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  Spades Tips and Strategies




Spades Column of the Month -- June 2005




By Joe Andrews




The Great Debate
Spades Conventions and Systems, Revisited

My May Column addressed the use of conventions, carding signals, and bidding/play systems in the game of Spades. At the end, I asked for reader opinions, and quite a few of you were kind enough to respond with your views on the subject. Here are a few excerpts:

"The game of Bridge has a protocol for Conventions; why not adopt a similar approach for the game of Spades?"

"I see nothing wrong with the Big 5 Bid, high-low discards, Rusinow leads, N-1 bids, suit preference plays, Nil Reverse discards, and other gadgets that are part of a Partnership agreement."

"How can Alerts be enforced during online play?"

"There is nothing that can be done, here. If a Pair opts to use Bridge-style signaling or bidding, this is quite acceptable."

"Some of these systems border on cheating. If a bid or a discard has a special meaning to a particular partnership, is that not a form of cheating"?

"Referencing your May '05 Spades hand, I would be very upset if someone made that play against me. The player who trumped the club lead in 2nd seat with the King of spades was rubbing insult into the face of the opponents. He could have discarded a side-suit card, and later played the King of spades under the Ace of spades that he knew his partner was holding."

"If a Pair really wants to cheat, they don't have to use any fancy systems. Spades is only a game, and should be played for fun and relaxation".

Take special note of the last comment; that says it all!



Nomination: Hand of the Year

This hand, which was played in a casual live game, was submitted to me for review. At first, it had all of the appearance of a very routine deal. Then I looked at the bidding and the play. It features some incredibly intricate play, and the bidding is quite spectacular! Was the N/S team lucky or ingenious? Do desperate situations create desperate measures? Here is the deal:





 A 4 3
 A 5 4
 A 8 5 4 2
 6 4


West (opening bid and lead)

 Q 10 9
 K J 8
 J 9 3
 K Q J 7



 J 5
 Q 10 7 6
 Q 10 7
 10 9 8 3


South (dealer)

 K 8 7 6 2
 9 3 2
 K 6
 A 5 2




The Score:  N/S 403, E/W 471

The Bidding: W – 2, N – 3, E – 1, S – 7 (!)

Some discussion is required. E/W needed only 30 points to win the game. Did West have a 3 bid? That would have been a stretch, given the somewhat shaky heart suit. North came in with a 3 bid, as he counted his three Aces. East balanced in with his 1 bid, going for a "sure" win. Obviously, Nil was out of the question, with all of those intermediates in the red suits. Was a 2 bid by East a better call here? I don't think so. Bags were not a problem, and this hand had no great expectation past one trick. For that measure, the 1 bid was dubious. South's call of seven was wild to say the least. What else was there? A set of E/W? There was no realisitic hope of making seven tricks; however, any call of less than seven would be tantamount to surrender. In any case, the play was spectacular!

West opened with the King of clubs, as North dropped the six and East played the three. South, who noted the fall of the six, took the Ace and continued clubs, the five spot. After all, the red suits offered no great expectations. West won the club Queen, as North completed his high-low, and East played the eight. The club Jack was too irresistable for West to pass up, as he was not paying attention to North's discards. North's spade three won this trick. Next came the underlead of the diamond Ace, a most peculiar continuation. A lot of players would have slammed the spade Ace on the table with dispatch. South won the diamond King, and followed through with his last diamond. After all, his partner must have had a reason to play this suit instead of a trump, right?

North was in with the King, and plowed on with a third round of diamonds. When South ruffed low, he had a very warm and fuzzy feeling. His very alert partner also noted the 3 - 3 fall of the opponent's diamonds. South then asked himself, "where were his partner's tricks?" After all, he had bid three. His club suit featured two small spots. If he held the diamond K-Q, surely he would had led the King. As for hearts, he probably held the Ace and a few small spots, as once again the lead of the heart King would have shown strength in that suit. The initial diamond play was a shot in the dark. Therefore, the spade Ace was a likely card in his hand. Another alternative for the spade suit in the North hand was the Queen, Jack and a smaller card.

Instead of the normal play of a small trump, South now led the King of spades! It drew the nine, four, and five. Now, a low spade went to the Ace. The Queen of spades, the Master trump was the only spade held by the opponents. A fourth round of diamonds (the piece de resistance) by North fetched a club discard by East and a HEART discard by South. West was in a pickle! He could ruff the diamond with his spade Queen or discard. If he chose the latter, then South would take another heart discard. Accordingly, he used the spade Queen, and tried the shift to hearts. Too little and too late! North flew with the Ace, and played his last diamond. Away went South's last heart, and the last two trump were good. An absolutely brutal result for E/W. Thus, the ten bid came in, and for bonus points, a set of E/W, no less.


a. The Jack of clubs play by West was dreadful.
(Any red suit lead, especially a heart, would have been a better choice.)

b. The underlead of the King of diamonds by North was dubious, at best.
(Leading the Spade Ace was in order.)

c. South's lead of the King of spades was either a stroke of genius, or one of the of the most abysmal plays of all time (depending on your point of view).

d. How could North have known the opponent's diamonds were breaking 3 - 3?

e. How could N/S have known the opponent's trump were divided 3 - 2?

South later said, "I would rather be lucky than good," "We did what we had to do," and "It is not very often that four Aces and two Kings produce eleven tricks!"



Next month: the future of Spades and live Spades events

The cancellation of the 2005 Canadian Event, an annual Spades Tournament since 2000, and the demise of, which conducted more than twenty events over a four-year span, is worthy of mention. The longest-running Spades events are the Spades Connection (since 1997) and the Grand Prix (since 1999). Next month, we will examine the success of these two groups, and explore the idea of establishing more live Spades gatherings.

Have a great month!