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

Other columns by Joe Andrews:
Spades Discussion:

There are lots of 'Top Ten' Lists and Spades has one too. There are two stages in a Spades game: Bidding and Play of the Hand. Defense is part of the play; Scoring is a function that occurs after the hand has been completed.

The Top Ten Spades Errors Made By Novice Players:
  1. Failure to evaluate a hand properly.
  2. Overbidding and underbidding.
  3. Bidding Nil with unsound values or borderline trump.
  4. Trumping in second-seat position.
  5. Taking tricks (at the wrong time) from partner.
  6. Poor technique when covering partner's Nil.
  7. Failure to play second hand low and third hand high.
  8. Knowing when to play for the set, and when to bag the opponents.
  9. Failure to lead Spades when it is absolutely necessary.
  10. Poor defense against opponents' Nils.
    Plus, Two Bonus Listings!
  11. Understanding standard opening leads.
  12. Score management and situational bidding.

In order to bid properly, 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! However, losing your Ace in this instance, is not realistic. Thus, 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 a suit) is still a good bet. The Ace and two small spot cards may also be bid for one trick. However, three or more accompanying spot cards begins to stretch the limits. Then 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. Now we come to Kings. A singleton King in a side suit is speculative. If your partner holds the Ace of that suit, your King may 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 full 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 plain 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. This is especially true when you hold two or more honor cards, and 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. Accurate bidding is essential! An overbid will often lead to defeat, it is often best to underbid, especially if you are in third or fourth seat, and the table bid has exceeded nine tricks! Nil bidding has already been reviewed in previous articles. Suffice to say, the reward is not always worth the risk. Never take a winning trick from your partner unless you have good reason to do so. (Covering your partner's Nil is one of those good reasons!) Many hands are all about tactics and strategy. There are times when going for the set of the opponent's bid is clearly indicated. This nay be facilitated by leading trump or forcing out the top card of a given side suit. Discipline is often called for, and 2 nd hand low, third hand high is a good technique!

Carry On - Enjoy the game!
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