I have to admit — Spades is my favorite card game. Since Spades is a contract bidding game, lots of back and froth bickering takes place, friendly fighting related to the game. This makes it a great game for parties or family reunions — after all, what’s a little violence between pals?
Spades is very similar to other contract bidding games like Hearts.
The Object of Spades
The object of Spades is for one team of two players to reach a certain number of points first, decided on beforehand. Traditionally, Spades games go up to 500 or 1,000.
Points are earned by very accurately bidding on how many tricks (also called “books” in Spades) your team can win during each round of play. In most versions of Spades, you are penalized for earning fewer books than you bid as well as for earning more than you bid — points against you for “underbidding” are called “sandbags” and can really ruin your chance to win. More on that rule later.
As in all other contract bidding games, there is a trump suit which ranks higher than all other suits. In the case of Spades, the trump suit should be obvious — Spades.
All other suits rank below spades, but are equal to each other. Also, cards are ranked from top to bottom, Aces most valuable down to deuces, the least valuable.
An example — the ace of clubs would be the highest ranking club to be played, so it would win the book if not trumped by another player laying down a Spade.
Players cannot use trump cards unless they have absolutely no other cards in the suit that was led.
Learning the basic rules of card play in Spades is easy — the tough part is learning how to tally your ability to win books.
A traditional game of Spades starts with four players partnered across the table. One player is designated the dealer, and the position of dealer rotates clockwise after each round is played. The dealer’s job is to pass out all of the cards in a standard deck, which means each player has thirteen cards in his hand. This also means that there are thirteen winnable “tricks”.
To help you estimate the number of books you can win, you should put your cards in value order in your hand. Now just estimate how many of your own cards you think are “trick winners”.
Bidding starts when teams discuss the number of potential winning books they can take. This is “open talk”, and offers plenty of opportunity to cheat. Good Spades players are often people who know how to communicate with their partner on the sly.
The number of books each team bids is recorded before play starts — for scoring purposes later.
Spades play starts with the two of clubs. The player who has the two of clubs lays that card in the center of the table and the player to his left plays another card in that suit. Obviously, the player with the highest card wins the book. This means that the player who is dealt the two of clubs has to depend on his partner either having a very high club or no clubs and sufficient trump to take the first book. The first book of a game of Spades is usually the most crucial for this reason.
The winner of the first hand now leads play for the next hand by playing anything except for a Spade (trump).
Spades can only be played by a person who doesn’t have a card that matches the suit led — this is called “breaking the Spade”. The first player who can’t play in suit traditionally wins the round by playing a Spade and “breaking”. Now Spades are fair game.
To score, each team counts the number of actual tricks taken during the round and compares that number to their bid. There are two main ways of scoring overbidding — in one method, if you bid four books and you earned five, you’d get ten points for each earned trick (forty points) and one “sandbag” for underbidding. Once a team earns ten “sandbags”, they lose 250 points from their total — this is a serious hit in a game that only plays to 500 or 1,000. In another version, the additional tricks won only count for one points instead of ten, meaning your score would be forty-one points for the bid mentioned above. Spades puts emphasis on bidding EXACTLY how many tricks you can win by “penalizing” over and under bids.
If a team fails to make their bid, say they bid four books and only win three, they actually lose points. Much like in other contract bidding games, this is called being “set”.
Extra or bonus points are earned by playing a hand “blind”. In a blind bid, a team must estimate the number of books they can win without even looking at the cards first. Teams that bid “blind” and are successful earn additional points, which varies from game to game, sometimes you earn 100 points, sometimes you earn 50. Make up your own rule.
Bidding “blind” is dangerous and is almost always used by teams who have fallen way behind and need to earn a quick and dirty point boost.
As the points of each round are added together, the first team to reach the predetermined amount of “winning” points is the winner. Usually you play to 500 or 1,000 points. A typical game of Spades at my house lasts around 45 minutes to an hour, so it is a quick game with all the excitement of contract bidding.