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Spades Column of the Month – May 2004




By Joe Andrews




This month we (temporarily) depart from "Beginner's Korner" feature for the quarterly installment from my friend JohnGalt Strichman, the author of How Not to Lose At Spades. John has revised his original edition, and you will really enjoy the updates, as well as the impressive layout. Check it out on "Beginner's Korner" will return next month.

"Backseat Driving" by JohnGalt Strichman

In my book, I use the term "Double Nil" to refer to a hand on which one player from each team has bid Nil (not to be confused with a double Nil -- or blind Nil -- bid).

Double Nil hands play a tremendous role in the outcome of Spades games. One reason for this is that the potential point swing on a Double Nil hand is huge. The difference between one team making its Nil while the other team does not and the reverse is 400 points!  Based on the Nil bids alone, it is possible to gain 200 points on the opponents (your team makes its Nil and the other team does not) or to lose 200 points (the opponents make their Nil bid and your team does not).

Further, other factors that influence the play of a Double Nil can lead to one of the cover partners taking such a large number of bags on the hand that that hand alone will represent the primary cause for his team eventually suffering a bag penalty and losing the game. The most critical consideration when bidding and playing a Double Nil hand is what I call "Front seat/Backseat."  Front seat/Backseat refers to the positioning of the cover partners relative to the two Nil bidders. The front seat is the position of the cover partner who plays just prior to the opposing Nil bidder, and the backseat is the position of the cover partner who plays just prior to the opposing cover partner.

For example, in the following situation, North is sitting in the front seat (he plays just prior to the opposing Nil bidder -- East), and West is sitting in the backseat (he plays just prior to the opposing cover partner -- North).

The Bidding:  North  4; East  0;  South 0; West 6  (Nil Bids by East and South)

The Double Dare

You have been dealt the following hand in the following situation, and are leading the first trick from the backseat position on the Double Nil.  What card should you lead?

The Score: Your Team  204,  Pones 234

The Bidding:  North  0;  East  0; South  5; West 3

South holds:

 3 9 Q A
 5 8 10 A
 3 8
 7 Q A

If you lead any card other than the 3 of Diamonds, you are making a mistake.


If you are leading from the backseat on a Double Nil and there are several bags to be distributed on the hand (unless you have a commanding lead), if you don't take the opportunity to force your opponent into the lead, you are needlessly taking bags, and you and your pard are losing more Spades games than you should.

In this example, there will be five bags absorbed on the hand. If both teams make their Nils, your team's score will be 354 plus however many bags you take, and the opponents will have 364 plus however many bags West takes. It is very likely that the outcome of the game will hinge on how the bags on this hand are distributed.

It is imperative that you lead a card that is sufficiently low that West will have to risk setting his partner's Nil if he doesn't cover the lead with a high card.  You must dare him on this Double Nil hand to let your lead go around the table and see which of the Nil bidders winds up getting set.  This is the only way that you can force West into the lead so that you gain total control of the play of the hand. In this situation, the front-seat player has little choice but to cover the low lead.  The instinct to protect his Nil partner is so strong, and the fear of not doing so, so great, that it is a very rare instance indeed when the front-seat player does not back away from the dare and the risk of setting his partner.

On this hand, leading the 3 of Diamonds serves two important purposes.  Not only is it the lowest card that you can lead, and therefore most likely to evoke the visceral cover response from West, but also it moves you toward emptying your hand of Diamonds, which will give you even more flexibility and control over the play of the hand. The play involves very little risk to your team. This is because, if you were to choose the other approach of leading high card after high card, you would probably wind up taking most (if not all) of the five bags on the hand, and end up losing the game as a result of eventually suffering a bag penalty. A further advantage of forcing West into the lead is that, as he is forced to lead lower and lower cards, you can just sit there ducking, waiting to see if he will eventually set his partner's Nil bid.

If you are not double-daring the front-seat player when you are riding backseat on a Double Nil, not only are you losing many Spades games that you should not, but you are missing out on some of the most fun that you can possibly have playing Spades.

Best of luck and Happy Spading!

Analysis by George Coffin -- "The Great Spades Puzzle"

George Coffin, the great Bridge player and card game historian, showed me this hand several years ago. He had constructed the hand in order to challenge Spades players with an exercise in technique. You are allowed to see all four hands. You may assume best defense and play by both sides. Play N/S, and try to reel in 10 tricks. Or play E/W, and try to set the opponents. Here is the layout and bidding:






 Q J 9 8 3
 A 2
 5 4 2
 A 3 2



 10 6 5
 J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4



 Q J 10 9 8 6
 K  J 10 8 7 6


South (Dealer)

 A K 7 4 2
 K 3
 A 7 3
 9 5 4





The Score:  N/S 404;  E/W 455

The Bidding:  West 1;  North  5;  East  1;  South  5

West cannot bid Nil with his hanging King of Diamonds and Queen of Clubs. Thus he bids a lowly 1. North chimes in with a 5 bid, as he has two Aces and five pretty decent trump. East cannot bid Nil, as he has dreadful cards in the Club and Diamond suits, and he too reluctantly bids 1. South has a comfortable 5 bid, with a decent trump suit, and a side Ace. In addition, the 5 bid threatens to win the game. Thus, N/S are bidding a combined total 10 tricks.

Can North/South accumulate a combined 10 tricks?  How can they avoid the loss of two Diamonds and two Clubs? Assume best play by all participants. In the actual game, West opened with the Jack of Hearts. However, you (playing West) may want to try the King of Diamonds, or the Queen of Clubs leads. If you like the N/S side, what is the only way to make 10 tricks against best defense?  Trump cannot be led by either side until the Spade suit is "broken." Send your solution to

The Spades Connection -- "Live" Spades Events

August 12-15, 2004 -- Nashville, TN

October 21-24, 2004 -- Pittsburgh, PA

The Spades Connection is an organization that was founded in September of 2000 by a group of friends. Our purpose has always been to bring people together in an atmosphere of competitive card playing, while forming new friendships and rekindling old ones. We strive to present a well-organized event and allow time for social interaction and memory making as the weekend progresses.

We all take great pride in putting on the best live events possible. It is our continued goal for you and your friends to join with others who have found our reputation to be that of "The Premier Event for All Live Spades Players."

Happy Spading,

+_DOLL_ and Catladie

Note -- Grand Prix Tournaments are proud to have The Spades Connection as a designated qualifying event for the 2004 National Spades Championship. In addition, there is a "live" Duplicate Spades® Tournament scheduled as part of the August event. Come to Tennessee and play some great Spades games, and meet your Zone friends!

Happy Mother's Day (May 9th) to all moms out there!