner does not bid nil they must do so. This limits the hands which the first and second person want to bid a non-nil amount, as if they do not have the ace of spades, they cannot place it and therefore risk having it in their partner's hand.

Jailhouse rules: In this variation, only bids of 4-8, 10 and 13 are allowed. A team can only bid nil if the other team bids 10 ("a Pound") or 13 ("a Boston"), otherwise the minimum bid is 4 ("board".) This variation is played in conjunction with 'Sandbags to 10', and somewhat levels the scoring for the player or team on the losing side of a Pound or Boston, as the winning hand risks coming nearer to the 100 point deduction. This also penalizes a team who bids too conservatively by ensuring they gain sandbags without gaining the reward that bidding their Pound would've won.

Whiz: In this variant, each player must bid the exact number of spades in their hand or go nil. There is no minimum amount for teams to bid. Blind bidding is not allowed, however bags are counted as usual.

Mirrors: Related to Whiz, Each player must bid the number of spades in their hand. Players do not have the option to go nil unless they have no Spades, and MUST bid nil if this is the case. Bags are counted as normal.

No Duplicate Bidding: Teams are not allowed to make the same bid. If the same bid is made (each time bids four) and this is not caught, the points are nullified for the entire round, and score keeper is penalized 5 or 15 points for not catching the mistake.

No Vice Versa Bidding: same rule as above, save a team's total bid cannot match the previous bid made by the other team. Round 1, A bids 4 and B bids 5. In Round 2, B cannot bid 4 and A cannot bid 5.

One is the Loneliest Number: Bonus points (six times normal value) are awarded if a player bids and wins only one trick per round. This also applies of player bids only two tricks, with bonus points double normal value.

Trump variants

Deuces High: All 2s count as the highest spades. The order becomes 2 of Spades (highest card), 2 of Diamonds, 2 of Clubs, 2 of Hearts, then all the rest of the spades, Ace through 3. There is another variation, when playing with the Jokers, that the 2 of diamonds and the 2 of spades are high trumps, then Ace, King, and so on. There is a variation where the Aces can be called high (14) or low (1).

Jokers High: Both Jokers are used and count as the highest Spade. If both jokers are played in one trick, the "big Joker" (the Joker whose image is in color, or is larger than the other, or is otherwise marked as preferential) beats the "little Joker". With 3 players, the Jokers are added and no cards are removed; with 4 players, the 2 of diamonds and hearts are taken out (or, similar to their use in Euchre, can replace the Jacks of Spades and Clubs) when addding the two Jokers, maintaining 52 cards in the deck.

Bauer Trumps: Adapted from 500 and Euchre, highest trump is the Jack of Spades (known as the right bauer). Second highest trump is Jack of Clubs (being the same color and known as the left Bauer). The rest of the cards follow normal order. Alternately, and similar to the above, these two Jacks can be replaced with the two Jokers, making them more distinctive.

Differentiated Trump Values: Suits are given special trump value, with Spades being the highest trump. General order is Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, and Hearts. When played this way, there is no off-suit; the suit is either more or less valuable than the led suit, and if more valuable it trumps any card played in that suit.

Jack of Diamonds: Make the Jack of Diamonds the highest trump card. In this variation, the Jack can be played at any time, even if a player can follow suit. If the Jack is led, all other players must follow with a Spade trump card if they have one. If the trump is led and a player has no spades, he must play the Jack of Diamonds if s/he possesses it.

Gameplay variations

Passing Cards: Each team passes one card with their partner each hand. This rule can be applied only to nil bids and it can also be used to allow players to exchange 2 cards if a blind nil bid is made.

First Trick Clubs: This rule is borrowed from a common variation of Hearts rules. Whoever has the lowest clubs (usually 2, 3 if deuces are high) must open the play. Other players can play any card except spades on the first trick, unless the player has nothing but Spades (rare, as the player would have to have been dealt every Spade in the deck).

Card Exchange by Bids: Taken from the game 9-5-2, this variant requires that the total of all bids is exactly 13. In hands except the first and after hands where players/teams made their bids exactly, players are ranked by the number of tricks taken, and the person at the top of this ranking passes a number of cards equal to the number of overtricks taken by that player in the last hand to the person lowest on the ranking, and receives the same number of cards from that player's hand in return. Similarly, the second-highest passes the number of cards equal to THEIR overtricks to the next lowest, and so on. This can happen before or after bidding on the current hand, allowing a trailing player to attempt to sabotage a leading player. The card passing may occur within partnerships; in this case the object can either be to balance hands or overload or void one partner's hand.

