Spades - The Card Game Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Spades - The Card Game

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Spades is a card game where teams of players try to accurately bid the number of books or tricks that they take while preventing their opponents from making their bid. It's particularly popular the United States military. It's a game of strategy, intelligent guesswork and psychological warfare.

The Set-up

  • You need four players, divided into two teams1.

  • A deck of cards with two jokers included and the red twos removed.

  • You have to identify which of the jokers2 is the big joker, and which is the little joker.

  • You'll also need a pen and paper.

Then you launch into a round of negotiations to determine which rules you'll use3.


The dealer, Adam, is one of the players, and it rotates to the left. The entire deck is dealt, and each player should have thirteen cards. Occasionally, the dealer can do a power check. That is dealing four cards face up so that the players get a peek at what the other players have.


Once the cards are dealt, each player examines his cards to determine how many books (or tricks) that they can probably take. Since Adam dealt, Bev and Denise must bid first. They discuss how many they can take, and then they make their bid. A team must bid at least four books, this is called board. Then the other team, Adam and Charles bids. Teams can increase their bids, but they can't lower them. It's important to note that there will be 13 books. If the totals don't add up, then someone is going to get sandbags, or extra books that may count against them. One person, in this case Denise, records the bids.

Play of the Game

The player to the left of the dealer begins the play. Bev lays down a card4. The other players must follow suit unless they don't have any cards of that suit. The player with the highest card of the original suit will take the book unless someone plays a spade. Spades are always trump, and the highest spade will take a book.

If a player doesn't follow suit he reneges. To identify a renege, a player on the other team must identify the book where the renege took place. If it's determined that a player did renege, then that team loses four books on that hand. These books are exempt from sandbagging.

The person who took the last book, leads next. Bev lays an Ace of Hearts. Charles and Denise follow suit. Adam has no hearts, so he lays the Three of Spades. Adam takes the book, and he leads during the next book.


At the end of a hand, each team counts the number of books that were taken. If they have the same number of books as they bid, then that number is multiplied by 10, and that is their score for that round. So if Bev and Denise bid five, and they took five books, they receive 50 points.

If a team can't make their bid, then they are set. They loose ten times their bid. So if Bev and Denise didn't get five, and they only get four they loose 50 points.

If a team gets more than the number that they bid, then they accumulate extra points that are called sandbags. Each sandbag is scored as one point. So if Adam and Charles bid six, and they took seven books, then they score 61. They have one sandbag.

Extra points are good right? No, if Adam and Charles accumulate ten sandbags, they are set back 100 points.

Generally, the goal is to reach 500 total points.


A Boston is when a team is able to take all of the books. It isn't necessary to bid a Boston. When a team has a Boston, they win the game.

Optional Rules

There are numerous optional rules and variants of spades. It's very important that everyone understands which variants are in play at the start of the game.

Blind Six

This is another very common rule. If Bev and Denise are behind by at least 100 points, they can bid blind six before they look at their cards. If they take six books, then they get 120 points. If they are set, they only lose 60 points. Additionally, they don't get sandbags if they go over their bid. Aggressive or desperate players can bid Blind seven or eight etc, but six is the minimum blind bid.


One option, if you have a particularly bad, hand is to bid nil. If Charles bids nil, then he cannot take any books. If he succeeds, then he gets 100 points. If he takes one book, he loses 100 points. His partner, Adam, still needs to make board.

When Charles bids nil, Bev and Denise have to keep in mind that Charles will be throwing off5, so they will take several unintended books. They may need to increase their bid.

Ten for Two

If Bev and Denise have a particularly good hand, then they can bid ten for two. If they are able to get ten books, then they get 200 points. If they don't, they lose 100. It's considered bad luck to bid nine. If your hand is that good, you can almost always pull one more book and go ten for two.

Sergeant Major

In this variant, the 2 of Spades ranks just below the two jokers and is senior to the Ace of Spades.

Joker's Pull

In this option, if the Adam leads the big joker, then every player must play their senior spade. It's a good check on how strong your opponent's hands are, but it will pull your partner's highest card too.

1Our players are Adam, Bev, Charles, and Denise. They play men against women. 2In Spades, the Jokers are considered spades that rank above the ace. The ranking of spades goes Big Joker, Little Joker, Ace of Spades, King of Spades, etc. Some computer versions of the game omit the jokers.3Each branch of the military plays a spades with a different set of optional rules.4Spades can't be laid down unless they're broken, much like the game of hearts, or the player is spades-tight - only has spades left.5Throwing Off: To intentionally avoid taking a book to avoid sandbags or to keep another player from making nil.

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