& Strategies for Regular Spades
by sky_rockets1 (msn handle)/nice_kitty_22 (yahoo handle)
Since being a successful DNP player requires good regular spades skills as well as good DNP skills, I thought I would share some of my own strategies, as well as some of the spades conventions that have been taught to me by some very fine spades players.
Considering seat position: This was a breakthrough for me when an excellent spades player took the time a few years ago to teach me the importance of considering seat position when bidding my hand. A hand that is a 2-bid in first seat may be a nil hand in second seat. A hand that is a 2-bid in 2nd seat may be a 3- or 4-bid in fourth seat. Remember to carefully consider all the information you have at hand before you make your bid. For example, the second-seat bidder should think about the bid that is already on the table, the cards in his hand, and the score before bidding. Naturally, the fourth-seat bidder has a wealth of information at hand to use in determining his bid. Using all of the information available to you before making your bid makes a big difference in the outcome of the game.
Bidding nils: Seat position is extremely important when considering a nil bid, but probably the most important thing to realize about nils is that nearly without exception, it takes more than one other hand to cover a nil. That means that you do not have to rely on your pard's hand alone for coverage. Generally, a hand with one very long suit and low cards in short suits makes for a good nil. A hand with A K Q J 10 6 4 diamonds may be an excellent nil hand, because the only diamonds left out there are the 2 3 5 7 8 and 9. Even if your pard is holding the 2 3 and 5 of diamonds, it is highly unlikely that you could be set in diamonds. Hands that have even suits, such as 3 clubs, 4 diamonds, 3 spades, and 3 hearts are generally NOT good nil hands, even if most of your cards are low cards. You must take the time to work out the possible scenarios for each suit in your hand to determine your chances of being set before you bid a nil.
Bidding your spades: Another truly fine spades player taught me about how to bid the spades in your hand. The rule is that you do not bid cuts -- you bid your spades. It is easy to bid your spades if you are holding A K Q J of spades, but those hands where you have a bunch of little spades or a mishmash of spades can be tricky to bid. If you have 4 spades, you automatically count 1 trick. For every spade over 4 spades, you count 1 trick. If you have 3 spades, you only count a trick if you have the Q high. If you have 2 spades with the K high, you can only count the K depending on seat position. If you are in first seat and have a K-x spades doubleton, you should not bid the K. In a different seat position with K-x spades, it is a judgment call on whether or not to bid the K. A big bid from your pard indicates safety in bidding 1 trick on your K-x spades. You should never bid a singleton K spades.
The one exception to this rule is when a player has bid 6 or more in front of your bid; in that case you might not take a trick with 4 spades unless you have J high. Maybe you have a 4-spade nil?
Likewise, if you have a hand full of A's and K's but no spades or a singleton spade, you need to bid conservatively. Someone will trump at least one of your suits, it may even be your pard who trumps you if he is spade-tight. If you bid correctly and your pard bid his spades correctly, your team will not bag unless you intend to take bags. nor will your team be set.
DO NOT BID CUTS -- ever. Even if your pard is nil, correctly bidding your spades takes into account the tricks you will take by trumping, if you decide to trump. Don't bid cuts! I will explain more about why this rule is important when I talk about the partnership.
Bidding your spades correctly is so very important, especially on those 11, 12 and 13 bids. Properly bidding spades is the only way to set opponents when your team has set and avoid bags when your team does not have set.
Bidding K's and Q's: I generally do not bid K's or Q's in long suits, sometimes I will not even bid an A in a long suit; likewise, I am careful about bidding K's in a short suit. If my hand is fairly even, I will bid K's. I rarely bid Q's. If I have bid my spades correctly and my pard has bid his spades correctly as well, then our team will not take bags unless it is our intention to take bags.
Underbidding (often referred to by novices as "bidding for set" hehheh): I refer to underbidding as "lying" .. and as is the case with lying, more often than not it backfires on you. It is a strategy that should be used only in certain circumstances, and seat position is very important when considering this strategy. Underbidding in first seat is almost always a bad idea. Your pard needs to be the first one to realize that you are lying about your hand, the sooner he realizes it the better. If you underbid in first seat, your pard is bidding from third seat and can only guess from the score whether or not you might be lying. If you do it from third seat, it is easy for your fourth-seat opponent to guess what you are up to and bid defensively. Second and fourth seats are the best seats for using this strategy. Sometimes the score requires your team to take this kind of a chance from first and/or third seats, and that is why it is so very important to always consider the score before you bid. Also, underbidding your hand can be an excellent defense against opponent's nils.
