Spades Column of the Month -- April 2005

By Joe Andrews

Hindsight in Spades, Part 2 of 2

In the last column, we looked at decisions made at the table during the heat of battle. Some players are great "results merchants!" How many times have you played a game of Spades and listened to the post-mortem analysis after a disappointing conclusion to a hand? I have come to loathe any expression starting with "As it turns out...": "…you should have played this card," "…done this," "…trumped this," and so on.

Don't you just love those partners who cover your Nil with A-K-Q of the suit in which you hold the 2-3-4, and then crow about how great their cover really was?

Here we will examine the bidding process. Assume these hands are the first deals of a game, or that a game is close in its early stages. You are dealing in a live event, and you have last bid. The thought of a Nil is running through your mind as you check out this collection, and await your partner's call.

A)

5 2

J 6 4 2

10 6

10 9 7 4 2

Now, let's look at four possible hands (B, C, D, and E) that your partner might hold opposite you. I have highlighted the weak suit in each of these hands.

In each scenario, partner holds approximately the same strength hand, with at least two cards in every suit. As you observe each of the deals, you should understand that the important factor is not the quantity of high cards in the partner's covering hand. Indeed, it is the placement of those high cards in a key suit or suits.

B)

8 6 3

A 9 5 3

A K 8

K Q J

C)

A K 6 3

8 7 5

K Q 9

A J 8

D)

A J 9 8

A K 8

A J

J 6 5 3

E)

A Q J

A K 8 7

5 4

A J 8 6

In each of these examples, the left-hand opponent with first bid calls three, your partner, an aggressive player, bids five, and the right-hand opponent chirps in with four. (Partner may have bid four in each case if he had known you were contemplating Nil: another classic example of hindsight.) A total bid of twelve for each hand just about clinches your decision to call Nil in last seat, and you have only a slight concern for those diamonds.

Now let's observe the play for each hand.

Hand B. The opening lead is a small heart from your left. Partner rises with the Ace, and starts on the clubs with the King. One of the opps wins the Ace, and tries a shift to diamonds. No problem here. Partner wins the Ace, and continues another high club. It wins. A third club is trumped by the one of the opps, and another diamond is led. Partner thus wins two diamonds, two clubs, and the Ace of hearts. The opponents have lots of spade winners. The Nil rolls in. +150 points to the good guys!

Hand C. The opening lead this time is a small diamond. Partner plays the six, and the right-hand opponent feels mighty good about winning his Ace behind the Nil. Dutifully, he returns his Partner's suit. Two diamond tricks are promptly won by the King and Queen. The Ace of clubs snags the third trick for the heroes, and your Jack of clubs is taken by the King. Two more trump are sure to be won by the cover hand. Fearful of a set, the opps cash out three top hearts, and scramble home for a total of seven tricks, thanks to a hand which contained the Q-J-10-8 of spades, and the ten of clubs. Chalk up another Nil bid. Chalk up another +150 number.

Hand D. This time, your left-hand opponent tries a middle club lead, the eight spot. Partner carefuly ducks with the seven, and a cheesy Jack wins the trick. Another middle club, you and partner easily duck, and the King wins. The hearts suit is their next plan of attack from the right side. You win the Ace, as partner plays the Jack. Your heart King also walks through. Finally, you are off-lead with your last heart. This hand is on ice. You will win one diamond with the Ace, perhaps another diamond with the Jack. Two spades tricks are a virtual lock. If the opps are not careful, they may get set. In any case, another Nil/5 is in the bank. +150 points.

Hand E. Here is another hand with three good suits, and one bad (covering) suit. Unfortunately, your one bad suit matches the only weak spot in partner's hand: diamond dogs! You escape momentarily, as the left-hand opponent opens with a small heart... a very lucky break. (Of course, seeing all four hands clearly reveals the need for a low diamond lead.) You climb with the Ace and continue with the King, as everyone follows. Your heart eight is won by the Queen on your left as the Jack drops, and your seven spot is a "thirteener." Once again your side dodges a bullet, as the three of clubs is led from your right, and you climb with the Ace.

You are anxious to provide a discard for partner with the seven of hearts. This is ducked by the next player, and your partner unloads his diamond ten and tries to muffle a sigh. However, the right-hand opponent trumps in with the spade seven. The diamond two hits the table, you wince, and your play of the five-spot is very revealing. After a slight hesitation, the three of diamonds is dropped by the left-hand opponent, and partner gets pinned with the six. Wow! And there is lots of commentary from the other side of the table. With all of your wealth in spades and hearts, partner's Nil is blown away. You try for the set of the opps; however, they have too much horsepower in trump, and they bring in their seven bid. Your score is now minus fifty.

