What is Spades?
Spades is a card game in which taking tricks, or a “pot” of cards, is the key objective. This makes it fall under the trick-taking genre of card games. Whist, and Euchre are other examples of trick-taking games.
There are two variations of Spades, but it is always a four-player game. The two variations include Partners and Cutthroat. Partners involves teams of two, whereas cutthroat has each player face the remaining three.
Spades can be played with only two, or three players. The rules for these game variations will be listed below. The two and three-player variants are always cutthroat games.
How to Play Spades?
The Spades instructions are as follows:
Spades can be played with two, three, or four players, and only requires the standard Anglo-American 52-card deck. The two, three, and four-player variations of Spades all play under the same essential rules.
As the rules are all essentially the same in each version, this guide will mainly focus on four-player Spades. However, this guide will also briefly touch upon playing with two people, and how to play Spades with three people.
In four-player Spades, two teams of two will be made from the four players. Normally, the players sitting across from each other will partner up. Each of the four players will be given a cardinal direction: North, West, East, South. They can also be called Players 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Once the deck is empty, and each player has 13 cards, the game will begin. The player to the left of the dealer, clockwise, is the first to play the first card in the first trick.
A trick is a pot of cards generated by each player each round. The player to the right of the dealer goes first, then clockwise, until all four cards are displayed in the trick.
A hand in Spades is composed of one-fourth, one-third, or one-half of the cards in a 52-card Anglo-American deck, depending on the number of players. In the case of a three-player game, each player will receive 17 cards, while the remaining card from the deck will be discarded face down, without revealing it. A two-player game will split the deck in half evenly.
Each round is played with a full deck of cards, to be distributed equally among each player. Once all hands are made, each team or player will announce a bid. This is the predicted number of tricks that will be won in a game by that team or player. As there are 13 possible tricks in every round, and one player will always win a trick, the bidding can be from 0-13.
A player who bids that they will win 0 tricks, must bid separately from their partner, as they must avoid winning even a single trick. All other bids will be made in tandem with a partner. For example:
- Player 1 & 2 Bid: 6
- Player 3 Bid: 4
- Player 4: 0
Players 1 and 2 are partners, and therefore combine their bids. They predict that between them, they will win 6 tricks this round. Player 4 is separate from player 3, because player 4 has bid nil, or 0.
Player 4 must now try to win no tricks this round to match his bid. Player 3 believes that her hand is poor, with no spade cards and very few high-value cards, so she bids low as she feels her cards will not win very many tricks this round.
If a bid is higher than the number of tricks taken in a round, the score will be 0. For example, if Player 1 bids that they will win 7 tricks at the start of the round, but they only win 4, then Player 1 will receive NO points for that round. This is known as “breaking contract.”
Cards are valued numerically, from least to greatest. 2-9, the face cards, and then the (high) aces. Each suit (♥♦♣♠) is taken into account. The suit of Spades (♠) is always the trump suit, even if the first card is a different suit. The player with the highest card which “follows suit” wins the trick. The suit of the first card from the first player determines the trump suit of the hand. For example:
- Player 1: 7♥
As player 1 has played the 7 of hearts, therefore, players 2, 3, and 4 must play a card that “follows suit”. This means in order to win the trick, each player must play a bid that contains a ♥ card. All players are required to “follow suit” when possible. If a player’s hand has no remaining cards that can follow suit on a particular trick, they may play any card in their hand. For example:
- Player 1: K♣
- Player 2: 9♣
- Player 3: 2♣
- Player 4: A♥
In the above example, Player 1 determined the suit of the trick with their first card. The trick’s suit is clubs. Player 2 MUST follow suit, if able. Player 2 had a 9 of clubs in hand, and so is forced to play it, even though they will not win the trick because of Player 1’s higher value card. Player 3 is also forced to follow suit, and will also lose the trick because of the lower-value card.
Note that the official rules for Spades differ based on the variation.
Here is how to keep score in a game of Spades:
A traditional game of Spades ends after one player or team achieves 500 total points. There is a shortened version of the game, where the score limit is only 200 points.
The game is scored at the end of each round. Each player takes the number of tricks won in that round, and multiplies it by ten. For example, if Player 1 took four tricks that round, Player 1 now has 40 points.