Bidding a set: If you are the fourth seat bidder and you know you have set on your opponents before you bid, do not be afraid to bid the set. Bid the total to 14, make your set with no bags.
Leading is always a big topic of discussion among spades players, with many different styles. The basic rule to remember with leading is that you are not an island ... you are half of a team. What you lead affects what your partner will play. The most important conventions in leading are:
Leading spades: On almost every potential setting hand, it is extremely important for your team to lead spades as soon as you possibly can. Many novice players will say they did not lead spades because they only had "little ones." Those little ones may be just the weapons your team needs to set opponents. Not leading them insures that you will lose them under your pard's or opponents' higher spades, and they served no purpose to your team at all. Leading them will force BOTH players on the opposing team to play a spade. Lead your low spade to your pard at first opportunity; your pard will play his highest spade and lead back his lowest spade to you. Make your opponents throw their spades two at a time whenever posssible -- not allowing them to use their spades one at a time to trump suits to get their tricks and their bid.
The exceptions to that rule are:
Leading out of your nil or into your pards' nil: Bidding a nil from first seat gives a team a tremendous advantage because the nil bidder has the opportunity to lead the first card. The first card you lead should always be an indication to your pard of where you are safe. If your pard bid nil in first seat and led the 6 of diamonds and you have a doubleton 8-2 diamonds, cover with the 8 if necessary. At your first opportunity to lead, remember that your nil partner asked you to send diamonds if possible. Even though you only have the 2, take a deep breath and lead it. You must trust your partner to have figured out the odds of being set in that suit even if you are not the one who has cover for him in diamonds. Also, it is very likely that your pard will lead a singleton card. Leading back into that suit, even if you only have a low card to lead, gives him the opportunity to slough his danger card in another suit. You will more often than not set your pard's nil by avoiding the suit he led because you think you have safer suits to lead.
If you were the first-seat bidder and your pard is nil, take a good look at your hand and remember that your pard said he didn't have any tricks ... so believe him. You do not have to lead the highest cards from your hand, and in fact it may be to your advantage to not lead the table, at least intially. Leading middle or lower cards from your hand will force your LHO to either play under you and keep his high cards, or play a high card that your pard can throw under.
If you see your nil pard throw off a high card such as a K or Q, it is an indication that he has or had protection in that suit with some low card holdings. If you have not seen your pard play more than 1 or 2 low cards in that suit, you can feel safe in leading a low card from that suit into your pard's nil to force the opponents to take over the lead again.
Not leading a hand can also be the saving grace if your pard's trouble suit is spades. Keep in mind that depending on seat position, other bids on the table, and the score, your pard may be holding a high spade or even 4 spades. If you allow opponents to lead the hand early, you can void yourself in one or more suits, discover when your pard is void in a suit, and then trump your pard's void suit with a middle or high spade to give him the opportunity to throw off a spade. Letting opponents lead then trumping your nil pard's void suit is an excellent strategy for ensuring the success of the nil. If your pard does not throw off a spade under your spade, it gives you a wealth of information about what cards are remaining in his hand, and you can choose your lead accordingly. If he does throw off a spade under your spade, then your opponents are still holding all of their spades and your pard has extra opportunity to slough when they play them.
Defending against a nil: Take the advice for leading into your pard's nil and turn it around backwards for leading into opponent's nils. If the nil was bid from first seat, do not lead into the suit that the nil led. If the nil shows a void suit, do not lead into that suit. Returning suits led by your pard becomes very important here, because your pard is likely to have led a middle card from a suit where he is holding both high and low cards into the nil, forcing the nil to throw low and leaving the nil team vulnerable in that suit. Throw off high to get control if possible and lead back low in that suit to your pard.
Also, considering the score when bidding against a nil bid is very, very important. Many novice players think they need to bid higher against a nil bid because they are afraid they will bag or they feel that they need to grab as many points as possible if the nil is likely to be successful. This is often the opposite of the correct defensive bid. A low bid from your team provides several advantages:
The end game
So many games are expertly played from the start, only to be lost in the last hand. Ideally, your team wants to get to the end game with 4 or 5 bags and opponents holding 7, 8 or 9 bags. If you are close to that last hand, consider not bagging out your opponents. It is an excellent winning strategy to hold them at 8 or 9 bags coming in to the final stretch. It shuts down their options and gives your team a tremendous advantage.
