Beginner's Korner: Signals and Conventions
This has been the topic of some controversy. As the game of Spades has evolved, many partnerships have developed a set of "signals" to help improve their game. Remember, Spades is primarily an Internet game, with very few organized "live" events. Said signals are very useful, and are perfectly legal , akin to the Conventions used by the Bridge players. Partnerships who do employ these systems have a clear advantage over those pairs who are playing without carding signals. More information about Conventions may be found in my Book - "The Complete Win At Spades". Here are a few of the more popular gadgets.
a. High-Low Discards (diamond, heart and club suits)-
The play of a higher card (from the Jack on down) of a given suit on the first round lead of that suit, followed by the play of a lower card in the same suit, (on the second lead) promises a holding of exactly two cards. If you play the nine and then the seven of clubs, in that order, on the first two leads of clubs, you are promising that you are able to trump the third lead of clubs. Some pairs will lead an unsupported Queen (Q 9, Q 3, etc.) in order to show a doubleton. This is not a good technique when a high bid is on the table or your side has a bagging problem.
b. Sequence leads -
The standard leads seen in the game of Bridge have been adapted by many pairs to the game of Spades. If you lead the Queen of a side suit, you promise the Jack, but NOT the King of that suit. If you lead the Jack of a suit, you deny the Queen, and you probably hold a doubleton, as in the first paragraph. Leads of the King in a plain suit may show EITHER the Ace of that suit, or the Queen of that suit. It should be quite obvious after the trick is completed. On infrequent occasions, you will be dealt the A-K-Q of a plain suit; the same principle applies. (Some pairs prefer to lead the Ace in order to show the King and to deny the Queen of a given suit.) Thus, the King lead promises the Queen when this application is used. Broken suit holdings, called “tenaces,” (A - Q, or K – J) are best avoided, as leads from these suits can give away important tricks. Please note that the spade suit has its own set of signals.
c. Suit preference signal-
Also taken from Bridge, this Convention indicates to a partner the specific side suit containing the likely entry to your hand. To begin with, you must be familiar with the suit ranking system in Bridge (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs). Thus, if diamonds are the suit to be trumped, a high diamond lead to your partner (for a ruff) requests the lead of a heart and a low diamond lead to your partner requests a club lead back to you (for another diamond ruff). Pretty heady stuff -- and used quite effectively by a lot of seasoned pairs!
And these are just three of more than twenty Conventions now in frequent use in the game of Spades. Remember, this is not a form of cheating; it is an acceptable partnership understanding. For an interesting viewpoint on this subject, I refer you to a post by Stephanie Albertson in the Jay Tomlinson Expert Spades Forum:
"Signals in Spades are in effect, Partnership Private Agreements. - And since there are no restrictions ("Alerts") against the use of Private Signals (called "Conventions") - anything goes. The Standard Bridge conventions do not always apply to the game of Spades - I am sure you can "cook up" some really ingenious stuff! And if you play with a regular partner most of the time. and you (your Team) are willing to take the time, and expend the energy to develop an effective set of signals, you will have an advantage.
Success in Spades is measured by Partnership skill and harmony. The best test of skill is the Duplicate form of Spades. Spades is still years away from being a legitimate test of skill -- go to a "live" Spades tourney (Spades Connection come to mind) and play there. Practice your new Conventions. Win some Prizes. Then you and your favorite partner can go back online and whomp the living jeebies out of the internet players. Using private carding signals and conventions is NOT cheating. It is here to stay"
Jack Galt Rides Again!
Here is another useful stratagem by JohnGalt Strichman, the author of "How Not To Lose At Spades" and quarterly contributor to this column. By the way, John is planning on attending the Grand Prix Nationals in Chicago in September. You might have the chance to play a challenge match against him!
"Through Not To"!
This month's column is about nothing…. well, more precisely, about Nils. In my book, I cover the 8 typical ways in which a Nil bid can be set. Some of these involve catching the Niller in Spades. There are a few ways to set a Nil bidder with one of his trump. One way is for the opps to unload their high Spades by cross-roughing, leaving the Niller with an uncoverable trump. Another way is to force the cover pard to use his Spades for trumping, leaving no cover for his pard. A third approach is to simply lead Spades with the hope of catching the Niller with a Spade that his pard cannot cover. This approach usually works best when the cover pard has a low bid and the opps have a high bid (normally this will reflect the cover pard having few Spades and the defenders having many Spades). If you are going to try this approach, it is critical that the play be made in the correct direction.
Say that West has bid Nil, your pard 5, East 2, and you 4. You have 4 Spades with 2 honors. A good guess is that your pard has 4 or 5 trump (possibly with most or even all of the other big ones) and that the Niller and his cover pard have only 4 or 5 Spades at most. Often, in a situation like this, the Niller will be sitting there with something like the 3, 6, and 10 of Spades… or maybe the 2, 4, and Jack. Also, frequently, the cover pard will have only 1 Spade, or maybe a holding like the 5 and Jack, or 4 and Queen. If you are going to lead a low Spade, it is critical that Spades be led through the Nil bidder - not to the Nil bidder. In the example above, this means that you would lead Spades through the Niller (West), rather than your pard leading Spades through the cover pard.
The reason for this is that you want the Niller to have to guess which Spade to play without the luxury of seeing what his pard has in his hand. In this case the Niller will almost always play one of his low trump and the cover pard will often have to waste a high one which could have eventually been used to cover the Niller's one dangerous Spade.
If Spades are led in the other direction, the cover pard will play his highest trump and the Niller will be able to unload his potential set card under it. This is a very common and costly mistake and results in many Nils being made that could have been set. Always remember to lead Spades through and not to the Niller and you will move one step closer to not losing at Spades.
Good luck and Happy Spading!
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