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Copyright 2002 by John Strichman (all rights reserved)

John Strichman is the author of
by JohnGalt Strichman

Valley Publishing - Richmond, Virginia


You have decided that your son, Cubby, is finally old enough to make his first visit to the amusement park. You want this to be a very special occasion and a day that the two of you will always remember, so you decide to take him to TigerWorld, the park with the biggest and best rides and attractions in the world!

You get up early and head off for what you are sure will be one of the most fun days that Cubby has ever had. After strapping your son safely into the back seat of the Bobcat, you head off toward the highway. Ut oh, traffic is terrible, one of the worst backups that you have ever seen. It takes you almost an hour to go 1 mile, and then you finally get to the cause of the trouble. It seems that a Jaguar has broadsided a Cougar, in what must have been a furocious collision. Fortunately, the authorities called in a huge Caterpillar front loader to move the debris out of the way, and they have cleared a narrow path through the jumble. Finally, you are on your way again. TigerWorld, here we come!

You get to the park and head on in. Cubby is so excited that his ears are twitching. The biggest problem now is trying to figure out what to do first. TigerWorld is famous for many of its exciting rides, and you want to hit them all. You grab a park map and off you go....

....Well, the day is half over and you are doing pretty good. You have managed to hit the Jungle Ride, the Wild Mouse, the Giant Claw, and one of the park's most famous attractions, Lionland, where dangers lurk around every turn (Cubby got a little scared there). It has gotten pretty warm and Cubby needs a rest, so you stop at the Orange Julius stand and grab a cold one. After a little rest, the two of you head off to see how much more fun you can pack into the day....

....Late afternoon now and, boy, what an afternoon it has been. You rode the Python Coaster, with so many twists and turns that you were sure Cubby would get sick, but he held up like a real cool cat! After that, you went on one of the best dark rides ever, Trophy Hunter Hideout (you thought you might get sick on that one). Next, you managed to squeeze in Leapin Leopards, Crocodile Creek (the best water ride you have ever been on), and the Tilt-A-Tale, a ride where you spin around for what seems like forever as if you are trying to grab something that is perpetually just out of reach.

You have saved one of the park's most famous attractions, Felix' Funhouse, for last, and there is just enough time left to make your way through that maze of craze before you have to head on home.

You and Cubby enter the funhouse and immediately you find yourself walking along what seems to be a sidewalk during an earthquake. As you go rolling and leaning along the path, it is all your four legs can do to keep you from falling over. Cubby is walking ahead of you, and he is squealing with delight.

No sooner have you gotten to the end of the wobbly walk when you find yourself trying to make your way through one of those rolling barrels. Cubby almost looks like one of your striped shirts flopping around in the clothes dryer.....what a hoot. He is laughing and having a great time.

Cubby makes it through the barrel and goes around the corner out of your sight. Just as you make your way out of the tumbler, you hear your son screaming in terror!

As you rush around the corner, you see Cubby standing in front of one of those crazy mirrors that makes you look really short. Even though Cubby is almost fully grown, he looks like he is about a foot tall. Poor Cubby is terrified to see himself looking as if some giant beast has been using him for an easy chair. He doesn't realize that the image in the mirror is a trick, and he is convinced that he could get the starring role in Honey I Shrunk the KIds 2.

You grab Cubby and get him out of the funhouse as fast as possible. All the way home, you try to reassure him that he still is the same size that he was yesterday, but it isn't an easy sell. It's not until you have been back at the den for almost an hour before Cubby starts to calm down.

"I told you he was too young to go to TigerWorld" you are reminded by the Lady of the house. You should have listened. This sure will be a day to remember, but not for the reason that you had expected. How could a day that started out to be so much fun wind up being such a disaster? As you ponder the answer to that question, you decide to try to relax by playing some Spades in the Zone.

You are playing a close game, and have been dealt the following cards and are bidding 3rd on the hand.


