Spades combines the elements of luck and strategy in ways that few other card games manage to do. Perhaps that’s why it’s become such a popular card game for those who with play with friends at home and for those playing for real money online. If you’re new to the game, we have you covered with an in-depth look at how to play Spades.
Very few card games demand such a high level of strategy as Spades does. While luck will affect your outcome to a certain extent, you’ll also have a chance to really sway the gameplay by being an accurate analyst of what you can and can’t do with your hands. In fact, Spades actually lets you overcome bad cards if you predict just what you can do with them compared to the other players.
In the following article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the card game known as Spades. We’ll explain how to play the main version of the game, talk about some other variations, and also explore a two-person version in case you don’t have a teammate. Finally, we’ll get into how you can become a better Spades player and we’ll answer some frequently asked questions of the game.
The History of Spades
Many of the most popular card games played at home or found at both land-based and real money online casinos have been around for hundreds of years. But Spades is a relatively late addition to the picture. Most experts trace Spades back to somewhere around the 1930s and 1940s, with America being its place of origin.
Of course, there are other games which can be cited as direct ancestors of Spades, especially its four-person, two-team format. Bridge is the most popular of these games, especially considering it’s usually played by two teams and has a trump element as well.
As for two-person Spades, there will be times when it feels like the simple card game War.
Spades appears to have originated on college campuses, which means sense. When you consider that it’s a game for multiple players and that it has a quick pace of play, it would appeal to college kids looking for some competition. It has evolved from there to include fans from all walks of life who play the game among friends casually or take on others in real-money situations.
How to Play Spades
The most basic and popular version of Spades is one that requires four players consisting of two teams. Players should be seated in a way that each set of teammates is seated across from each other. A deck of 52 cards is used.
The object of the game in part is for the respective teams to amass as many winning rounds, or “tricks,” as possible. But the other key element is that each team must bid at the start of each hand on how many tricks they will win. If they do that accurately, they’ll benefit. But if they do it poorly, they could be penalized.
It will help to win at Spades if you and your teammate get great cards on each deal. But if you bid weakly, the penalties that you incur could eventually ruin your chances of winning, no matter the luck of the draw. The game requires some chemistry between teammates in order to really succeed consistently regardless of the luck factor.
To start things off, we’re going to provide you with a list of terms that will help you understand the game better.
A single round of four cards thrown, one by each player. As there are 13 cards in each player’s hand for each Spades hand, there will be 13 tricks in total.
A guess by each individual player of how many tricks they will win per hand.
The total amount of bids by two players on a team. This is the number that the team will attempt to win during their hand.
Making or Breaking the Contract:
Either achieving the bid or failing to get it right. Making the contract gives you the best possible outcome in the long run, even if you get a low score in a round. Breaking the contract will put you in jeopardy for costly point penalties.
These occur when you underbid. Any tricks that you win beyond what you bid are called bags. Every 10 bags that your team amasses will cost you 100 points.
This is the first card thrown each round. This card determines the suit that must be matched by each subsequent player if possible.
When a player throws a spade because they don’t have a card of the suit that was led. Spades beat all other suits, meaning that they “trump” the lead card.
Breaking the Spades:
This is when a spade has been thrown for the first time in a hand. Once this occurs, players are allowed to lead with spades, but not before.
This is when you play a card illegally, such as trumping with a spade even though you have a card of the lead suit in your hand. Reneges are usually met with point penalties, depending on the rules of the game.
A nil bid is where you claim that you will not win any tricks in that round. Making a nil contract earns you 100 points and breaking it costs you 100 points. In addition, any tricks you do win with a nil bid count as bags for your team.
When you bid nil without seeing your cards, it’s a blind nil. These win 200 points if successful but cost you 200 if you lose. It is a desperation play for a team that is way behind.
Now that we’ve gotten the vocab out of the way, we’ll breakdown everything you need to know to get started learning how to play Spades.
There are different ways you can handle the deal in Spades when you are playing for real money. Some people play the game in a way where the team with the most tricks in the previous rounds will deal the next hand. Or you can simply alternate between teams.