The rule to follow at end game is this: always bid for the win. No exceptions. If your team needs a nil bid to win after the first 2 seats have bid, then bid it. Ace of spades? Doesn't matter, bid the nil if that is the bid you have to show to win. Never bid your team into a position where you cannot win unless you are bidding to make sure that your opponents cannot win, either.
Take your time and consider the score very carefully. Remember to add in the points your opponents will make if they take 1 or more bags, and the points you will make if your team takes bags.
Try to give your opponents as little information as possible about what your team is holding. If your pard bids nil and you need 60 points to win, and you have 2 tricks in your hand, then your bid is 4. If you are set, you win. If you are not set, you win. If opponents think you have a stronger cover hand than you do, they are likely to think your pard has a better nil than he probably has. Also, opponents often do not consider the score the way they should, and mistakenly go after your cover hand instead of the nil. They cover your pard's nil, they set your 4 bid, and your team wins.
Because spades is a partnership game, naturally the key to success is synchronized strategy. You and your pard should agree on what strategies and playing conventions your team will use, and then be consistent. You must trust your partner to stay on the same page with you in bidding and playing, and you must watch every card that your pard plays. Only then can your team become proficient at:
Bagging opponents: This takes the most trust between you and your partner, because each of you will end up taking different tricks than the tricks that you bid, and also because you must watch your partner's cards very carefully. The magic to bagging opponents is this:
On a low table bid where your team decides in advance not to take bags:
On those 11-bids where your team wants to try for set but doesn't want bags if there is no set:
Setting opponents: Setting opponents generally involves cutting. A word of warning about cutting ... don't be a spades chimp! Spades chimps grab everything they can on the table and forget about the partnership. This usually results in cutting too low and being overtrumped; cutting in front of their partner and costing the team a trick; or running themselves out of spades early with no ability to tag team opponents with their pard's spades. The outcome is usually disastrous, with a missed set, getting your team set, or taking bags unnecessarily.
Set first THEN bag: This is one of the standard playing conventions in spades. You should always expect that your partner will be bidding and playing for set if:
Again, setting opponents or bagging them successfully is the result of a good partnership and good bidding by both partners on the team. If your team is using proper bidding conventions, you should immediately know when your pard takes a trick that he did not bid. If your pard cuts a trick in 3rd or 4th seat, that is generally a clear signal to you that he wants to go for set, because if he bid correctly he does not need to cut tricks to make his bid. When he leads you a low spade, play your highest and lead a spade immediately back.
If your pard cuts a trick and then does not immediately lead a spade or does not lead into your void suit, it is generally a clear signal that he is in trouble on his bid. Watch your pard's cards and play smart!
Advanced conventions such as "walking" and suicide hands: When you have a partner who is using the same bidding conventions as you are, more options for advanced play become available to you, such as "walking" cards. As cards are played during a round, you should be able to tell what cards your pard has left by the tricks he has taken, and in particular you should know what spades he is holding by how many tricks he has left to make in his bid, if he bid his spades correctly.
The same applies for suicide hands. Consider seat position, what bids were already showing on the table, and the score when 2 nils are bid. Remember that you are not playing suicide, you are playing regular spades. Bidding conventions that work in suicide will not work for you in a straight game. Being consistent and bidding your hand with the bidding conventions your team has used throughout the game is the only way your team can be successful in a suicide hand. You can trust your partner to know that a 1 bid from him can be a much more powerful defense against the opponents' nil than a suicide hand, and you can expect him to have an easy nil if the table bid is low in front of his bid.
Winning at spades is not about winning individual hands, making lots of nils, being lucky or getting good cards; it is about a good partnership, consistency in applying spades conventions, and controlling the score throughout the entire game. A challenging game of spades requires much thinking through of point positions and possible scenarios for the hand. Take your time and do your thinking; intimidation is a tactic that opponents will use on each other in any game, so don't let their intimidation tactics be successful against your team by allowing them to make you rush your bid or play.
Last but by far the most important, when you find good pards who are willing to learn with you, practice with you, and trust your bidding and your play, be good to them, treat them kindly when they make mistakes, and remember that no one can win every time and that even YOU make mistakes sometimesl A good partnership equals fun, challenging and exciting spades.
I am always eager to learn more about conventions and strategy. Comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org will be appreciated! Also, some excellent advice on DNP strategies and conventions is available at the DNP league at http://www.leaguelineup.com/stepchildren .