Herm Carney and Roger Denino were two very accomplished players who participated in the first two "live" Spades tourneys (Indianapolis, IN, 1998 and 1999). Two of their innovative contributions to the game are the "Big 5 Bid", and Nil Reverse Signal". Both of these conventions have been featured (and properly credited to their "inventors�) in both of my Spades books. For this article, I will review the "Big 5 Bid".
The purpose of the "Big 5" Convention is to inform your partner (via the bid of 5) that you hold the Ace or King of Spades. To begin with, your hand must have a range of four to six tricks, and secondly, your bid must precede the bid of your partner. Both of these requirements are absolutely necessary. This is a perfectly legal system somewhat similar (in principle) to the Conventions which are used in the game of Bridge (eg. "Stayman", "Blackwood", "Jacoby" etc.) Please refer to final comments at the end of the article. If you know (in 3rd or 4th seat) that your partner holds one or both of the top trump, then you might be able to bid a borderline Nil much more comfortably, especially if you hold the Queen or Jack of spades and no other club, diamond or heart suit potential winners. Examples of trump suit holdings which could be covered from the "Big 5" Convention are: K, Q, J, or 10 singleton; K x ; Q x ; J x ; and K x x; Q x x , and J x x. (Four Spade Nils with an honor card are out of the question!) The "x" cards in the potential Nil hand must be lower than the seven spot, as holdings such as K 8, Q 9 7, J 10 7 etc. are very suspect. Often, the second highest spade in the Nil hand becomes vulnerable, if experienced defenders embark on a cross-ruffing campaign, or are able to jettison their high trump behind the Nil bidder. You cannot realistically expect your partner to cover TWO bad trump for you.
Seasoned players will not use this Convention if their hand has a covering weakness. For example, if you hold either of these two sample hands (in first or second seat position), the "Big 5" bid is most applicable:
You have full or partial cover for all four suits, and 4-6 tricks. (Of course, the opponents may drop a ton of bags on you, as well). Now let's check these hands:
The shape is similar; however, in each hand there is a red suit weakness. If the opponents attack hearts in the first hand or diamonds in the second hand, and your partner cannot duck at least two rounds, there could be trouble here. Thus, the "Big 5" Bid" should be used only if the score encourages your partner to bid Nil.
Hands which have voids or middle/high singletons in a plain suit, as well as the proper trump holding, are much more appropriate for the Convention.
There is a lot of controversy about the "Big 5." Some players will say it is a form of "table talk," and constitutes a private agreement. However, until the game of Spades has an Official National governing organization (it does NOT as of this writing), and guidelines for "alert able" bids are clearly defined, the use of any bidding or card signaling applications remain perfectly legal. Conventions are not to be confused with "live" event crude systems, which include blatant body language, hesitations, positioning pencils on the table, holding cards in a certain manner, banging cards on the table to show pleasure with a suit played, etc.