In any case, the dealer should deal clockwise starting on their left, dealing out one card to each player until the deck is exhausted. Each player will end up with 13 cards. Spades is a game where every card in the deck will be used in each round, which makes it a little different than most.
Again, bidding begins with the player directly to the left of the dealer and continues around the table in clockwise fashion, ending with the dealer. Each player bids between one and 13 after assessing their cards, with the latter number representing the total number of tricks that can be won in a round. The player should be bidding based on how many tricks they think they can win on their own.
There is also a bid known as a “nil” bid.
This is when a player feels that they cannot win any tricks in a round. Nil bids can be either lucrative or disastrous depending on the accuracy, and we’ll talk about their scoring when we get to that section.
Assuming no one declares a nil bid, the teammates will then add up the number of bids for each and that will be their goal for the round. For instance, if you bid four tricks and your partner bids two, you and your partner should be trying for six tricks exactly between the two of you. It doesn’t matter at that point how they are divvied up between you and your partner.
Play begins to the left of the dealer and moves clockwise around the table with each player laying down a card from their hand, also known as a “lead.” At the end of four cards, the winner of the trick is decided by these two rules:
Highest spade wins
Highest card of the suit that was led
Cards are ranked as followed, from high to low:
The player who lays down the first card, which is known as the lead, determines the suit for that trick. At that point, each payer must lay down a card of the same suit. If they don’t have a card of the same suit, they can lay down any other suit.
If a player doesn’t have the suit that has been led, they can play a spade if they choose to do so. This will “trump,” or outrank, any other card of any other suit. That’s why the name of the game is “Spades.”
The player who wins each trick leads the next round. Gameplay continues like this until all 13 tricks are complete, at which point, the scores are tallied. Cards are then shuffled to prepare for another deal.
Rules for Laying Down Spades
As we mentioned above, a spade cannot be played in a trick where a different suit has been led unless a player has no cards of that suit in their hands. A player cannot lead with a spade until a spade has been played in another trick. That process is known as “breaking the spades.”
Once spades have been broken, you can lead with a spade on any subsequent trick if you wish. However, even after spades have been broken, you have to follow suit if someone leads with a heart, club, or diamond, unless you don’t have that suit. Spades can only be used as trump cards if you don’t have the suit that was led.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to throw a spade if you don’t have any cards of the suit that’s been led. You might choose to hold them back, which would likely be related to how much you bid. There might be times when it’s more advantageous to lose a trick than win it.
Sample Spades Hands
Those rules might be a little bit confusing for some. But examples make Spades gameplay pretty clear. Usually, a player can get the hang of it all once they’ve gone through a few tricks.
Let’s imagine that Team A consists of players A1 and A2, and Team B consists of players B1 and B2. Here is how one trick might go:
Four of Hearts
Seven of Hearts
Queen of Hearts
Jack of Hearts
In this trick, hearts were led, and every player had a heart in their hand that they played. Player A2 threw down the highest heart with the queen. Therefore, that trick is credited to Team A.
Let’s take a look at another one, this time with Team B leading:
Ace of Diamonds
Queen of Diamonds
Three of Diamonds
Two of Spades
In this case, player A1 can only make this play if they don’t have any diamonds in their hand. By throwing down the spade, A1 wins this trick for Team A, since the spade trumps the diamonds. This is the case even though the two is a lower-ranked card than all of the diamonds that were played.
One more example:
Six of Spades
Five of Spades
Three of Spades
King of Clubs
This trick can only begin his way if spades have already been broken, meaning that a spade had been played by one of the players in a previous trick. A1 would win this trick for Team A. B2 would have made this play if they had no spades in their hand, and their king of clubs would be trumped by the spades.
There might occasionally be a situation where a player plays a card incorrectly. For example, they might break suit even though they had a card of the suit that was led in their hand. This might happen because they might have made a simple mistake, or they are trying to pull a fast one.
This is known as a “renege,” and it usually doesn’t work (if it was intentional) because the error will easily be found when the player ends up having to play the card they tried to hide. Depending on how serious the Spades game you’re playing might be, you can choose some sort of penalty for the renege. For instance, the team with the renege might have to take a zero for that round, or you could even dock them points for each trick they bid.
