By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Spades"

Other columns by Joe Andrews:
Spades Bidding Part 1 - Suites and High Cards (Non - Nil Hands)
The game of Spades requires precise analysis of each hand, and making accurate bids during the course of each game. No matter how well you can play a hand, the wrong bid can lead to a lot of problems. In a later column, I will review the importance of where you sit in relation to when it is your turn to bid. Let us look at the basics of analyzing hands.
Side (or "plain") suits
To begin with , you must be able to approximate the number of tricks you expect to win. I use the word "approximate" because there is no ironclad guarantee that you are going to win a side-suit (Heart, Diamond, or Club) trick. Mathematical probability applies to any holding. For example, if you hold the singleton Ace of a side suit, you should win that Ace. I say should," because there are those rare instances (less than 1%) that your lone Ace will be trumped! thus, losing your Ace in this instance, is not realistic, and it can be counted as a winner. When you begin to add spot (small) cards to your Ace, the odds diminish. The more cards that you hold in a given side suit with the Ace, the greater the odds that an opponent will trump this suit. A doubleton Ace (for example, Ace-Deuce of an "off" suit) is still a good bet. The Ace and two small spot cards can also be bid for one trick. However, three or more accompanying spot cards begin to stretch the limits. Next, you have to consider the possibility of your partner holding the King or King-Queen combination in the same suit as your Ace. This is called Duplication. (of values, ) or multiple potential winners in the same suit)
Now we come to Kings. A singleton King in a side suit is speculative. If your partner holds the Ace of that suit, (a 33% probability) your King should live, if partner does not play the Ace in front of it. Then again, one of the opponents holding that Ace may drop your stiff King like a rock! Of course, a King accompanied by the Ace in the same suit has more value, as long as the suit length is not excessive. If you hold a King and one or two spot cards, your King is worth one-half a trick. "What is that?" you say. Well, if partner has the Ace, your King should be good for a trick. Or if the Ace is in on your right, your King could be a winner. If the Ace is on the left, your King may be a goner! Lots of variables here!
As for Queens in off suits, they have greatly reduced value unless they are accompanied by the King, or the Ace, or in some instances, the Jack. (We will talk about finessing situations in a later column.)
The Spade Suit
The trump suit is a separate animal. Spades are a commodity. You can never lose the Ace of Spades! And the other honor cards (King, Queen, Jack, and 10) have increased value as well. Three or more Connected (sequential) trump honor cards are very powerful! This is especially true when you hold some length. Hands with more than four medium-high Spades are very powerful. A string (five or six) "baby" Spades can be a real nuisance for the opponents, and/or a great help for partner! Thus, when you evaluate trump tricks, you must consider the quality of the trump, the length of the trump, and the shape of your hand. Which brings us to our last part of this topic.
Shape or distribution
You are dealt 13 cards. If you have a balanced hand, that is, four of one suit and three of each of the other three suits, you will have little opportunity to ruff or trump anything. If you hold two or three worthless trump, you will probably win zero Spade tricks with a balanced hand. And if you are dealt a singleton small Spade or a void in the trump suit, your hand loses a lot of its trick-winning potential. Your long side suits with Aces and Kings might look good; however, they will be cut to ribbons if the opponents have the lion's share of the trump. A deadly motif is the "cross-ruff," in which each opponent is void in a side suit, and then score their trumps separately, as your team must follow suit. On the other hand (no pun intended), a void or singleton in a side suit, as well as some trump length, is a positive feature.
Use good card sense when evaluating your hand. Aces are a plus in the side suits. Kings and Queens may be of some value. Spades are boss! Lots of trump, and/or big Spades increase the worth of hand. Finally, voids and singletons in the side suits combined with trump length can really inflate the trick-taking capacity of any hand.
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