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Copyright 2003 by John Strichman (all rights reserved)

John Strichman is the author of
by JohnGalt Strichman

Karosa Publishing - Boulder, Colorado

Patience is a Virtue

This monthís column is a reprise of a column that I wrote over 2 years ago.

The reasons for the rerun are that:
  • 1) the mistake discussed is still the most prevalent one that I observe among Zone Spaders, and
  • 2) I have recently started playing ladders, and I see this mistake in almost every game that I play.
There are two premises underlying all of the teachings in my book. These are:
The game of Spades is a game of risk/reward, and almost every bidding and playing decision that you make as a player should reflect the risk/reward situation facing your team at that point in the game, and

Spades games are lost more than they are won! The primary reason for losing is mistakes made regarding the management of these risk/reward situations.

In almost all cases, the risk/reward situation that your team is facing will be defined first by the score of the game, second by the bidding pattern on the hand in question, and third and least by the cards in your hand.

The vast majority of Spades players make their bidding and playing decisions based first on the cards in their hand, second on the bidding pattern on the hand, and third and least on the score of the game.

This is the reverse of the playing orientation that one needs to have in order to be successful at Spades. Players with this orientation will, in the long run, always lose to players who have the proper focus when playing.

If you find yourself losing Spades games more often than you think that you should, chances are very strong that your play reflects this very common, and very costly improper focus when making the countless risk/reward decisions that are called for in the course of a game.

Batter up!
Even though the Cubs ripped my heart out once again, and the World Series has come to a close, letís use a baseball example to examine how risk/reward should be managed when playing Spades.

A batter (letís call him....oh....say....maybe....Tiger) goes up to the manager (who happens to have fallen asleep 3 innings ago) and says ďitís my turn to bat coach, what should I try to do?Ē

The manager isnít going to ask him what kind of bat he has or what kind of spikes he is wearing or if his batting helmet fits well. He will ask:
  • What inning is it?
  • How many outs are there?
  • What is the score? and
  • Is there anybody on base?

Based on the answers to these questions, the manager will determine the strategy that he wants Tiger to attempt to implement when he goes up to the plate. He will tell him what he wants him to try to do with his equipment.

If there is a man on first with no outs in the seventh inning and the game is tied, the manager will probably tell Tiger to sacrifice bunt the runner to second to get him into scoring position.

If the bases are loaded with 2 outs in the 4th inning and the game is tied, the manager will probably tell Tiger to just try to get any kind of a hit.

If the bases are loaded with 1 out in the 8th inning and the game is tied, the manager will probably tell Tiger to try to hit a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run.

If the bases are loaded with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, the game is tied, and tiger has a 3 balls and no strikes count, the manager will probably tell Tiger that if he takes the bat off of his shoulder he will be playing ball in Podunk, USA.

If the bases are loaded with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th and the team is behind by 3 runs, the manager will probably tell Tiger to swing for the fences.

When you get dealt a Spades hand, think of the cards in your hand as your equipment. Your job is to determine what you should try to do with that equipment, not what that equipment can do for youÖ in other words, to manage your hand.

The biggest mistake that players in the Zone make concerning this guideline is punching in their bids before it is their turn to bid.

This would be like Tiger looking at his bat and saying to himself ďI think that I can hit a homerun with this bat so thatís what Iím gonna try to do,Ē with no concern whatsoever for the strategic needs of his team as defined by the current conditions of the game.

Tiger would be making a big mistake if he played his turn at bat this way. Spades players who select their bids before having as much information as possible about the game conditions, and without adjusting their bids to meet those conditions, are making just as big a mistake.

You can always tell when a player in the Zone is making this mistake, because his bid will pop up immediately when it is his turn to bid. This is because he punched in his bid before it was his turn to bid, and the computer is just waiting for it to be his turn in order to show what that bid is.

Whenever you are playing against a pone or pones who make this bidding mistake, you will probably win the game. If you and/or your pard make this bidding mistake, you will probably lose the game.