We’re going to stick with the Spades scoring rules from BicycleCards.com, since they’re a pretty good authority as perhaps the preeminent playing card company in the world. (Their set of Spades rules doesn’t include nil bidding, although that’s a pretty common part of the game. We’ve used the scoring rules for nil that seem to be the consensus of the different ways to play the game.)
For the most part, the standard Spades game lasts until one team reaches 500 points. But you can obviously adjust the limit any way you wish. If you’re playing online for real money, you’ll have to stick with whatever the side decides as the finishing point total.
If a team ends up exactly as many tricks as its combined bid, this is often called “making the contract,” since a bid in Spades is often called a contract. Keep in mind that this can happen even if the individual players weren’t dead-on with their bids. Example:
Player A1: Bids four, but wins five tricks (5)
Player A2: Bids four, but wins three tricks (3)
The Team A bid was eight tricks (4 + 4), and that’s what they won, even if they didn’t hit their individual bids. That’s why, when playing Spades, once you make your individual bid, try to forget about it. When you play, concentrate on working with your partner to match the team bid.
If you make the contract, you get 10 points for each trick that you made. In other words, if you bid seven and make seven tricks, your team gets 70 points (7 x 10). As you’ll find out, it is always in your best interest to hit big right on the money, as different penalties await for underbids and overbids.
When you make more tricks than you bid, you’ve made “overtricks” or “bags,” and it isn’t a good thing. For every 10 bags that your team amasses, you’ll end up with a 100-point penalty. Getting such a penalty will be hard to overcome if your opponent doesn’t suffer any such penalties.
How can you keep track of this as your scoring?
Well, you can simply keep a running tally of the bags on the scoresheet while still awarding 10 points for each trick up to your team bid (barring an overbid, which we’ll get to in a second). For example, if your team bids four and you win six tricks, meaning you have two bags, you can:
Award yourself 40 points, since you bid four tricks and achieved that (4 x 10 = 40)
Mark down two bags in the tally for your team, knowing that when you reach 10 bags, you’ll have to subtract 100 points from your score.
If you find that a little confusing, you can simply include any bags as 1 point each added to your total. Every time that your total reaches “zero” in the ones column, you know that you have to subtract 100 points. For example:
You come into a round with 368 points.
Your team bids four but wins seven tricks.
Your score for that round is 43 (four tricks to match your bid and three bags).
When you add 368 plus 43, you get 411.
However, since the ones column has turned over, it means you’ve exceeded your 10 bags limit and you have to forfeit 100 points. Hence, your scores heading into the next round is 411 minus 100, which is 311.
Underbids are costly when playing Spades, but overbids are worse. The most common format for the game requires your team to simply take a zero when this occurs. For example:
Your team bids seven, but wins only five tricks.
Your team is awarded zero points for that round.
Accumulating multiple overbids can be hard to overcome when playing Spades. That’s why many novice players tend to be conservative for fear of coming up with a zero round. But being too conservative can lead to bags piling up quickly, which can also hurt.
Nil Bids Scoring
Nil bids are ones where a player doesn’t think they will win any tricks at all. This is the one time where a player’s individual tricks have to be considered. Once that player who makes the nil bid wins a trick, he has failed the nil contract.
The rule for nil is as follows:
A correct nil bid collects 100 points.
An incorrect nil bid costs the team 100 points.
Keep in mind that in standard Spades, you can’t make a zero bid. In other words, if you want to bid that you personally won’t be responsible for winning any tricks, you either have to bet nil or bet one. One is the safer bid, but you might not be able to achieve it if your cards are poor; in which case, you could be putting your team in jeopardy for an overbid and a zero-point round.
But a nil bid puts you on the line for either positive or negative 100-point total. It’s for this reason that players usually only bid nil if their team is well behind.
Keep in mind that the other player on the team can still score as usual when their teammate bids nil. In addition, any tricks won by the player that bids nil automatically count as bags for the team and do not count towards the team total bid. Basically, once a nil bid is made, the bidder has to do what they can to win zero and the other player on the team has to get as close to their original bid as possible.
