How to Play Spades: A Classic Trick-Taking Card Game

Spades is a test of determination, teamwork, and trust, or maybe just a fun game of cards depending on how you see it.

Here’s an overview of how to play spades for beginners.

BASICS

Spades is played by two teams of two with partners seated across from each other at the table or playing surface.

This trick-taking game always considers the Spades suit as trump, and follows the same rule as games like Hearts or Euchre in that players must always follow the suit played (i.e. if a Club card is lead and you have a Club in hand you must play it).

Aces are considered high cards in Spades with the Ace of Spades being the highest value card in the game.

The game is played over several rounds where the dealer is rotated after each round.

The entire deck is dealt out at the beginning of each round so that each player receives 13 cards.

During play, each “trick” is a contest of who can put down the highest value card out of the four players, but suit must be followed.

Spades gets interesting in that each team must attempt to bid how many of the 13 tricks in each round they will win, and the scoring of the game is based on how accurate a team is with their bid.

It sounds complicated, but Spades is easy to learn and incredibly fun to play once you fully understand the stakes.

BIDDING & SCORING

The first part of Spades to learn about is placing bids. 

After cards are dealt, players arrange them in their hands and then starting from the player on the dealer’s left bids on how many tricks over the game they can take.

The rest of the players bid in clockwise order, and keep in mind that there are a total of 13 tricks available in one round.

Each trick that is bid is worth ten points, and Spades is typically played to 500 points, although the ending point can be negotiated before the game begins.

On average, each player should take 3 tricks per round, but those expectations will change depending on the deal.

Players who find their hands loaded with face-cards, or any high value cards, and many Spades should increase their bid, and players with low value cards and few Spades should lower their bids.

If one team bids a combined 6 tricks and gets them, they win 60 points.

If they fail to win 6 tricks, then they lose 60 points. So you see it is important to be accurate with the minimum amount of tricks you bid.

If a team takes more tricks than they bid, say they bid 5 tricks and end up winning 7 tricks, each trick over their bid is one point and called a “bag.”

Bags are ok in small doses, but once a team accumulates 10 bags they lose 100 points.

Again, it’s important to be accurate with your bids, but going over is less penalizing than falling short.

There may even come rounds when a player looks at their hand and proclaims they cannot take any tricks this round, this is considered a “Nil” bid, and carries with it the bonus of winning 100 points for the team that pulls it off. 

However, there is also a 100 point penalty if the Nil bidder takes any trick.

This makes for some hectic and often dramatic moments, as the partner of the Nil bidder must make sure they give their teammate coverage to complete the Nil round.

See also: How to Play Hearts: A Quick Guide

PLAY

Now play the game! The player on the dealer’s left makes the opening play from any card they want, except a Spade. Players then follow suit, if possible.

If a player cannot follow suit, they may play a Spade or play an off-suited card to thin their hand. The trick is won by the player who plays the highest card in the suit led, or by the highest Spade played.

The player who wins the trick plays the first card of the next trick. Also, Spades cannot be led unless one has been played previously or unless the player to lead has nothing but Spades in hand.

Score appropriately at the end of the round and rotate dealers if no one has won.

How To Play Spades (4 Player)

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TIPS

Going Nil is risky, but rewarding.

Things to look for in a Nil hand might be the lack of face cards, or being overbalanced in one suit – that’s not Spades.

If you’re overloaded in Hearts, and even if you have the Ace of Hearts, you can still go Nil since your team mate could cover for you with a Spade, or you’ll have the ability to throw away your Ace when someone leads the suit you do not have.

Your placement at the table relative to the dealer can affect your bids, too.

Say your partner bids first and says 4, then your opponent bids 4, that gives you lots of information on what they think they have in their hands.

If you were also going to bid 4, you might step that back to 3, or maybe you’ll intentionally underbid to try and take tricks away from your opponent and set them back when they don’t make their bid.

The bidding phase is where most of the strategy takes place, so be thoughtful and deliberate about your bids.

There is a House rule to Spades that many play with called “blind nil.”

This is a desperate strategy, but it means that you bid a Nil without ever looking at your cards.

This can be done, and it’s something that only someone late in the bid order should ever try to achieve, as they should at least hear their team mate’s bid first.

Should they pull off such an achievement of taking no tricks from never looking at their cards prior to the bid, then the team is awarded 200 points.

Now get out there and play some games of Spades!

If you want, get in a few practice hands and try a free browser version here