HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I. Beginner's Korner
It is a new year, and it's back to basics! David Letterman has his Top Ten list and Spades has one too. During the next several months, I will be reviewing, in detail, each of the error categories described below. There are two primary stages in a Spades game: Bidding and Play of the Hand. Defense is part of the play; Scoring is a function that occurs after the hand has been completed.
The Top Ten Spades Errors Made By New Players
1. Failure to evaluate a hand properly.
2. Overbidding and underbidding.
3. Bidding Nil with unsound values or borderline trump.
4. Trumping in second-seat position.
5. Taking tricks (at the wrong time) from partner.
6. Poor technique when covering partner's Nil.
7. Failure to play second hand low and third hand high.
8. Knowing when to play for the set, and when to bag the opponents.
9. Failure to lead Spades when it is absolutely necessary.
10. Poor defense against opponents' Nils.
Plus, Two Bonus Listings!
11. Understanding standard opening leads.
12. Score management and situational bidding.
We Start with #1. Evaluating the Hand
Please note that this is only a basic overview. There are three published Spades authors whose books will provide you with plenty of detailed and helpful material. In addition, there are two very good online Spades strategy sites. Some Bridge books will also be useful in determining the value of hands.
Side (or "plain") suits: In order to bid properly, you must be able to approximate the number of tricks you expect to win. I use the word "approximate" because there is no ironclad guarantee that you are going to win a side-suit (Heart, Diamond, or Club) trick. Mathematical probability applies to any holding. For example, if you hold the singleton Ace of a side suit, you should win that Ace. I say “should," because there are those rare instances (less than 1%) that your lone Ace will be trumped! However, losing your Ace in this instance, is not realistic. Thus, it can be counted as a winner. When you begin to add spot (small) cards to your Ace, the odds diminish. The more cards that you hold in a given side suit with the Ace, the greater the odds that an opponent will trump this suit. A doubleton Ace (for example, Ace-Deuce of a suit) is still a good bet. The Ace and two small spot cards may also be bid for one trick. However, three or more accompanying spot cards begins to stretch the limits. Then you have to consider the possibility of your partner holding the King or King-Queen combination in the same suit as your Ace. This is called Duplication. Now we come to Kings. A singleton King in a side suit is speculative. If your partner holds the Ace of that suit, your King may live, if partner does not play the Ace in front of it. Then again, one of the opponents holding that Ace may drop your stiff King like a rock! Of course, a King accompanied by the Ace in the same suit has full value, as long as the suit length is not excessive. If you hold a King and one or two spot cards, your King is worth one-half a trick. "What is that?” you say. Well, if partner has the Ace, your King should be good for a trick. Or if the Ace is in on your right, your King could be a winner. If the Ace is on the left, your King may be a goner! Lots of variables here! As for Queens in plain suits, they have greatly reduced value unless they are accompanied by the King, or the Ace, or in some instances, the Jack. (We will talk about finessing situations in a later column.)
The Spade Suit: The trump suit is a separate animal. Spades are a commodity. You can never lose the Ace of Spades! And the other honor cards (King, Queen, Jack, and 10) have increased value as well. This is especially true when you hold two or more honor cards, and some length. Hands with more than four medium-high Spades are very powerful. A string (five or six) "baby" Spades can be a real nuisance for the opponents, and/or a great help for partner! Thus, when you evaluate trump tricks, you must consider the quality of the trump, the length of the trump, and the shape of your hand. Which brings us to our last part of this topic.
Shape or distribution: You are dealt 13 cards. If you have a balanced hand, that is, four of one suit and three of each of the other three suits, you will have little opportunity to ruff or trump anything. If you hold two or three worthless trump, you will probably win zero Spade tricks with a balanced hand. And if you are dealt a singleton small Spade or a void in the trump suit, your hand loses a lot of its trick-winning potential. Your long side suits with Aces and Kings might look good; however, they will be cut to ribbons if the opponents have the lion's share of the trump. A deadly motif is the "cross-ruff," in which each opponent is void in a side suit, and then score their trumps separately, as your team must follow suit. On the other hand (no pun intended), a void or singleton in a side suit, as well as some trump length, is a positive feature.
Summary: Use good card sense when evaluating your hand. Aces are a plus in the side suits. Kings and Queens may be of some value. Spades are boss! Lots of trump, and/or big Spades increase the worth of hand. Finally, voids and singletons in the side suits combined with trump length can really inflate the trick-taking capacity of any hand.
Next month, we explore Overbidding, Underbidding, and Nil bidding.
Advanced Alley -- Intermediate and Expert Techniques
Jay Tomlinson is a Bridge Life Master and a recognized Spades master. Jay has a website called "Expert Spades," which is chock full of tips and strategy. Check it out! Here is a delightful hand featuring a most unusual play.
The Pitts Coup
by Jay Tomlinson
This ending came up recently and I needed one more trick sitting East. Our side can easily be set, but how does one find this coup or make a brilliant play like this at the Spades table? The funny thing about this five-card ending is that one partner was worried about bags and the other was after the set, and they fell into the brilliant Pitts Coup and “set" me anyway.
We had eight bags and North was a bagging dynamo, while South recognized the strong scent of a set. The table bid was 6 for North/South and 5 for East/West. With two bags in the leftovers, our North felt it was imperative he give them to us. Every opportunity that North had he played a higher card than necessary to make sure we bagged out. I sat licking my chops as I realized our side was probably overbid and needed any extra trick this player could provide us with.
Look at this demon of a five-card ending, and laugh or cry like I did when it unfolded.
With just one more trick needed by East, a quick glance shows that it is quite likely to occur. However one must never underestimate the power of a bagger. In his wildest dreams, North could not imagine the fantastic "coup" he dropped on me.
South led a small dime, and his partner ruffed with the Ace of Spades, trying not to bag. OMG, he made the only play he can make that actually sets me while trying to bag me. He then led his low Spade back -- continuing his bagging ploy, and crushed me, as his partner finessed my Queen, and it was "Katy bar the door" for me!
To add insult to injury, one player said, "Why are you ruffing with the Ace? Partner, can't you see we must set them," and the other said, "I am trying to bag them out; they have eight bags."
This was one of the most fascinating five-card endings I've seen on the Zone in a long time. The real coup was the "Pitts Coup" en passant. Our unlikely Pitt's Coup player was not even aware what he did to us, lol!
Note: A "Pitts Coup" occurs by ruffing with a card higher than necessary as a sacrifice or unblocking play. This allows the lead through one opponent at the table. It is a most unusual maneuver in the game of Spades, as there is no dummy hand, and the timing is a matter of guesswork.
Double Nils -- Love Them or Hate Them
Or, "I guess DN is part of the game"
If you like or dislike Double Nils, by all means send your comments to this column: firstname.lastname@example.org
The most creative and colorful posts (Pro and Con) will be featured in the next column.
2004 is here. Enjoy!