1. How Not to Lose at Spades -- The Second Edition
John Galt Strichman has been a significant part of the MSN Zone Spades Community for the past several years. His association with The Tigers has helped this group of fun-loving and dedicated players to become the largest organized group of accomplished Spaders in the Zone! John is a superb player, a terrific teacher, and the author of the second book written about the game of Spades. It has always been my philosophy that more literature for the players will help to promote this great game. Chess, Bridge, and Cribbage are prime examples of games that have a wealth of written material for their devotees.
John is very pleased to announce the release of the new and improved edition of his classic How Not to Lose at Spades. The next (November) column will feature an excerpted deal and strategy discussion from the new book. Check out the website for this new edition.
And if you are lucky, you might have the chance to play a spirited game of Spades with Mr. Strichman in Aces or one of the other competitive rooms in the Zone!
Hand of the Month -- "Highway Robbery"
Occasionally, readers will submit interesting hands for my review. I have lots of friends in the “Aces" Room of the Zone. Renee, who is a very accomplished player, was the victim of a great play by her opponents. Nils seem to fall into four categories: Ice-Cold (cannot be set); Borderline (speculative requiring a key card or two in partner's hand, or an error by an opponent); Desperate (requiring more help than can be reasonably expected); and "Outrageous" (virtually impossible). Here is your chance to be a detective. Examine the evidence here:
It is the beginning of a new game. Renee is sitting in the South seat. Upon seeing her hand, she clicks on "Nil" immediately (before the round of bidding is completed). West bids first and declares a 4. North and East also bid 4 (each). Most five-card Spades suits with two honor cards usually produce three tricks. However, the shape of hand is a critical factor, as well as the possibility of duplication in a given side-suit. West and East are certainly expecting some action from their respective trump suits, as well as a Club trick. North's King of Spades is a speculative value; however his Diamond A K doubleton is a premium holding, and the A K x x of Hearts should produce two tricks barring a bad break. Thus, the four bids are acceptable. As for the Nil, I can safely say that 99/100 of Spades players would bid the Nil in a heartbeat! West tries the lead of his lowest Heart. North promptly takes the Ace and King of Hearts, and upon observing the drop of the Queen and 6 from his partner's hand, continues with the 7 of Hearts.
How on earth did the Nil get set? (You have the right to look at all four hands).
"Walking the Suit" -- Covering Nils -- The Beginner's Corner
Covering Partner's Nil bid requires astute card-reading, and the ability to know when to duck or overtake an opponent's lead. Remember, if your partner has bid Nil, your task is to protect that Nil at all costs, even your own bid. (Of course, the ideal situation is to make your bid and ensure the success of partner's Nil). Another factor is the score and bag count. You are dealt this hand:
K 10 8
K 9 8 4
A J 8 5
You have first bid in a new game. Your hand is very flat. Your left-hand opponent bids 4. Partner calls Nil, and the right-hand opponent also bids 4. You close the bidding with a 3. (Some players might back off with a call of 2; that is a bit too conservative here.) Your left-hand opponent leads the 3 of Diamonds, partner drops the sixspot, and the East player rises with the Ace. You let go of the 4. Now East shifts to the Deuce of Clubs. What is your plan?
Rise with the Ace of Clubs. Suppose partner drops the Queen of Clubs. You can now continue this suit with the Jack. (Partner has denied the King.) If he drops the 9 or a lower Club on this next Club trick (thus denying the 10), you can safely lead the 8 of Clubs when you regain the lead. If he has the 9 AND the 10 of Clubs, it might be a good idea to discuss his Nil bidding! Your plan is to push four rounds of Clubs, and then shift to the Diamond King. You must not touch Hearts, as that suit is very dangerous with the Deuce. Wait for the opps to lead Hearts, preferably from the left side, and hope that partner does not have more than one suspect Heart. Here is another deal. You hold this distributional nightmare:
A J 9 5 4 3
Q J 9 2
Partner opens the bidding with Nil. The score is tied at 257 each. Your right-hand opponent (first bidder) calls 6. You bid 2, and the left-hand player bids 3. Another 11 bid. The first lead is a low Club, and you’re forced in with the Ace. You make the obvious shift to the Ace of Hearts. It draws the King, the Deuce from your partner, and the tenspot. What now?
You must keep pumping Hearts! Partner has dropped the Deuce. Lead the 3 of Hearts! This will have the effect of forcing an opponent to take the lead. If a low Club comes from the right, you must trump with the 7 (unless you somehow know that partner has safe Clubs -- LOL), and continue with the 4 of Hearts. Give partner as many discards as possible! Your Spades are very weak, and you must hope that partner does not have a suspect trump holding. This hand is very sticky, and wily opponents will remove your last trump, and continue probing the black suits.
In summary, you must watch your partner's discards, and assume that he or she does not bid bad Nils! Avoid leading weak suits which have low cards and shortness of length. Do not use your trumps prematurely. And always be prepared to give up your bid if it is the ONLY way to protect the Nil!
The Nil was set by well-timed defense, basic card reading, and a little luck! East trumps the third round of Hearts with any Spade other than the Deuce! This little fellow will be saved for a special mission. Now East cashes the Ace of trump. West must be careful to save his threespot and thus must play any of his other four Spades. The King of trump is picked off from the North hand. Now the coup de grace is administered with the lead of the lowly Spade Deuce. South's 4 is pinned, as West ducks with the 3, and poor North cannot help, as he is fresh out of Spades! Yes, this a bit off the wall. However, you were allowed to examine all four hands, and proper detective work would lead to a solution!