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

Other columns by Joe Andrews:
The NIL Bid - Part II

We have previously discussed the importance of a Nil, and how to protect your partner when he or she has bid a Nil. Remember, experienced defenders will be attacking your Nil, and are ready to explore anything to create or induce a weakness. Some Nils are ironclad and cannot be set, barring poor play by the Nil bidder; some Nils are defeated because of faulty cover by the partner of the Nil bidder; and some Nils are successful because the defense errs. This month we explore the importance of the Spade suit -- especially the trump in your (covering) hand. Every Spade you hold provides a measure of protection. If you are blessed with at least a three-card Spade suit headed by the Ace or King, you are in good shape. Two or three middle trump are also helpful. To begin with, you must assume that your partner did not wade into a Nil bid with four small Spades, or a three-card Spade holding with more than one middle trump (the seven through the Queen). A partner who bids a Nil with the King of Spades in his hand is taking a big chance. Of course, if you bid five, six, or seven before your partner bids, this provides a greater comfort zone for those borderline Nil hands.

It is essential to save your covering trump, unless you absolutely forced to burn one in order to prevent your partner from winning a trick in a side suit. A lead of a side suit Deuce or 3 from your right-hand opponent will often put you to the test, especially if you are void in that side suit. "To trump or not trump -- that is the question." A lot of pairs have adopted some simple conventions to help reduce some of the guesswork. "High-Low" count signals can be helpful. The play of a high spot card (by your Nilling partner) in a plain suit, followed by a lower card in the same suit, promises possession of only two cards in that suit. This can get rather dicey if that high spot card is the 9 or 10 and your partner must play before you. "Nil Reverse Discards" are especially helpful. If your partner plays a low card on the first round of a side suit, and then plays a higher card on the second round of that suit, he or she is alerting you not to waste a trump on any subsequent leads of that suit. "The Big Five Bid" is used by many players. If you bid five before your partner's turn to bid, you promise a range of 4 - 6 tricks, and possession of the Ace or King of trump. This allows your partner to bid Nil with the King OR Queen of Spades (and NO other high "risk" cards in his or her hand).

The use of standard leads (King from King - Queen; Queen from Queen - Jack, and Jack from Jack - 10, etc., will allow for a better understanding of a specific holding. As in any game, the partners must be on the same page, and understand the use of any conventions or card-signaling systems. Bridge players have been using these perfectly legal systems for years.

In summary, when covering a Nil bid, make the effort to read your partner's plays, as well as the opponents' plays. Play your longest and strongest side suit to provide discarding opportunities for your partner. Manage that trump suit -- do not squander your valuable Spades. And learn some new conventions -- to give your side the edge.
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