Trump Exchange: The holder of the lowest trump card, the 2 of Spades, can exchange for a trump already played. This can be done only by a player who has won at least one trick while he has the lead, and that player must still hold the 2 of Spades. Another variation is the player can only exchange the card when either the individual player or the team has met the required number of tricks bid. This exchange cannot be done in the middle of a trick. It must be done just before or after the players restock their hands, when no cards are in play.

High-Low Spades: High Low Spades is the same as conventional Spades. However, when each trick is played, the lead player announces either "high" or "low". If "high" is called, then if multiple Spades are played the highest value played is the winning trump as normal. If low is called, then the lowest spade played is the winning trump. Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs are not affected by this; if no trump is played, the high card of the led suit wins.

Speed-Spades: Also called "Philadelphia" or "Quakers." The players agree to play each trick within a certain time frame, with each player required to make a play on a one- or two- second count. This is a game of pressure designed to induce mistakes, to increase the pace of a slow game, or both. Often the players will shout "Speed Spades!!" as the start of each trick.

Play to Beat, or Must Trump: A Pinochle-based variant, if a player can beat a Spade played as trump (when a Spade was not led), s/he must. Sometimes this rule extends this to even having to beat a player’s partner, but this generally only applies to beating the other team’s trump. If this a player is caught breaking this rule, all points that the team who broke the rule won during the around is awarded to the opposing team.

Talking across board: A player may not tell another player what he or she has in their hand. This will result in 3 tricks/books being taken away from the offending team. However if for some reason a player is distracted a player can inform a partner what cards were played and how they were played. Talking across board only consist of telling your partner what to throw or what you may or may not have in your hand. All players can be told what was played if they didn't see it. These rules however do not apply to professional/tournament games for money. Regular household games this is not considered "talking across board."

Trampled Face Cards: Penalties can be occurred against players who trump their partner’s face cards. If a player plays a 10 and his/her partner plays a Queen, the team is penalized x amount of points. Penalty for trumping partner’s 10 or above is generally 1 or 10 points.

Carte Blanche: if a player has no face cards or spades in their hand, then they may declare Carte Blanche, which is worth 10 points. This can be declared before or after bidding. Once declared, the player must briefly show the other players his/her hand. After the hand is exposed, the player exchanges three cards face down with his/her partner. A hand of this type is fairly rare, and often scores poorly, so it is usually advantageous to declare it, despite the tactical disadvantage of giving information to the opponent.

End Winning Streak: If one player wins last three tricks of the round, it is worth either 3 points or 30. Some varieties include awarding points for winning the last four or five tricks with same point gauge. If this rule is enforced, and an opposing player/team ends a possible streak by taking the last trick, the points may be awarded to that team instead of the team who had the streak.

Face Card Hunt Scrapple (Open Season on Face Cards): Taken from Sueca, teams receive additional points for taking tricks containing certain cards. Aces 1 or 5 (in Sueca 11), sevens 1 or 5 (in Sueca 10), Kings 4, Jacks 3, and Queens 2.

Dix: If the nine of Spades wins a trick, it is worth 1 point. If the 9 wins a trick with at least one other spade in play, worth 5 points. If the 9 wins a spade-led trick, it is worth 10 points. This is borrowed from Pinochle where in the melding phase, a nine of trumps is worth 10 points.

Last Trick Ace Victory: Bonus points (1 or 10) are awarded for winning the last round with any Ace. 20 points for winning with the Ace of Spades.

Last Trick Ace on Nil: Bonus points (one-fifth of agreed nil value) are awarded for making a nil bid and playing an ace on the last trick.

Last Trick Deuce Victory: Bonus points (30) are awarded for winning the last round with a non-trump two.

Last Trick High Spade Victory: A player who takes the very last trick with a high spade (nine or above), and with that trick exactly makes their bid, receives a 10 point bonus. There is no bonus if the player bags or is short.

Marriages Variation I: Borrowed from Pinochle, If a player has the king and queen of Spades, s/he gets bonus points (generally 1 or 10). Some variations award points for having marriages in the other suits. Only has to have the two cards to get the points. Once the second card is played, the player must call “Married,” to be awarded the points. If the game includes passing cards, these points generally are not awarded if the player’s partner is the one who passed him/her the king/queen to fill the marriage.

