Strategies to Win at Spades

To win at Spades consistently requires that players know how to take the best advantage of the hand dealt, by accurate bidding, precise play, and fine judgement.

Maximizing Tricks

Because of the bag rule or a nil bid, taking the maximum number of tricks will not always be a player's goal. Nevertheless, a good player should know how it is done, for situations often arise when maximizing tricks at the moment is more important than watching the bag count. This could happen when a player senses that setting the opponent team is possible, or when a card that was counted as a trick during bidding fails.

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The standard way to maximize tricks is to play the lowest card of a led suit when there is no chance of taking a trick. Lead out the winners early to make certain that other players do not void themselves in that suit and stomp on what might-have-been with a trump. Using this strategy aces and kings are nearly always good, two deep queens often are good and sometimes a middling card will even pull in a trick when the power in most hands has been played out.

It often happens that the distribution of suits within a hand are extremely lopsided. When a player is dealt several high spades (3 or more) and has several high cards followed by a string of low cards in another suit, he can often gain the lead by trumping an off-suit, then run out the trump spades from the hands of the other players and then return to his long suit. In this case every card in the long suit, even the deuce, could take a trick.

Card Counting

Some players do not like to count cards. However, card counting need not be a tedious process. First, do not bother counting every card in every suit. This can be distracting and often pointless. Count only the cards in the suits that are important to your hand. This will often be spades. If you know how many cards of a particular suit you started with in your hand, an instant count of cards played in that suit can often be accomplished by simply counting how many of those cards remain in the hand. If the suit was led and everyone followed suit, multiply the missing cards by four. You can adjust based on sloughs or trumps. Knowing how many cards are left in a suit and who is void in what suit can be vital in choosing the next card to be led. For example, if spades have been led twice, with everyone following suit, and three spades remain in your hand, then you know only two remain in the hands of the other players. This means that one of your remaining spades will certainly take a trick with a high likelihood of advantage for the other two.

Another technique is to simply note when a card higher than the highest card you have in each suit is played. For example, you hold the queen of clubs. The ace is led. You know that once the king is led, the queen may be good (given equal distribution). To facilitate this, it is often wise, when possessed of good cards in a given suit, to simply run through them, leading A, K, Q one after the other. When a suit is played out, forget about it and concentrate on the next suit.

The Finesse

A finesse is a way to force an opponent to play a card before it can take a trick. If you hold say the A, J, 10, 6 of a suit, a jack lead could force the player immediately to your left to play a queen to be played over by your partner's king of the same suit. Then your ten will likely take a trick as well. Should your assumptions regarding the distribution of the cards be mistaken, no loss, even if the player to your left has the king and your partner has the queen, the king will play and your partner's queen will likely prove good on the next lead. Even if the opponents have both K and Q, the Ace will probably remain good.

Exact Play

Knowing these techniques is handy, but because of the bag rule, it is sometimes better not to take advantage of them. When you are fairly certain of securing the tricks bid, you may have to slough cards that might otherwise have taken a trick. Also, instead of playing the lowest card in a led suit, it might be best to play the highest card under the best card played. For novice players it is usually wise to take the needed tricks early, then play to avoid taking tricks for the rest of the hand.

Some players forget that Spades is a team game. The contract of tricks bid is the total of the tricks bid by the team. It does not matter who takes the tricks. Some friendly games allow kibitzing to the extent that a player can communicate to her partner that she is not going to make the tricks she bid, so the partner knows to go after those tricks. Such kibitzing is not allowed in some forums. Yet a player can usually pretty easily figure out when her partner is in trouble by the look on his face or the way he plays a particular high card. The 10-bag rule allows considerable leeway for taking extra tricks when the situation demands.

Desperation Play

Even the best players and teams will find themselves deep on the losing side of the score-sheet. It is at these moments that the old cliché, "desperate times call for desperate measures", comes into play. It is my personal opinion that "blind nil" is seldom called for in that there is very often a loser in the hand and when a team is behind by far enough to consider it. It is often better to try to "set" the opponents by forcing them to not make their bid.

Unusual distributions in hands can create opportunities. Sometimes the distribution in one hand can be completely skewed, while in the other hands the distribution is only mildly uneven. In these cases it is possible to surprise opponents by trumping even aces and at the same time making long-suits good by running the trump (even if you don't have too many of them). Sometimes a very high bid can throw off opponent's play, or an unjustifiably low bid can make an opponent see his own hand in a better light than is warranted. When far behind, take chances. If a loss seems imminent it can not hurt to try something crazy or different. Hey, you might just pull it off and come out looking like a smart card player!

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