Hand E is a perfect example of wasted values. And for extra effect, here is a hand which could have covered the Nil:

4 3

8 7 5 2

J 7

J 8 6 5 3

Absolute junk! And yet it's just enough to do the job. Who cares about partner's covering cards in those safe suits in your hand? I wonder how many players would consider trying a Nil of their own ("twin" Nil), if the opps had bid a combined eleven or twelve tricks, and partner had called Nil in second seat?

Our last example is a classic example of duplication, bad luck, and hindsight! This scenario actually occurred in a live event. Our hero, the dealer, picked up this collection:

A K 2

A 5 3

A 8 2

6 4 3 2

The bidding proceeded: 3, 4, 2, 3. Yes, this hand has the values for a four bid; however, our hero was reluctant to push the bid to 13. Well, the opening lead was Jack of hearts from the left. Up came the King of hearts, which won. Our hero's partner then cashed the heart Queen, and continued with a small heart. The Ace was trumped on the left side. Now a small diamond was played and, yup, you guessed it. The King and Queen of diamonds waltzed through. He then continued with a small diamond and, sure enough, it was trumped, this time on the right-hand side. Our hero's Ace came crashing down. The Queen of spades was tabled. The Ace won, and the club suit was explored. The opps won this and knocked out the King of spades with the Jack. Another club was yielded to the opposition, and the last spade from our hero's hand was extracted. Thus, he was held to two tricks. His partner's comment? "Gee, I took my four tricks, and you still fell one trick short. Overbidding kills us every time."

I cannot print the response from our hero. This is a family column.

Duplicate Spades -- A Format for a National Event?

Duplicate Spades, a game of great skill, was originally introduced at the Indianapolis Spades Convention of 1998. Two eleven-table sessions (22 hands) were conducted, which required about five hours to complete. Much of that time was consumed in match-pointing and posting. However, the game was well received, and the players enjoyed the opportunity to measure their Spades ability.

However, the difficulties in conducting a live Duplicate event were obvious from the beginning. Only an experienced Duplicate Bridge director can conduct this variation. Familiarity with player/board movements, match-pointing, and posting scores is very tedious, especially with seven or more tables in play. The director must know what to do if there is a revoke, a lead out of turn, a fouled board, an exposed card, or if a player moves to the wrong table.

For those who propose that the World Series of Spades become a Duplicate event, I ask these questions:

1.       How would you handle a 50- or 75-team field, knowing that most players have never heard of or participated in such a format?

2.       How many staffers would you need to direct this event?

3.       How would you provide all of the equipment or supplies for the tournament?

4.       How much time would it require for the players to become familiar with the format?

5.       How long would it take to complete the tournament?

6.       What would you do if there was fouled board, or a disputed score?

Perhaps in five years, or so, Duplicate Spades can be the basis for a major Championship. For now, it remains a fantastic exhibition game at live events. I have received many compliments during the seven years that I have organized and directed Duplicate Spades games.

The Spades Connection -- Fun and Games in Tennessee

Congratulations to the staff of the Spades Connection Series for organizing and hosting another superb event on March 10-13 in Nashville, Tennessee! Slightly more than 100 Spades enthusiasts participated. The food was great, the players were enthusiastic, and the tournament games were hot! The unique "sign up when you're ready to play," three round, eight team qualifying format allowed each person and partnership to participate in all the Spades games they could possibly want! Players just love the opportunity to meet their online friends and play cards at live events. Alternative games such as Whiz and Mirrors were offered here as well. A lot of nifty door prizes spiced up the festivities, as well as some cool raffle gifts. And the TOC winners carted away a nice collection of gifts as well as free entries for the next Spades Connection event.

On Sunday morning, I hosted a round-robin Partners game. Sixteen people participated and it was a fun time for everyone. In this format, each person played two hands with a different partner and two different opponents, for each of twelve rounds. There were a total of 24 hands, with the highest cumulative point totals winning. We also had a "Nil" Pool for the most Nils by one person. This is a good alternative game for a social event, providing an opportunity for players to meet each other.

Special Kudos to +Doll, +Catladie, Gina, JPoo, and all of the good folks who worked so hard to make this gathering a great success! Check out their site for a list of winning players, as well as future updates: