I’m not exactly an expert on Spades, but I’ve played it a fair bit and am probably qualified to go over some of the basics. I’ll assume you know the general rules. If not, you can look at them here. You can see by scrolling through that link that there are about a million variations in scoring and gameplay, but which particular ruleset you’re using isn’t important for the purposes of this post.
Precise bidding is very important in Spades, so let’s talk about the bidding a bit. Although it hurts a little bit to bid too little (because you didn’t get as many points as you could have and also because you pick up bags), bidding too much is worse (since you go minus whatever you bid), so you should generally be a little bit conservative when you bid, but that depends a lot on the situation. Before we get to situational bidding let’s look at some general cases first. Say you have this hand:
What should you bid? Here are some general guidelines:
Ace – One trick
Ace King (same suit) – Two tricks
King – Half Trick
King Queen (same suit) – One trick
The above applies to all the non-Spade suits; Spades are a little trickier to figure out. Queens and lower cards aren’t really worth counting as tricks, even when accompanied by the Ace and King, because by the time the Queen is good that suit will probably be getting trumped. King Queen is worth a full trick though, since one of them will be good once the Ace is out (if you have just the King it might lose to the Ace, but if you have the Queen also it doesn’t matter if that happens, since the Queen would then be high)
So for our example hand, we should bid two tricks for the Ace King of Diamonds, and one for the Ace of Clubs, for a total of three. The Spades in this hand are worth about one trick, so we should bid a total of four.
The non-Spades are pretty easy to figure out, but how many tricks your Spades will generate can be a little more difficult. Let’s look at some Spade holdings to see what they might be worth:
Here the King and Queen will probably both be worth a trick, and the Five and Three probably won’t, so I would count the Spades as two tricks.
Now we have two more Spades but they’re also fairly weak ones. Even so, we should now count our Spades as four tricks instead of two. The reason? The length of our Spade suit. When you have six trump, the other three players only have seven between them, and will run out before you do. Your small trump will end up taking tricks at some point, so go ahead and count the Spades as four tricks.
Here we have three strong trump, but either the Jack or the Ten will probably get beaten by the King or Queen, so count this holding as two tricks.
This is kind of an extreme example, but I would count this holding as three tricks due to the length, despite the four weak cards.
Another factor in counting your Spade tricks is distribution. If you have a void suit (no cards in that suit) or a Singleton, you can count a lower Spade as a trick because you’ll be able to use it early to trump in. For example if you have:
You would normally count that as just two tricks. But if you weren’t dealt any e.g. Diamonds, you could count the Three as a trick also, giving yourself three Spade tricks all together.
Let’s look at some more example hands and see what they might be worth in tricks:
Half a trick for the Clubs, two for the Spades, and one for the Diamonds means a bid of 3 or 4.
Two tricks in Hearts, one in Spades (via trumping a Club), and one in Diamonds gives us a total of four tricks.
With this monster we can count one Club, one Heart, five Spades, and one Diamond, for a total of eight, which is about as big of a bid as you’ll see in Spades.
In the next post I’ll get into positional and table considerations, as well as bidding nil, which is what I bid whenever I think I can get away with it 😉