Before you select your bid, you should always wait for all of the other players bidding ahead of you to make their bids. You should then review the score of the game and the bidding pattern on the hand, and then determine how to best try to use the cards in your hand to deal with those conditions. A good way to learn this habit is to not even look at your cards until it is your turn to bid.

The following examples show why this ďwait and seeĒ approach is so important for not losing at Spades. Letís look at one Spades hand in different game conditions and see why waiting to bid is so important.

Letís say that you are dealt the following hand and are the first bidder on the first hand of the game.
  3 6 9 J
9 A
2 3 9 J K
6 8
A reasonable bid with this hand would be 3... the heart Ace, 1 Club trump, and 1 Heart trump (or the heart Ace, the Diamond King, and 1 trump trick).

Now letís say that you are dealt the same hand in the following different game score situation:
    North 4      
West 4         East 3  
    SOUTH ?

3 6 9 J
9 A
2 3 9 J K
6 8
North/South - 352
East/West - 233

Something strange is happening on this hand. On a typical hand, players will count the Aces and Kings of the three side suits as winners, as well as 5 to 7 Spades, resulting in a total bid of 11 to 13 tricks.

Given the strength in your hand, more tricks have been bid in front of you than should be the case. This almost always means that more than the usual number of Spades are being counted as winners. When this is the case, it is because one or more players are either void or short-suited in one or more suits and/or one player has a strong Spade holding and is planning on pulling trump at some point during the course of play.

On hands of this type, one or more playersí bids are frequently at risk. An Ace or King counted as a winner may be trumped, or low Spades counted as winners may be pulled. One team will frequently get set on a hand matching this profile.

Looking at the game score, your team has a commanding lead. Your team is in no significant need of points and in no significant danger of bagging before the end of the game. What your team does need to avoid at all costs is getting set and thereby placing an almost certain victory at risk....

....the risk from bidding low is virtually nonexistent - the risk from bidding high is extreme.

Bid and Plan
The only justifiable bid in this situation is 1 trick (making it a 12 bid hand). If it turns out that your partnerís bid is at risk, the extra strength in your hand should be able to compensate for any problems that he might encounter.

Your team should attempt to win every trick that it possibly can during the hand. You can take a maximum of only one bag on the hand without setting the opponents and, if you are fortunate enough to set the opponents, the game will be over for all intents and purposes.

Any other bid in this situation would needlessly add risk to your teamís chance of making its bid, and therefore of winning the game. Needless risk is very much like the plague.

This example is a classic representation of bidding according to the game score rather than according to the cards in your hand. If you were to punch in your normal 3 bid prior to seeing all of the other bids, you would wind up playing a 14 bid hand, very possibly get set, and in so doing go on to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory in this game.

Now, letís look at the same hand again, this time in another game score situation.

    North 2      
West 1         East 3  
    SOUTH ?

3 6 9 J
9 A
2 3 9 J K
6 8
North/South - 446
East/West - 375

The risk that you are running in this situation is that your team might bag. The possible reward is that you may be able to win the game.

The pones have bid low probably hoping to give you as many bags as possible. Also, if you can get 60 points, the game will be over.

...the risk from bidding low is significant - the risk from bidding high enough to win the game is marginal at worst, and the possible reward is huge.

Bid and Plan
In this situation you should bid 4. This will allow you to win the game if you make your bid.

Further, in order to bag you, the pones would have to set themselves, and they would wind up trailing 410 to 335. If the pones are able to set you, they would have to eat at least 4 bags, and the resulting score would be 386 to 419, not at all bad for a worst case scenario.

In this case, if you were to punch in your normal 3 bid prior to seeing all of the other bids, you would wind up playing a 9 bid hand, and very possibly bag before reaching 500 points, putting an almost sure victory in serious jeopardy.

As you play over the next few weeks, imagine yourself as Tiger stepping up to the plate. Think of the other 3 players as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base. Look at the scoreboard, and try to make the wisest decision that you can about how to use your equipment.

Also, pay attention and watch for the mistake of prebidding by your pones. When you see it happen, look to see how it gets their team into trouble. This will help you to focus on the concept of adjusting bids to game conditions, and you will move one step closer to not losing at Spades.


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