  • YOUR TEAM: 445 (5 bags)
  • PONES: 461 (1 bag)

      North 3

        East 1
        South ?

    3 4 7
    3 7 A
    2 5 A
    3 4 8 A

    What should you bid?

    You have never had a more obvious bid, and you start to click on the 3 button. Just before you punch in your bid, you paws and think about Cubby, and how things are not always as small as they appear.

    You reconsider your options, and bid 4 in this situation. It is a bid that most players would not make, and that is why most players would lose this game while you will go on to win it.

    (A similar situation to this occurred in the finals of a live tournament that I attended. I have changed the cards a little to make the teaching as clear as possible. Two of my readers/friends were sitting East and West. I cover the bidding strategy needed on this hand in my book, and I will always remember how my friends won the tournament because they bid this crucial hand properly while South did not.)

    East and West are, effectively, ahead by 20 points. This means that all East/West have to do to assure a win in the game is to bid within 1 trick of North/South on the hand, and then make that bid.

    If you were to bid 3, taking your team bid to 6 tricks, that would allow West to bid 4, taking his team's bid to 5 tricks, enough to outscore you 511 to 505 (with 2 irrelevant bags going somewhere). In order to win the game, your team would have to set the opponents on the hand.

    With a total bid of 11, your team would need to take 3 overtricks in order to set the other team. This means that your team would have to win the 6 tricks bid, plus 3 overtricks, for a total of 9 tricks. In other words, if you bid 3, it would commit your team to winning 9 tricks to not lose the game.

    By making the correct bid of 4 (bringing your team bid to 7) in this situation, you force West to bring his team bid to 6 in order to score enough points to keep you from winning the game. (If both teams make their bids in this scenario, the opponents will win 521 to 515). In order to win the game, you still will have to set the other team, but with a 13 bid on the table you will need to take only 1 overtrick. Combined with your team bid of 7, that means that you will have to win only 8 tricks to set the opponents. In other words, by bidding 4, you commit your team to winning only 8 tricks to not lose the game.

    In this case, A 4 BID IS A MORE CONSERVATIVE BID THAN A 3 BID! This is because a bid of 4 requires your team to win one fewer trick to win the game than does a 3 bid.

    Bidding 3rd on the last hand of a game frequently presents as complex a bidding situation as you will ever run across. The key to making the correct bid is to focus on how many tricks your team will wind up needing to win on the hand, assuming that West makes the proper bid, rather than on how many tricks your team will need in order to make its bid.

    Remember, the score is all that matters. You need to make the bid which best fits in with the score rather than the bid which best fits in with your cards. This can be a difficult approach to learn and follow, but once you get over the hurdle, you will be amazed at how many games you win by making the correct bid when sitting 3rd on the last hand of the game. Just try to put yourself in West's seat, and figure out what he will bid if you make any given bid. Then, figure out which scenario will require you to win the fewest number of tricks, and go with that bid.

    To help drive home the point, here is what happened at the live tournament.

    South made the incorrect bid of 3. West, my reader/friend, knew that all she needed to do was bid within 1 trick of the opponents, so she bid 4 after about 1 or 2 seconds of thought (making it a 5/6 bid hand). Now, North/South had to win 9 tricks to avoid losing the game and the tourney championship.

    West won the last trick of the hand to make her team's bid on the nose and win the tournament. The opponents won only 8 tricks, falling one trick short.

    If South had bid 4, forcing West to bid 5 and bring it to a 6/7 bid hand. The 8 tricks that North/South won on the hand would have set my friends and won the tourney. North/South lost the game the instant that South bid according to the cards in his hand rather than according to the score of the game.

    Soooooo, the answer to the question:
    When is a 4 not a 4? is........
    When a 4 is smaller than a 3!

    as it was in this game situation.

    Always remember Cubby in the mirror when bidding 3rd on the last hand of a game, and you will solve one of the most difficult bidding riddles in Spades.

    Happy Valentine's Day!



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