How to Play Spades

Players

In a typical game, there are four players and two team. You are on the same team as the person across from you and the same goes for the other two.

The Goal of Spades

The goal is to accumulate points, and the first to 500 points wins.

Dealing

The dealer will deal out all of the cards so each player will end up with 13 to start.

Bidding

Bidding is simply guessing how many "tricks" you can take. Before each round of Spades begins, each player will bid (or guess) how many tricks they will take.

The teams then add together the total number of bids. This is the number of tricks that team has to win in order to get a positive score.

The first player to bid is the person to the left of the dealer. Bidding then continues clockwise around the table.

You may bid on any number from 0 to 13. But be smart and remember that it's very difficult to get all or even half of the tricks. A bid of zero or "nil" is another strategy we'll talk about shortly.

Here's an example: Sarah deals. Beyonce who is to her left bids 3. Billy then bids 1. Terrance bids 4. And finally Sarah bids 4. Billy and Sarah's goal is to win at least 5 tricks based on their bids (4+1), Terrance and Beyonce will attempt to win at least 7 (4+3).

As mentioned previously, a bid of zero is also called a nil bid. This is basically a player trying NOT to win any tricks. Why would anyone do that though? Well, there's a huge bonus if you can bid nil and succeed. There's also a penalty for bidding nil and getting 1 or more tricks. We'll talking about scoring shortly.

Playing Spades

After all of the bidding is done, the player to the dealers left begins by playing any card EXCEPT for a spade. It can be any heart, diamond or club, but no spades.

Then, again in clockwise, each player lays down a card (trick) face up. The card must be of the same suit as the person who started (in this case, the person to the left of the dealer). If you do not have the same suit, you can play any card of any suit!

If someone plays a spade, that spade trumps all other cards EXCEPT for higher spades. So even if someone plays the Ace of diamonds, and I play the 2 of spades, I win that trick if no other spades are played. If no spades are played, the highest card wins of the suit that was played first. The winner of each trick leads on the next.

After the first spade has been played, then spades are "broken."

Scoring

So we've already talked about how the goal is to get the number of tricks that you and your partner bid. If you bid 5, you want to get at least 5. If you get exactly 5, you win 10x your bid, so 50 points. Additional tricks (overtricks) are only worth one point apiece.

This means if my partner and I bid 5, then get 7 tricks, our total score for that round will come to 52.

However, if we don't get 5 tricks, we're in trouble. This means we lose 10 points for each bid. So if we bid 5, then get 4 tricks - we lose 50 points! Eek!

Sandbagging: Each trick we win that is over the bid is known as a bag. Back to the example: if we bid 5 and get 7, then we get 2 bags.

Bags can also be bad. Each round you keep track of the number of bags you get, and if you reach a total of 10 bags, you lose 100 points on that round. Your bag count then starts back at zero.

Remember the nil (or zero) bid? If you can pull of a nil bid and get no tricks, you receive 100 points! This will be in addition the number that your partner wins or loses. If you bid nil and don't pull it off, you lose 100 points so it can be very detrimental as well. Again, your partner's score is still factored into the round as well.

If a nil bid fails, the tricks won by the nil bidder don't count towards the partner's bid, but would count as bags for the team if the total goes over your partner's bid.

The side that reaches 500 points first wins the game. If both sides reach 500 points in a single deal, the side with the higher score wins. Got it? Then get back up there and play some Spades!!!

Terminology

Trick:

When all four cards are layed out, the trick is what you call the winner of that particular throw down.

Book:

This is pretty much the same thing as a trick. Treat it as such.

Hand:

The series of books or tricks where all 13 cards that is player is dealt are played.

Bid:

This is the number of tricks/books that you think you will get in any given hand. You combine the number you think you will get with the number your teammate estimates

Contract:

This is the number of tricks/books that you and your partner must get for the hand in order to not be docked.

Under trick:

It is just like it sounds: not getting quite the number of tricks that you wanted for a hand. This usually results in loss of points.

Bag:

This is also referred to as an overtrick. This is when you get more books than you estimated before the hand. Ten bags incur a penalty of 100 docked points.

Void:

When you don't have any of the cards of the suit that is being played.

Trump:

Having a better card to lay down than the others that have been played. Spades trump all in this game of course!

Sluff:

This is when you don't have the suit being played but you also don't have a trump card. This is sometimes a good thing early on when you are trying to get rid of some of the less desireable cards.

Nil:

When you declare that you will get no books/tricks you are declaring nil. If you accomplish this, you get a lot more points!!

Spades Strategy & Tips

1. You Don't Have to Have the Highest/Best Cards to Win

Look at how many bags you think you can get and bid one less than that number. It is better to go one over than one under and be docked for not reaching your bid. Plus, you can always start throwing off (losing intentionally) once your goal is met.

2. Get your highest non-spade cards out there from the start.

Unless you are going for a nil or intentionally low bid, you'll want to get those Aces of clubs, diamonds, and hearts out there as soon as possible. If you use them later in the round, the likelihood of them getting spaded is dramatically higher.

3. Get rid of a non-spade suit as quick as possible

It doesn't matter which suit it is, usually it's best to go for one you have the least cards of. For example, if I have 2 hearts, 5 clubs, 4 diamonds and 2 low spades, I will want the opportunity to use those two low spades while everyone else is still using their regular suits. A 2 of spades can be powerful if you use it early in the game. Keep this in mind when bidding as well.

4. If your opponents are racking up bags, help them over the top.

One of the best ways to win, isn't necessarily to score the most points every time. It is also stragetic to cause your opponents to lose points - massive points if they go over the bag limit. If they get to around 6 or 7 bags mid way through the game, go ahead and let them get their goal - and then some... and get that massive 100 point penalty while they are at it!

5. Know your partner and his or her style of play

Because you aren't allowed to communicate with your partner verbally, you must pay attention to their style of play and "pick up what they are putting down" (figuratively of course). If they lead with a low card, they are letting you know that they aren't strong in that suit, and hoping for you to pick up the slack. You can communicate back via the game putting down a low card yourself and signifying that you too are weak in that suit. This is just one example, but knowing your partner's style in all aspects can be make or break in the game of spades.

For more strategy, check out the following:

1. White Knuckle Spades Tips

2. Pagat's Advice on playing Spades