Marriages Variation II: On his turn when he has the lead, a player may marry a Queen-King couple of the same suit by playing one and simultaneously showing the other. Regular marriages are worth 20 card points and trump marriages are worth 40. A marriage is usually announced in some way to the other player, often by saying the number of points made. The points do not count towards the player's total until he has taken at least one trick.

Pinochle: also borrowed from Pinochle, if a player holds the jack of diamonds and queen of spades at start, they are awarded either 1, 5, or 10 additional points. If a person wins the two tricks in which those cards are played, they are awarded double points (2, 10, or 20). If the player wins those tricks consecutively, they get triple points (3, 15, or 30).

"Little Willie Walks": The 2 of clubs, otherwise known as Little Willie, is the lowest-value card in the deck. If a player can win a trick by leading the 2 of clubs that team will be rewarded with 50 bonus points added to their score at the end of the round. This does not have to be bid, as it is assumed for all players at all times.

Straight Trick Victory: If a player wins three successive tricks with three successive cards (king, queen, jack wins the first, second, and third trick of the game), s/he is awarded 10 additional points, or 30 additional points. Generally this rule does not apply to A-K-Q or to the (rare) instance where all other players are void of that particular suit. Also known as "Third Time Pays for All."

Jack of Diamonds (or Ten of Diamonds): Common variation found in Hearts. The player or partnership who takes the trick containing the Jack or Ten of Diamonds adds an extra 10 or 20 points to their score.

Last 3 out of 5, 9 or Above: If players win an unbroken sequence of tricks near the end (last five tricks, must win three) all with spades 9 or above, and make their exact bid, the points earned for each trick are doubled.

Points For Trumped Spades: taken from Sjava, points are scored for capturing additional trump cards. If a player wins a trick with a spade and captures another spade in the process, s/he nets one point per spade. If only one spade was played or spades were led, then this rule does not apply. Some play that the face cards are given point value of 5 points.

Trump Jack Bonus Points: A player who wins a trick containing the Jack of Spades earns an additional 5 points.

Scoring variations

No Overs: One game variation does not count overtricks. In this case the player or team receives only 10 points for each trick that was bid and no points for overtricks. This changes the bidding strategy; it is only possible to lose points by being "set" on a bid, as there is no penalty for "bagging out", so players will attempt to "set" the leading player or team in order to gain ground. Similarly, players or teams will bid lower to avoid being set as there is no penalty for taking too many overtricks.

Double Over, Double Back: Instead of, or perhaps in addition to, penalizing players who "bag out", a common variant is for players or teams who take at least double the number of bid tricks will be penalized by subtracting double the value of their contract. A team who bids 2 and takes 4 or more will lose 40 points. This is often combined with the "No Overs" scoring style to discourage small bids.

Oh Hell Variation: Like Oh Hell, partnerships must take exactly the number of tricks bid. If they have overtricks, the team is penalized and the contract is broken. Some play where if the team bids 5 and wins exactly 5, the contract is honored no mater whoch player made how many tricks, while others force each player to exactly meet their contract.

Quicksand: A variation of penalizing overtricks, a team who exactly makes their contract gets full value. Overtricks subtract 10 points each from that value, and teams who do not make their contract subtract 10 points for each missed trick. For instance, consider a bid of seven tricks. If the team made exactly seven, they would earn the full 70 points. If they only took 5 tricks, they would lose 20 points. If the team made 9 tricks, they would earn the 70 points minus 20 points for the two overtricks, resulting in a score of 50.

Broken Contract Gives Points to Opposing Team: This is an additional variant taken from Bridge and used with an auction-style bidding. If the declarer (the player or partner with the winning bid) fails to meet the contract, the defending pair receives 10 points for each undertrick – the number of tricks by which declarer fell short of the goal. Instead of the declaring team losing points, they should receive zero.

Urban Rules: This creates a simple "race" game similar to the original Whist. All conventional scoring rules are disregarded, and the object is instead to take 7 tricks in a hand. This variant is often combined with the "Jokers High" variant. Urban games are usually played in Best 2-of-3 format, where a team needs two games to win the match. If a team gains 10 books or more in any game, they automatically win the match; because of this, as long as a team has made at least four books in each game and thus prevented an outright win, they can force a third game (even if the other team has won seven or more in the first two games); the trailing team can still win by taking 10 tricks in the third game.

