By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Spades"
Other columns by Joe Andrews:
Spades Bidding Part 2
The bidding phase is the most important part of Spades, as much as a solid foundation is essential prior to constructing a house. No matter how well you are able to play hands, the wrong bid can lead to a lot of problems. Remember, in the game of Spades, your bid is combined with your partner's bid, and the numerical total is your "contract." It is a team effort, and you must work together to ensure the success of your contract. If you regularly overbid, or attempt Nils with suspect suits, (especially the Spades suit), the chances are that you will be set. Experienced opponents are very efficient in attacking unsound Nils or wildly aggressive bids! In order to make the best call, you must be able to approximate the number of tricks you expect to win. This is based on both common sense and the proper analysis of your hand. There is no exact system to determining the perfect call, and sometimes you will be making an educated guess. After all, Spades is a random game, and suits can break badly or you and your partner may be bidding duplicate values in the same suit. On very rare occasions, you might even get pinned with a Singleton six or seven or eight spot!!
However, the factors that will ultimately determine your final choice are:
a. The position of your turn to bid (1st seat, 2nd seat, 3rd seat, 4th seat)
b. Your partner's bid (if it precedes yours)
c. The opponents' bid(s)
d. The Score
The latter (d) is especially important, as the end-game phase decides the outcome of the game.
In Spades, you are rewarded with more points if you are slightly aggressive; however, if your side is defeated (set), you stand to lose many more points than if you had bid conservatively. Basically, the higher you bid, the higher the risk. For example, let us suppose that we are at the beginning of game. You pick up this hand:
S - A K 3, H - A Q 4, D - K 3 2, C - 10 8 4 3
You are in last seat. Your left-hand opponent opens with a call of four, Partner bids three, the right-hand opponent bids two. You have two guaranteed tricks with your top Trump. The Heart Ace should provide another. The Diamond King may win a fourth trick. The Heart Queen may win another trick (if the King is located favorably). This is called a finesse. The proper call here is still three. Never push the auction to 13 unless you have guaranteed tricks, you are playing for the set, and/or you may need to bid an extra trick or two because of an endgame score situation.
Here is another hand:
S - Q 8 2, H - K Q 5 3 2, D - 8 7 4 3, C - 3
Your side is winning comfortably. Your partner bids three, the right-hand opponent bids three. Nil is very tempting. Don't even think about it! Make the safe call of one.
Firstly, you have a solid lead. Secondly, your partner may not have a top Trump to cover your Spade Queen. (FYI, the odds are slightly more than 54% that your partner has the Ace or King of Spades). The Spade eight is also nettlesome! Why take the risk?Finally, you should be able to make your one-bid, as you have a Singleton Club, the K-Q of Hearts, and the Spade Queen.
However, if your side was losing with the same score, you must take the chance and go for the Nil. Otherwise, the opps will surely land in the mid 400s, and you will be sitting in the low 300s after the hand is over (assuming both sides make their contracts).
Underbidding, whether intentional or not, can also cause a lot of grief. The most obvious observation is the loss of 10 points for every trick that is not bid. When you repeatedly see total bids of eight, nine, or 10 during the course of a typical game, it is an indication of an over-conservative approach by the players. Although underbidding usually avoids sets, it leads to another scenario -- bags! And when you gather 10 of those little "beauties," the result is minus-100 points. Now, there are some players who just love the bushwhacking strategy of bidding low and inducing unwary opponents to bid high. The idea is to trap the opposition into an overbid, and then pouncing (for a set) with those "hidden" tricks. This junk may work against some opponents; however, I assure you that most seasoned players will sniff this out and bury your team alive with more baggage than you can imagine! Yes, there are times when you must bid low in an attempt to force bags on the other team. This usually occurs toward the end of a game. And, there is nothing wrong with taking bags while setting your opps -- especially if you nail a bid of five or higher! There is no excuse for taking bags for underbids.
Nil bids -- A successful Nil is handsomely rewarded, and when the cover hand (partner) also makes his bid, the result is a big payoff. Most Nil bids have a marginal degree of weakness. Some are downright ridiculous! At the beginning of the game, the Nil bid is best attempted when your hand is pretty darn solid. In other words, you have no discernable weakness (a dangerous Trump, Ace-third of a side suit, a middle-card Doubleton, etc.). As the game moves along, you must factor in the score and the other bids at the table. If partner has trotted out a five or six bid prior to your contemplation of a Nil bid, the prospects of cover are good. If partner has bid only one or two, your expectations of solid cover will drop. And in first seat, you are on your own -- especially with a suspect hand.