Blind Nil Bids and Scoring
Blind nil is what you might call a house rule in that there is no hard and fast standard that insists that it must be a part of your Spades game. But we’ve found that more descriptions of Spades include blind nil rules than not. So, we’ll include it here.
In essence, a blind nil is one where the player makes their nil bid before the deal takes place and they see their cards. Obviously, the risk that you run is that you’ll get a few cards that are bound to win some tricks. As a result, you should only consider a blind nil bid if you are desperate for a big score.
Correct blind nil bids earn your team 200 points. Incorrect nil bids will cost your team 200 points. All other rules that we mentioned for a nil bid apply to the blind nil as well.
Variations on Standard Spades
As you might have been able to tell from the description above, there is no real set of Spades rules that is universally used. That goes not only for informal home games but also for Spades games played in online casino sites. For the most part, the rules listed above are a general consensus, but there are many ways to change things up.
Some games include a pair of wild cards that trump all else, even Spades. In games like these, jokers are often inserted into the deck to replace two of the deuces. This doesn’t really change gameplay all that much, with the exception that these cards stand apart even from spades in terms of their ability to win tricks.
Some games include what is known as “partnership bidding.” This is when players are allowed to discuss beforehand how many tricks they might be able to win before making their bids.
Most variations like this insist that these discussions must come out in the open so that their opponents can hear them.
The concern here is that such discussions might open up the possibility of foul play, in that players might try to communicate with their teammate in a coded method about what they have and how they might lead. Another interesting way that this version varies is that you can try to bluff your opponents in some manner with your discussions. In any case, make sure that all four players are okay with this version of play before you consider it.
There are many different ways that you can mess around with the Spades scoring system. Perhaps the most common version of this comes in terms of the overbid. In the scoring rules above, an overbid in a round means that your team simply ends up with a zero for that round.
But there are many people who play Spades that prefer a stricter penalty for an overbid. In this version of the game, an overbid would cost you 10 points for every trick that you come up short of your bid. For example:
Your team bids seven but only wins four tricks.
That means that you underbid by three tricks.
3 x 10 = 30, which means your team’s score is deducted 30 points in that round.
Playing in this manner really intensifies the strategy and makes the game less dependent on luck. You have to be as accurate as possible with your bids each round, because the penalty is strict in both directions. As a result, you have to be on your game with your teammate to play this version well.
How to Play Spades With Two People
One of the only drawbacks to standard Spades is that you need to have four players to play. But if you enjoy the format and want to play with a friend who’s around, there is a version of the game that uses two players. This is often played online for real money at top gambling sites.
All aspects of two-person Spades are the same as the four-person version. How bidding works all the way through how tricks play out and how it’s scored is the same as the four-person version of the game. The only difference comes in how you get the cards that comprise your 13-card hand. There is a twist here that adds to the strategy.
In two-person Spades, the deck of 52 is placed face down in front of the players. Player A takes the top card off the deck and looks at it. Here are the options they have:
Keep that card for their hand. They must then take the next card from the deck, look at it, and place it face down in a discard pile. The discard pile is essentially out of play for that round.
Discard the first card. If they choose to do this, they must take the next card from the deck for their hand. In other words, if you turn down the first card, you keep the second; if you keep the first, you toss back the second.
Player B then does the same with the next two cards, and the process continues until all 52 cards are gone and each player has 13 cards in their hand. How does this process change affect strategy compared to the four-person version of the game? Well, first of all, you have to decide if that first card you see each pick is worth keeping, which means trying to figure out its chances of helping you win a trick (or lose it, if you’re trying to go nil).
On top of that, by getting a look at the card that you end up discarding, you’ll have knowledge of 13 cards that your opponent can’t possibly have in their own hands. If you have good memory, it will help you in terms of bidding and knowing what to play. The more knowledge you have, the less variables will be in play, which takes bad luck out of the equation to some extent.
As we said, all the basic rules apply from there. You’ll enjoy two-person Spades if you like the idea of an extra layer of decision-making. In addition, it’s much more convenient in a pinch if you’re the only one around.
