Online Spades Rules and Tips
Spades got it's start in the United States in the 1930's and for decades was only popular within USA borders or military bases in other countries. With the spread of internet gaming however, Spades has quickly become an international game and can be played online for real money or for fun. The best place to play online spades for fun or real money is currently World Winner.
Spades Rules - Standard 4 Player Game
Standard spades is a partnership game played by four players, with partners sitting opposite each other. Deal and play move clockwise.
Rank of Cards
A standard 52 card deck is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest as follows: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
Dealing the Cards
The first dealer is chosen at random. Often players will each draw a card, with the highest card being first dealer. Unlike poker, the dealer has no advantage in spades. The cards are dealt clockwise, starting with the first player to the dealers left, and are dealt one card at a time until the entire deck is used and each player has 13 cards.
The bidding begins with the player to dealer's left and moves clockwise around the table. Each player bids by stating how many "tricks" he or she believes can be won looking at the cards in their hand. Everyone must bid a number, and any number from 0 to 13 is allowed. There is no requirement for each bid to be higher than the last one. Players are not allowed to pass. There is no second round of bidding, and bids can't be changed. Partners bids are added together, and this number is the total number of tricks they must catch in order to make a positive score.
A bid of 0 tricks is called Nil. The player who bids Nil is in declaring that he will not win any tricks during the play. If successful, the player earns an extra bonus; if he fails, a penalty! The player's partner must still win the tricks he has bid. You can't bid zero without bidding nil. If a player feels his hand is worthless but wants to avoid the challenge of the nil bonus or penalty they must bid at least 1.
Some games allow what is called a "blind nil". This is when a player declares nil without looking at his cards. The bidder may exchange two cards with partner - the blind nil bidder discards two cards face down and slides them to his partner. The parnter picks them up, looks at them, then selects two cards to pass back face down. Most games only allow a player to bid blind nil if that player's team is down by a large score (100 or more).
The Play of the Hand
The player to dealer's left begins the first trick by leading any card except a spade. Each player players in turn, clockwise and must follow suit if able. If the player is unable to follow suit, he may play any card.
The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless the trick contains a spade. If the trick contains a spade, the winner is the highest spade played. The winner of each trick leads out the next. Payers may not lead out with spades until either a spade has been played after another suit has led out or if the leading player has nothing but spades left in his hand. (Playing the first spade is known as breaking spades.)
How Spades is Scored
Partners that take at least as many tricks as their cumulative bid score 10x their original bids. Additional tricks are worth an extra one point each and are also known as "bags". Example: if the two players bid a total of 7, and took 9 tricks, they would score 72. Bid of 7 x 10, plus two bags (additional tricks taken over what they originally bid).
The Sandbagging Rule: Once a team has accumulated 10 bags, 100 points is deducted from their score. Any bags over ten are carried over to the next cycle so that if they reach twenty bags they lose another 100 points. Bags are very simple to keep up with, since a teams score will reflect it in the last digit of the teams score.
An example of how the sandbagging rule works follows: A team has a current score of 228, and bids 5. Through the course of the hand they end up taking 8 tricks. They would score 53 (bid of 5 x 10 pts plus three bags), but would have 100 subtracted for an updated score of 181. As you can see, it pays to not sandbag in Spades!
If a side fails to make its bid, they lose 10 points for each trick they originally bid.
On a successful nil bid, the nil bidder's team scores 100 points, in addition to the score won or lost by the player's partner for tricks made. If the nil bid fails and the nil bidder takes at least one trick the nil bidder's team loses 100 points, but still receives any amount scored for the partner's bid.
Typically, the rule is that when a nil bid fails, the tricks won by the nil bidder do not count towards the partner's bid, but do count as sandbags for the team.
A bid of blind nil scores 200 points if successful and subtracts 200 points if it fails.
Please note: some games score nil and blind nils differently, for instance 50 points for nil and 100 for blind nil. Make sure you have cleared this up before going nil!
Once a side reaches 500 points they win the game. If both sides reach 500 points in the same deal, whichever team with the higher score wins.
Spade Tips and Strategy
Learn to count cards. The single most important difference between intermediate and expert players is the ability to count cards. Card counting comes surprisingly easy to those who practice it. A good tip would be to start your counting education by playing against robots online at your computer, and count out loud. Obviously you don't want to count out loud in a live game, but for practice and learning purposes, hearing the cards as you speak them out loud will aid in the memorization.
Use nil bids strategically. Be liberal with them when falling far behind, and very conservative with them in a close game or if you are ahead.
Advanced players are looking to play to set their opponents. Be aggressive. Math shows that setting is far better than bagging. If you set an opponent, even if their bid was a measley 3 tricks, they have an immediate -30 to their score, plus the fact that if they made their bid they would have scored +30. Total of a 60 point swing in your favor.
Don't trump your partner unless avoiding bags is necessary.
If you are dealt AQ in a short non-spade suit, you might try playing the queen first. The King may be afraid to play for fear of the Ace and you end up taking both tricks, Queen then Ace immediately following.
If your partner is going nil, your top priority is the nil. Your own bid is a secondary concern.
Avoid leading a suit that has already been spaded.
Never lead from a king.
Total bid count should direct you in your attempt to either set the opponents or bag them. If the total bid count is 10 or less, it will be easier to bag. If the total bids come to 12, easier to set. Bid counts of 11 are trickier and you should watch how the cards fall for the first 4 or so tricks and then make a decision to go one way or the other. Also watch your partner for his intentions either way. You prefer to be on the same page!