Players on a team of two will add their tricks together. If they bid 7 tricks at the start of the round, Player 1 has three tricks, and Player 2 has five tricks, they score 71 points as a team. 70 points for the number of tricks won in accordance with their bids, and 1 point for a bag.
A bag is the number of tricks greater than the bid. These bags, also known as overtricks, only give a single point. Once a player accumulates 10 bags, their score is reduced by 100 points.
Here is a complex scoring example using a Spades scoring sheet:
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4|
In the above example, assume this is a cutthroat game with no teams. This table represents the scoring conventions from two rounds of Spades played.
Player 1 wins 72 points because they correctly bid in round one, and bid low in round two. This means that the bags of round two result in two additional points, on top of the thirty gained from the bid.
Player 2 receives only 33 points, because Player 2 “broke contract” in round 2, resulting in 0 points for that round. Player 3 has accumulated no points, because they “broke contract” in both rounds, resulting in 0 points for both rounds.
Player 4 won 100 points, because of the “broken contract” in round 1 resulting in 0 points, and the nil bid being met in round 2, resulting in 100 total points.
Strategy & Tips
- Save your cards that are suited in spades (♠) for tricks with high-value, non-spade suits. This is because these cards will always win a trick. For example: Player 1: K♣ Player 2: 3♠ Player 2 wins the trick because they played a spade card, even though the numerical value is lower.
- Coordinate with your partner if you are on a team. Do not waste your high-value cards or spades on a trick that your partner can already win. Your scores are combined.
- Do not bid too high, or too low. This is how you win at Spades. Try to reason about how many tricks you will win, and bet that number. A bid that’s too high risks “breaking contract” and a bid too low risks accumulating dozens of bags. Remember, 10 bags will reduce your score by 100 points.
- The number of spades in your hand is a good indicator of guaranteed tricks, as such, do not bid much higher than the number of spades in your hand, otherwise, you risk breaking contract. A few bags are better than “breaking contract”.
- Nil bids are very difficult to successfully get off, because a player does not always have a choice about winning a trick or not, it comes down to the other player’s cards. If you start the round with an Ace of Spades in your hand, do NOT bid Nil, or else you are certain to gain no points for that round. An Ace of Spades will always win the trick it is played in.
- A spade can only be beaten by a higher-value spade.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who starts Spades?
Each round is started by the player sitting clockwise from the dealer. The dealer will change, moving clockwise from the first dealer, at the start of each round.
Can I play Spades with less than 4 people?
Yes. Variations of Spades with 2 or 3 players do not have teams, and are always cutthroat games. Bids and scores are individually calculated. As 3 players cannot divide a 52-card deck equally, one card with be discarded from the total deck. Here is how to play Spades with 2 people.
What is the highest card in Spades?
The Ace of Spades is the best card in the game. It will automatically take any trick in which it is played.
How many cards do you get in Spades?
This depends on the game type. With 4 players, each player gets 13 cards. With two players, the deck will be split in half, with 26 cards going to both players. To play Spades with 3 players, the rules are special. Each player will receive 17 cards per hand, and the one remaining card will be discarded with no players viewing it.
When can I play a Spade card?
Spades cannot be played at any time. In any given round, a spade can only be played after “Spades are broken”. This means that the first card played in a given trick cannot be a spade. Instead, spades must first be broken by playing the spade as a trump card in a given suit.
What does “Trump Card” mean?
A trump card in the game of spades is any spade. For example:
- Player 1 leads the trick with: K♦
Since Player 1 currently leads, all players must follow suit if able. However, if Player 2 does not have any diamond cards, they may “break suit” by playing another card. If they have a spade, then they may play it. Therefore,
- Player 2 plays: 3♠
- Player 3 plays: 5♦
- Player 4 plays: 8♦
Player 2 wins the suit, because Player 2 “broke spades” and played the “Trump Card” in order to win the hand. However, trump cards are not a guaranteed trick. Imagine a game scenario like this:
- Player 1: K♦
- Player 2: J♦
- Player 3: 6♠
- Player 4: A♠
Player 4 wins the trick, because although Player 3 played a trump card with the 6♠, Player 4 also had a trump card, with a higher value. In fact, A♠ is the greatest card in the game, and will always win the trick it is played in. The player with an A♠ is guaranteed to win one trick.
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