Bidding in the Game of Spades

The mechanics of bidding in the game of Spades are pretty simple. Bid the number of tricks that you think you can take. When the hand is over the tricks are counted. If the total tricks taken by a player and his or her partner are equal to or greater than the number of tricks bid, the team receives ten points per trick taken and bid upon, plus one point for every extra trick. A nil bid is also possible. "Nil" means the player expects to take no tricks at all. In this case success will net the player 100 points and failure will incur an equal penalty.

However, there is a twist. Those extra tricks, when they add up to ten in the course of the game, result in a 100 point penalty. This means that a player must be careful in estimating the number of tricks a hand can take. The goal in bidding is to maximize the number of points that a hand can generate by bidding every likely trick and perhaps one or two that are merely possible. This can be done by a quick survey of the hand. Most good players will arrange their hands so that the cards are grouped by suit from lowest to highest. Go through each suit in turn (but leave the trump spades for last). In a suit, count the ace as a certain trick. Count the king as long as there is at least one card supporting it. Count the queen if there are at least two cards supporting it. After that, it is wise not to count on the jacks. (This is perhaps why jacks have such a dubious reputation.)

The reason for counting the likely tricks in this manner is that typically cards will fall in a certain way when suits are evenly distributed. Granting each player three cards in every suit (except one which will have four cards), the first trick taken will likely be with the ace (with three low cards of the same suit falling), the second will be taken by the king, the third by the queen, leaving a lone jack to be trumped if led. Of course, this is presuming much. A king or queen may be finessed (meaning that a player will lead a low card of the suit forcing the king or queen to be played by the next player on the prospect of taking the trick only to have it fall to an ace). Another possible and even likely scenario is uneven distribution of the cards.

Uneven Distribution in Bidding

Bidding a Void Hand
How Would You Bid This Hand?

The best way to estimate the balance of the suits in the hands of other players is to view your own hand. If your hand is unbalanced, those of the other players is likely to be strangely distributed as well. This means that should a hand have many hearts, that other hands will have very few or even be void in that suit. For this reason, having five cards of a suit should make a player discount the likelihood of taking a trick with the queen of that suit, and six cards in that suit could make it even unlikely that the king is any good. Unless....

There is a technique in play that could allow a player to make a long suit completely good, especially if he or she is also well endowed with trump spades. In this tactic, a player could trump another player's lead in a suit in which he is short, lead several spades until the suit runs out, then revert to the long suit. In this manner the player might take far more tricks than the hand might at first appear capable of taking. In order to take advantage of this uneven distribution the bidder must take some risk and bid most or even all of the long suit even down to the deuces. (This is taking for granted that the hand has at least two of the highest cards in the suit and six or seven or more cards of the suit.)

When there are suits with less than three cards, a player can often count on one trick for having only two cards in that suit, and two tricks when there is only one or no cards (taking for granted sufficient trump to take advantage of the situation).

Bidding the Spades in the Hand

When all of the other suits have been reviewed, look at the number of spades in the hand. As these cards are all trump, they are more reliable than the other suits. Ace, king, queen, and jack can all probably be counted as long as there is sufficient number of the suit in the hand. The jack for example, with three other spades in the hand, should survive the lead of the A, K, and Q. The more spades in the hand the better the distribution in favor of the hand. After the first three spades, each spade ought to be counted as a trick (if you haven't already planned in using them to trump because of a shortfall in other suits.)

Bidding Nil

Bidding nil is almost always a mistake when a player has more than three spades. A distribution of high cards, or sometimes even middling cards, should preclude a nil bid. However, high cards in a suit can be played around when there are many low cards in a suit. An ace, for example, need never take a trick as long as there are three or more low cards behind it. (It can be sloughed off on another suit lead.) To bid nil, nearly every suit should be devoid of the possibility of taking a trick. Nevertheless, "desperate times call for desperate measures". When far behind, it may be advisable to bid nil even holding a good cards in a suit with no losers, if the hand is void in another suit. If the other team is likely to win anyway on a hand played in the standard manner, why not take a chance?

Taking Chances

A player should adjust his or her bidding based on the score of his team relative to his opponents. When getting close to the five-hundred mark, a player should bid conservatively, especially when he or she does not have too many bags. But when far behind, it is time to consider bidding the "blind nil". In a blind nil, the player bids nil without looking at the hand. One should register the other bids before doing this (if possible). If the other players are bidding very low, then the hand is very likely a good one and the player should look at it and bid high. However, if things are looking desperate and the other bids (especially the partner's bid) is high, a blind nil is a very reasonable bid.

For the experienced Spades player, an entire review of the hand can normally be done a moment or two. With practice and experience players will be able to adjust these suggestions to their own playing style.

Next Page: Playing a Nil Hand (or Against It)
Previous Page: Variations on the Game of Spades

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