Ace Penalty for withholding: if two face cards (10, J, Q, K) of the same suit are played, and a player yet to play has the Ace of the same suit, s/he must play the ace, or be penalized 10 (or 20) points. If three face cards are played and the Ace is withheld, player is penalized 20 (or 40) points. This rule can be hard to maintain, as a round may go by and no one catches the ace was not played. Another variation is after the round is finished (last card played on the last trick), and a player got away with withholding the Ace, s/he is awarded 20 (or 40) points.

Bonus Trick: Numeric value on first card played per round (generally by player left of dealer) establishes the Bonus Trick. If a seven is the opening card played, the seventh trick is worth additional points (generally 10 or 25). If a Jack is played, it is the 11th trick. Generally, the Bonus Trick does count toward a team’s overall bid, but is not counted as a bag or overtrick if playing with sandbagging. Jacks are 11, Queens 12, Kings are 13. Generally this variant requires that Aces or 2s not be played as an opening card.

Crossing the Rubicon: when a player scores more than 100 points, this is known as Crossing the Rubicon and is important in scoring. 1 or 5 points is awarded for the first player who reaches 100, 200, etc. If a player reaches 100 (100 only, not 200, etc) and then falls below it, he receives a one time penalty of 1 or 5 points. Some variations of this instead nullify the bags that the team has gained, either completely eradicating the sandbags or subtracting five bags therefrom.

Deficient Ends the Game: Some play that if a side's cumulative score is less than the negative of the winning score, that side loses the game (and of course the other side wins). So, for a winning score of 500 points, if a team manages to net a score of -500 or worse, the other team wins.

Highlander Scoring: The points awarded function slightly differently than in conventional Spades. Highlander Scoring merges partnership playing with individual team effort. Sandbagging does not apply with this type of game play, although sandbagging could be included. Each partner makes a bid of the tricks they think they can win. Each partner must win the total they individually bid; if not, that player's bid value is deducted from the team's score even if their partner took enough trick to make up the difference. For example, if player A bids 5 and wins 4, and player B, their partner, bids 3 and wins 4, 80 points is deducted from the partnership's total score even though the team won their promised 8 tricks, because player A did not make their bid. However, B is awarded five points per overtrick, so they are -75 instead of -80. If the contract is broken and no overtricks were taken, the team is down the full amount of the bid. If both made their contract and have won overtricks, they are awarded five extra points per overtrick. Team that wins seven or more tricks per round is given 10 points the first time, 20 the second, and each time thereafter the points increase by 10. This encourages race-style play where players set out to take as many tricks as they can as long as they do not steal tricks their partner needs.

Immediate Victory: In 4-player game, when a player is dealt 13-card straight (A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, which is called a "Dragon"), the player is deemed to have won the game immediately (var. 12). Generally this does not apply if the person was passed cards from his/her partner. A 13-card straight is worth the amount of points the game is being played too. If it’s a 500 game, it’s worth 500. If the game goes to 1000, it’s 1000 points. Other points can be given for lower straights. Point values for lower straights should be assigned before the game begins.

Individual Team Players: If both teammates get their exact individual bid, they are given a bonus equal to half the total bid (rounded down to the nearest 10 to avoid interference with bags). For example, A bids 3, B bids 4. If A wins 3 and B wins 4, 30 bonus points are awarded to that team (added to the 70 points for contract for a total of 100 points on the hand).

Capture Designated Cards: The team that captures the most of one designated card, by winning the trick in which they were played, gets 5 points per card. For example if the card is sixes, and one team captures three out of four, then the team gets 15 points. If a team gets all four sixes, they get 10 points per card. If the teams tie (two sixes each), no points are awarded.

Sandbags 0 Till 10: Some players use the units' digit of the score to count sandbags, but do not regard it as being part of the score - so sandbags are in effect worth nothing until accumulates 10 of them, when they trigger the 100 point deduction. Bags are thus kept separate from the score and cannot be used as a tiebreaker.

Sandbag Cancellation: Some people play that there is a special card which cancels one bag on that hand for the side that takes it in their tricks. If the side which wins the special card makes no overtricks, or loses their bid, the special card has no effect. The special card may be either a fixed card - for example the three of spades - or may be determined afresh by cutting a card before each deal.

Sandbags Negative Value: Tricks in excess of the contract (overtricks or sandbags) may be worth minus 1 point each rather than plus 1. In this case the penalty for accumulating 10 overtricks generally does not apply.