Spades Strategy Tips
When you play Spades with regularity, you’ll start to learn some of the techniques that can help you win consistently. But you might want to hit the ground running. If that’s the case, here are some tips that will help you to become a better player right off the bat.
Understand What Wins and Loses Tricks
The first key to being a good Spades player is being able to assess your hand for what it’s capable of doing. This means being able to decide how likely it is that each of the 13 cards you have can win a trick. Here are some things you should look for in terms of what makes for a good hand, i.e., one that can win you a lot of tricks, while not having these qualities in your hand means you probably won’t win many:
A lot of spades – This is obviously what you’re looking for in this game, since it will put you in a position to do a lot of trumping.
High cards of many suits – If you can match suits consistently and can come in with a high card like an ace or a king, you should be in good shape to win tricks no matter what the lead is.
A hand lacking in cards from one or more suits (with the exception of spades) – If you have a nice run of spades but have two cards from other suits, especially low ones, the impact of your spades will be limited because you’ll have to keep matching suit. But if you’re lacking a suit and you have a bunch of spades, you’ll be trumping early.
Pay Attention to What’s Being Thrown
Spades is a game of memory, since the cards that have already been thrown in early tricks will determine your chances of winning or losing tricks later. If you see, for example, that hearts have already been trumped and you’re sitting there with several high-ranked hearts, it means you might not be able to win tricks with them. You might try then feeding your opponent cards to try to help them win tricks if you think you might come up short of your bid based on what’s been thrown.
Watch Your Teammate’s Plays
Try to play in conjunction with what your opponent is doing. If you see that they need a certain suit to get to their bid level, try to feed that to them. And if you see that they’ve already reached the number of tricks that they bid and there are still several tricks left, don’t give them suits that will force them to trump with spades.
Play to Your Team Bid
We mentioned this one earlier, but it’s crucial that you heed this advice. Just because you’re on pace to meet your individual bid, it doesn’t mean the same is true for your teammate. You should be playing to meet that team bid, which means trying to pick up the pace of winning tricks if your team is short of your bid or playing cards most likely to lose tricks if you’re threatening to overbid.
Save Nil for When You’re Desperate
Even if you’re dealt a lousy hand, it’s best to bid one and trying to squeeze out a trick somehow. Or you can agree with your teammate that you won’t be bidding nil early in the match because it’s hard to achieve, and the penalty for the loss is too rough. Instead, make an agreement that a bid of one is an indicator that you’ll have trouble winning any, so that your teammate can adjust their bid or their play accordingly if they already bid.
Are There Other Versions of Spades Besides Two-Person and Four-Person?
You can play three-person Spades if that happens to be the number that you have available to you. In this case, each player gets 17 cards or, if you have two jokers, you can make it 18 each with the jokers as the ultimate trump cards. From there, the bidding and scoring is pretty similar to most other Spades games, only you’ll be playing for yourself against two partners.
Is There a Reason That I Would Purposely Lose Tricks in Spades?
If you and your partner win your allotment of tricks early in the round and you don’t want any bags, you should consider losing tricks on purpose if you can. The only reason you might consider not doing this is if your opponents seem to be coming in below their bid. It’s a bit more valuable to saddle them with an overbid and a zero for the round, even if it means your team taking on a few bags.
How Can I Play Spades for Money With My Friends?
The easiest way to do it would be to assign a value to each point. Then, at the end of the game, the team who wins will win the amount of the margin multiplied by the amount you assigned. For instance, if you’re playing for 10 cents a point and you win by 100 points, you would win $10.00 (100 times .10).
Can Players Cheat in Spades?
Reneging on purpose is one way to cheat, but that is easily caught, since the player who does it will eventually have to play the card that they were holding back. But players sending each other signals about what cards they have and what cards they want led can be a problem. Hopefully, if you’re playing with friends and are playing for small stakes, this kind of thing won’t ever come up.
Can I Play Spades Online for Real Money?
There are plenty of websites that give you the opportunity to play Spades for real money. You can create a gambling account and provide some financial information so that you can make wagers. Just make sure that you choose one of the most reliable gambling sites. For a list of the best online gambling sites, click on the button below.
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