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  Spades Tips and Strategies




Spades Column of the Month -- February 2003




By Joe Andrews




Duplicate Spades: the future or a fad?

Duplicate is a format that has been successfully employed by the American Contract Bridge League  (ACBL) for more than sixty years. It is the methodology that is used for Bridge events from the local (club) level to the World Championships. The purpose of this format is to eliminate the luck of the deal, and to compare your skill to other players holding the same cards. How many times has your side been out-carded or out-nilled by the opponents in the typical standard game?  In Duplicate Spades, the strength of each partnership can be accurately measured. It is often described as a "comparison" game. Each hand is a separate entity, and has nothing to do with any other hand. There is no 500 point game structure. Teams are assigned to sit in a designated direction ("North/South") or ("East/West").  Each round consists of two, three, or four hands, depending on the size of the field, and a typical session may have anywhere from 12-28 hands.

Accurate bidding and play is rewarded with a good score. If your side underbids, bags will result in a deduction of points. On the other side of the coin, overly aggressive bidding will yield very damaging sets. If all pairs bid and make the same score, the result is a wash, and an average score. Rewards are great for setting the opponents' bids and for making nils. Sometimes the bidding is outrageous, as pairs strive for top scores! After a hand is played by all pairs, the scores are compared (match-pointed) and the results are posted accordingly. If you want to see the Duplicate concept as applied to the game of Bridge, in action, go the MSN Bridge Site, and kibitz a typical session.

History of Duplicate Spades

I began to "tinker" with the idea of Duplicate Spades, during the years that I was an ACBL Certified Club Director. (1972-82) Having the Duplicate boards, score sheets, and other paraphernalia was quite helpful; however, the scoring system was a great problem. Unlike the game of Bridge which has only one score, Spades required two separate scores on the Traveling score sheet. Because there were no live Spades events during those days, I had to draw from my regular Bridge crowd. After a few experimental efforts, the idea was shelved. (Many Bridge players are not enamored of the game of Spades!)

In 1998, Nancy Landau, of Indianapolis, IN, organized and conducted the first live Spades Convention, and more than 100 players attended. At last!  Here was the opportunity to try an exhibition Duplicate Spades event with Spades players. With Nancy's help, a seven table (28 player) game with standard ACBL Boards was scheduled. The results were mixed, with some good reviews, and other less than favorable responses. The biggest problem was the impulse of the players to throw the cards into the middle of the table! The scoring was very tedious. Then there were the fouled boards (cards from the wrong hand placed into the wrong board.) Finally, the match-pointing and posting required much manual effort. The evaluation forms were studied, and improvements were made. Hand record sheets solved one problem, and a teaching guide and demonstration session also helped. A few Bridge players assisted with the match-pointing. After a year of tweaking and a several two table games in my home, it was time have an official event for prizes. The 1999 Indy Convention featured two Duplicate Sessions (11 tables each), and this new concept for the game of Spades was on its way!

Yours truly directed more than 20 live Duplicate events from 1999-2002, with generally great reviews from the players. Duplicate Spades was featured in my first Spades Book, the Beginners/Intermediate volume (1999), and was updated in the Complete Win At Spades edition in 2001. It was only a matter of time before Duplicate Spades would make its appearance online, and be the topic of many articles and written analyses.

Part II, March 2003: The Future of Duplicate Spades

Is Duplicate Spades here to stay? Is the scoring system sound? Will live Duplicate be offered only at select events? Do players still prefer the traditional (standard) game?

Look for the follow-up article and some expert commentary from those who are familiar with this new format.

Featured article by John Galt

My friend, and fellow Spades expert, John Strichman, has contributed guest articles  on a regular basis. He is a member of "The Tigers,” one of the largest Spades Clubs on

John Galt is the author of How Not to Lose at Spades (Valley Publishing - Richmond, VA). Here is his latest contribution:

What would you bid sitting in South's (dealer) seat in this no DN (double nil) game?

The Score: (Your Team) 407  (7 bags); (The Opps)  482  (2 Bags)
The Hand Layout and Bidding:





North (3)



West (4)



East (2)




 2 6 10
 8 K
 4 8 A
 3 6 8 9 K





Nothing to lose

You have what would normally be a 2 or 3 bid hand, but this is far from a normal situation.

Yup, we're talking Last Hand Bidding again.

If the opponents make their bid on this hand they will have 542 points. Even if you were able to achieve an unlikely Nil with your hand, you would still not be able to outscore the opponents.

The only hope that you and your partner have, to play at least one more hand in this game, is to set the opponents' 6 bid.  In order to do this, your team will need to win 8 tricks. More simply, if you do not win 8 tricks on this hand you will lose the game.

Given this truth, you should bid the number of tricks necessary in order to bring your team's bid to this minimum requirement for staying alive in the game.  In this case, that means a bid of 5 (bringing the team bid to 8 and the total bid to 14).

The reason for doing this is that occasionally on hands of this nature, your team will set the opponents' bid and keep the game going. If this turns out to be one of those times and you have bid less than the number of tricks that it took to set the opponents, you will move forward in the game owning bags that were completely avoidable and having passed up additional points that were there for the taking.

In this example, for instance, if you bid 3 and your team was fortunate enough to set the opponents (taking 8 tricks with a team bid of 6), you would have a score of 469, having earned 2 avoidable bags and passed up 20 additional points.  By properly bidding the total bid for your team to 8, however, your team would wind up with a score of 487 points.

On hands of this nature, if you are lucky enough to keep the game alive, you want to be sure to be in the best position possible going forward. The only way to do this is to assume that your team will achieve the necessary set of the opponents and bid the number of tricks that you will win when you accomplish that set.

The important thing to remember here is that the level of your bid has absolutely nothing to do with the cards in your hand. The bid is dictated entirely by the score of the game and your opps' position of imminent victory. If bagging or nilling is not an option, you should bid to 14 no matter what cards you have in your hand.

Many players consider making this 14 bid to be very risky. The truth, however, is that this bid involves no risk whatsoever. There is absolutely no downside associated with the bid (if you do not take that many tricks you will lose the game anyway), and the possible reward from achieving the bid is huge.

This is the old forest and trees thing. By keeping your eyes on the forest, rather than on the 13 trees in your hand, you will see that you have nothing to lose by taking the bid to 14, and should always do so when setting the pones is your only hope for life.

Achieving a set on a 14 bid hand is about as good as it gets -- congratulations in advance! Good luck and happy Spading!