Spades is usually played with four people. It is possible to play with fewer, but the preferred number of people is four (not necessarily in teams).
Did you know that Spades is an American game? It seems to have originated in the United States and doesn't have much of a following in the rest of the world.
The game requires a standard 52-card deck. It is a trick-taking game where Aces are high. The object is to score 500 points. You can vary the end-game rules and point values, but the standard rule is 500 points.
The Art of the Deal
Cut the cards to choose the dealer. The person who gets the highest card gets to deal. The dealer should deal the cards in a clockwise direction (starting to his or her left). Play also commences to the left of the dealer. All 52 cards are dealt to each of the four players, so that each player winds up with 13 cards.
Bidding usually opens a trick-taking card game and occurs immediately after the deal. Each person goes around the table and bids a certain point value. If you are playing as individuals (not teams), you look at your cards and, basically, try to guess how many tricks you think you'll be able to take. If your hand is a good one, you might think you can take five or six tricks. If your hand is a little low, you can bid one or two. There is also a time you can bid nothing at all (called “nil”), but we'll get to that in a minute.
If you are playing in partners, you have to bid as a team. You each have your own hand, but you cannot show each other your respective hands. You can, however, communicate to each other about how many tricks you think you can each take. For example, you can say “I think I can take three tricks, possibly five.” But you can't say “I have an Ace of Clubs and a 6 of Hearts.” When you both agree upon a number, you write it down and that is your official bid. The side that did not deal the cards gets to bid first.
There are two different types of bids:
- Nil: This bid is declared if a player thinks he will not be able to win any tricks during play. This is a tricky bid (no pun intended). You have to have a pretty bad hand to bid “nil.” If you succeed in not winning any tricks, you will score 50 points, so if you think you can pull it off—go for it. However, be prepared: Your opponents will work really hard to make you win a trick. If you are playing in teams, however, your partner will do his or her best to see that you don't win any tricks. If you wind up winning a trick, you lose 50 points. Sometimes it's a little less risky to bid at least one, since that way you will only lose 10 points—instead of 50!
- Blind Nil: This type of bidding is usually used in teams only. It means that you bid “nil” without looking at your cards first (thus, you're making a “blind” bid). If you pull off the Blind Nil, you will score 100 points. Some people play that if you bid Blind Nil, you and your partner can swap one card. This is considered a safety net in case you look at your hands and discover the dreaded Ace of Spades (the highest card in the “trump” suit). You can pass it to your partner and he or she, in turn, can pass you a low card. Sometimes people even allow two cards to be passed between partners—just be sure you have the rules straight for all players involved before you start passing cards around.
The player to the left of the dealer plays the first trick. You cannot lead the first trick with a Spade. In fact, you can only lead with a Spade once a Spade has been played as a discard in a previous trick. The only other time you can lead with a Spade is if you have no other card in your hand with which to lead. When you lead with a Spade, it's called “breaking Spades” (you have to admit that's not quite as catchy as in the game of Hearts: “breaking Hearts”).
The players must follow suit according to what the lead player puts down. If the lead player puts down a 2 of Clubs, you must play another Club. The highest card of the suit takes the trick. If you don't have a card in the suit, you may play any card in your hand.
If a trick contains a Spade, the highest Spade wins the trick. If no Spade is played, then the highest card of the lead suit wins the trick. The winner of the trick leads the subsequent trick.
It's in the Cards
An overtrick (sandbagging) is the difference between what you bid and the tricks you actually take. So let's say you bid 4 (4 multiplied by 10 equals 40) but you win 6 tricks (6 minus 4 equals 2)—you have 2 overtricks (or sandbags) and would therefore score 42 points.
The round is over when you've exhausted all your cards. The winner of the round is the person who bid closest to the amount of tricks won. If you take at least as many tricks as you bid, you receive a total of 10 times your bid. Then you count the overtricks—otherwise known as “bagging” or “sandbagging.”
On the other hand, if you don't make your bid, you lose 10 points for each trick you bid. So if you bid 4 and you only win 2 tricks, you will lose 40 points. You can see how important a good bid can be.
There are countless variations on the rules of Spades. It has been such a popular game that new variations come up all the time. The variants have been derived from years of heavy-duty enthusiasm. Don't be surprised if you come up with a few ideas of your own as you and your family catch on to the fun.