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Spades is a contract bidding card game, very similar to other games such as Hearts or Rook. The ultimate object of Spades is for one team to reach a certain number of points first, usually 500 or 1,000 for casual play. Points are earned by accurately estimating how many tricks (or books) the team will win during each round of play. Failure to make the number of books results in a penalty, while overestimating the books will prevent players from making maximum scores.
As in other contract bidding games, there is a trump suit which ranks higher than all other suits. In the case of Spades, the trump suit is indeed spades. The rest of the suits rank below spades, except during rounds where all players must play cards in another suit. For example, the ace of clubs would be the highest ranking club to be played, so it would win the book if not trumped or 'cut' by a spade. Players cannot use trump cards unless they have absolutely no other cards in that suit. If a player is found with a different suit card after cutting with a spade, another player can call him for a foul called 'reneging'.
Learning the basic card play in Spades is not especially difficult, but understanding how to count possible winning books can take much practice. Here is a crash course on playing the basic game of Spades.
- A typical game of Spades begins with four players partnered across the table. In essence, North and South are partners and East and West are partners. One player is designated the dealer, a position which rotates clockwise after each round is played. The dealer passes out all of the cards in a standard deck, which means each player receives 13 cards face-down before each round. Players usually arrange their hands according to suit and number for easier counting and playing later. At this point, each player estimates how many of his own cards are high enough to win a hand.
- Once each player has had sufficient time to count and sort his or her hand, the teams have a short discussion to announce the number of potential winning books they could take in a round. One team might estimate 6 books, based on hands saturated with high suit cards and spades. The other team might estimate 4 books or less, based on a number of low suit cards and few spades. These numbers are recorded before the round starts.
- In the most common version of Spades, the player holding the two of clubs begins the round. He or she places the card in the center of the table and the player to his left plays another card in that suit. If that player has an ace or king of clubs, it may be enough to win that book. If not, the next player may throw out an even higher club or essentially discard a low club. The fourth player in a round can be the one who determines a winner. The player with the highest card wins the book.
- The winner of the first hand can now begin the second round by throwing off any card but a spade. Some players with high cards in non-trump suits will use this opportunity to earn books before anyone else can legally trump them with spades. There is always the possibility that at least one player will run out of a particular suit within two or three rounds, so a seemingly high suit card may actually prove to be worthless if an opponent can trump it early.
- The winner of the second hand starts off the third hand and so on until all of the cards have been played. Each team counts the number of actual tricks taken during the round and compares that number to the original estimate. If the estimate was 4 books, for example, and the team actually took 6 books, their total score would be 42 for that round -- forty points for the successful bid and 2 points for the overage. Had that same team bid 6 tricks originally and captured 6 tricks in the game, their score would have been 60. This is why estimating the number of tricks accurately is so important in Spades.
- After all of the points from one round have been tallied, the player to the left becomes the new dealer and the game starts all over again. Both teams estimate the number of books they could take and play out their hands accordingly. If a team fails to make their minimal bid, their points are actually subtracted. This is called being 'set'. Extra points can be earned by playing 'blind', which means estimating the number of books without even looking at the cards first. Teams that successfully reach their totals while playing blind are given additional points. This is a tactic generally used by teams who have fallen behind significantly and need a boost in points quickly.
- There is also a major point bonus for any team that can declare a 10 book win and succeeds. This is called a "ten for two" bid, which means the winning team could earn two hundred additional points if they manage to capture at least 10 books. Winning a ten for two bid requires skillful playing and two hands containing all high suit cards and higher spades. As a defensive maneuver, the opposite team can declare a 'Nil' bid, which means they cannot take a single book. If they accomplish this feat, they can earn 100 additional points as well.
- As the points of each round are added together for a running total, the first team to reach 500 or 1,000 points is declared the winner. A typical spades game can last 45 minutes to an hour, which makes it a great way to pass the time away with friends and family. More experienced players learn how to communicate their strategies to their partners and increase the number of winnable books. Spades is also a popular game to play electronically, so those seeking to learn winning strategies can find online games geared to their skill level or invest in computerized card playing programs.