Seven Tricks or Higher!: For successful bids of seven or more, players get an extra 10 points for each trick bid above six. So if 7 tricks are bid by a player and that contract is made exactly, 80 bonus points are awarded. Eight tricks exactly gains 100, 9 gains 120, and so on. This rewards those who are more daring.

Seven Tricks or Higher Part Deux!: Team that bids and then wins seven tricks per round is given 10 points the first time, 20 the second, and each time thereafter the points increase by 10. Overtricks do not count.

Two Round Majority or Higher: If a team manages to get the majority of tricks twice in a row, gets five bonus points. If three times, then 10,four times, then 15 and so on. Generally, this rule applies only if are not playing with sandbags.

Win the last trick!: taken from Bela and Pinochle, the winner of last trick wins 10 bonus points. Generally this variation is not recommended if one is playing with Bonus Tricks.

Total number of players

Traditionally Spades is played with four players in two partnerships. However, there are variations that allow for more, or less, players. Partnerships are optional even with four players. All other rules must be agreed upon beforehand by the players.

Solo Spades: Solo Spades is like regular Spades, just without the partnership. This is also known as "Cut Throat Spades".

Spades for Two Players: In this variation, there are no cards dealt. The deck is placed face down, and the two players take turns drawing two cards at a time. Once drawn, the player must discard one of the pair and keep the other; they cannot keep both or discard both. This continues until there are no more cards left. Each player will have discarded 13 cards and have 13 cards. The game then proceeds normally.

Spades for Three Players: There are no partnerships - players play for themselves. A standard 52 card deck is used, and each player is dealt 17 cards with a predetermined card thrown out (generally the two of clubs) or the last undealt card thrown out. Some play with the big and little joker included as the highest trumps, with each person getting 18 cards.

Spades for Five Players: There are no partnerships - players play for themselves. Both red 2s are removed from the deck and each player is dealt 10 cards. Alternately, three jokers, if available, can be added as either highest trump or as junk cards and each player will be dealt 11.

Spades for Six Players: This can be played either solo, three partnerships, or two teams of three. Two standard 52 card decks are combined, with either both Twos of Clubs discarded (102 cards, 17 each), two cards discarded or kept as a "kitty", or all four Jokers added (108 cards, 18 each). Prior to the beginning of play, players agree on the protocol when identical cards are played. Some play that the first such played card wins the trick while others play that the last played card wins the trick.

Alternately, 6-handed play can be done with a 48 card deck, having removed all the 2s. It can also be done with a 54-card deck (both Jokers) similar to three-handed but with half the cards per player.

Beyond this, the game becomes either very complex to maintain with multiple decks, or very short as the number of cards held by each player is reduced and high trump is more and more likely to take the trick. Seven players should normally be split into a group of four and three, eight into two groups of four, nine into either four and five or three threes, etc.

Strategy

There are a few general good strategies to use in spades:

  • In partnership spades when cards are passed, one should pass his partner low, non-trump cards when the partner bids nil or double nil.
  • During the beginning of the hand, it is common practice to play Aces before any other high cards in a suit.
  • A common defensive strategy is to bid conservatively; only cards guaranteed to win (such as the A-K-Q of Spades) should be bid as tricks. The team can then lose all other tricks, giving the other team a large bag count and hopefully sandbagging them, or if the other team bid high, win a few overtricks to set the other team.
  • A common offensive strategy when dealt a preponderance of Spades, especially high Spades, is to flush out all the Spades in the deck by leading them in trick after trick. Not only will this degrade other players' ability to trump a high non-trump card, it will force players to follow with cards they planned to use to trump other tricks, throwing off their trick count and possibly setting them.
  • If the highest played card cannot be beaten, and one does not possess any spades, then one should play the lowest card of the lead suit, followed with any low card if the lead suit is not available. However, following suit with the lowest card available is not adviseable if a contract has been met. It is adviseable instead to play the highest card of that suit that will not take the trick. That allows the lower card to be used at a later time to avoid taking a trick with a low-ranking highest card.
  • In situations where off-suits can be played to avoid taking a trick, a low card in a suit that one possesses the least of should be played. If an entire suit can be removed early in the game, tricks may be won with low Spades.
  • If one has the highest spades in the game such as J, J, 2, A, K, rather than saving the cards for the end, playing the cards in succession will most likely drain all other players of their spades making it impossible for remaining cards to be trumped, thus giving them a better chance of winning.

See also

References

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