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 Spades Tips and Strategies




Spades Column of the Month -- January 2003




By Joe Andrews




"The Hand"/The Survey/The Final Results

I have been writing this column for more than three years, and I have rarely seen such enthusiasm and fervor about a "Hand of the Month" feature. More than one hundred players responded to last month's scenario. Many of the analyses were thorough, detailed, and well-presented. This did not surprise me. The game of Spades continues to evolve, and the corps of truly accomplished players are increasing all of the time. This is attributable to the publication of Spades books, the popularity of the online game, the growth of live tournaments, and the development of software with a very high level of play (artificial intelligence).

Thus, and for the final time, let's roll out that hand.

 5 2
 A Q 9 6
 K J 8 7 5 4 3

"To nil, or not to nil" - that is the question. (Refer to last month's column for the actual game situation.)

Of the submitted "solutions," 57% suggested a nil bid. After much pondering and review of many similar submissions, I selected the sound and logical analysis provided by Bruce F. And here it is:

"There are several reasons why the Nil bid is favorable to the 2 bid. First, one has to consider the potential bids that can be made by South. If you bid 2, there are still 5 books left; therefore, South could make a 4 bid, and take the last bag to win 506-505. South could also make the leading/aggressive 5 bid, giving North the advice to go for the jugular ASAP (since their side HAS to take 9 tricks to win - why not bid it?) There is also the chance of a Nil from the South side if they have mediocre values and don't think that the 8 bid is makeable on their side. Hence the 'weak' 2 bid bid from the 3rd chair gives the ops flexibility in deciding the outcome (bad for your side). The Nil bid, conversely, creates all sorts of problem for the opposition.

There is no bid that the ops can make  (DN is not allowed) that will allow them to overtake E/W. Setting the 2 bid does not help... then only hope is to try and set the Nil. So, South may intentionally underbid his hand, bidding 1 or 2, in the hopes of sticking the cover hand partner on the lead (and potentially bagging the ops out, and thereby giving his side a chance to win on the next hand.) The 4 bid against the Nil bid still leaves 3 bags out, and therefore the opportunity to set the Nil with an accurate defense. But clearly, the N/S side has more problems to deal with when the 3rd chair bids Nil (good for your side). Finally, one might consider your partner's 2 bid as an underbid. Your partner might have 3-5 makeable books, but since a 4 bid puts your side over the top, why not a conservative 2 bid to throw the opps off? The opps might then bid aggressively in hopes of overtaking your side - but then the hammer drops. In closely contested games like this one, it's better to keep the pressure on your ops, maybe forcing them into a mistake, than to put all of the options on their side, and letting them make the best possible choice for their team."

Ed. note: Bruce’s entry may sound a bit circuitous, but it captures the essence of the value of the nil by East. Spades is a random game, especially when determining the location of key values in your partner's hand. Given the tension of a live event, and a national competition, East has to make a decision, and rather quickly, at that

As for the CON side (43%), let's look at this commentary by Scott L.

"I would not Nil in this scenario. My partner (West) bids first, with 40 points required to win the game. This would be a conservative bid of 2 to let me know we have what we need, but don't do anything stupid. The second bid of 4 (North), whose team is 80 points away from victory, needs to bid aggressively to give his partner (South and last bid) all of the options to seal the deal. However, I may be too aggressive here, I (East) would not bid 2, and hope that my team gets the bag if N/S go to 8. I would bid 3, and take my team to five (and 515), if successful. This forces N/S to bid 9 instead of 8, because 80 points would take them to only 505. If my theory is correct, and West bid conservatively, while North bid aggressively, then we would have real shot of winning. Either way, I have a forced bid that N/S would just hate to bid, but will have no choice. If (East) wins the Ace of hearts and trumps two diamonds, then my phantom bid is a little more solid than it appears. A 3 bid is risky, aggressive, and controlling. A Nil bid is just plain panic."

Ed. note: East must take the heart finesse, if and when that suit is led. Two diamond ruffs are very ambitious, as West will have limited lead opportunities. However, these power of the bid of 3 by East, in this situation, cannot be underestimated.

Well done, Bruce and Scott! And thanks to all of you who took the time to send in your ideas and analyses.

Holiday Super Quiz

A list of infractions/irregularities that can occur at live Spades events was presented in random order. The goal was to determine the most severe infraction/penalty assessment, and then place them in descending order of lesser infractions.

Here is the correct listing:



1.       A revoke (renege)



2.       Leading trump before spades are broken (and when you hold at least one side suit card in your hand).



3.       Dropping or exposing a card while sorting your hand



4.       Failure to play a penalty card when legally possible



5.       A premature (and faulty) claim (TRAM).



6.       A lead out of turn



7.       A renounce (which results in a penalty card).



8.       A bid out of turn



9.       A misdeal



10.    Failure to offer the deck for a "cut" (by the Dealer)




And the winner, with the earliest "postmark" (date of e-mail), is Todd M.