spades

      trick-taking card game of the whist family that became very popular in the United States in the 1990s, though reportedly some 40 years old by that time. It is played by four players in bridge-style partnerships, each being dealt 13 cards one at a time from a standard 52-card deck. Spades are always the trump suit.

      Each team contracts to win an agreed minimum number of tricks. First the nondealing partners openly discuss how many tricks they think they can win between them. Each is allowed to state how many certain or possible tricks he thinks he can win individually but cannot specify any cards or suit patterns held. A note is made of their eventual bid, and the dealer's side then bids in the same way.

      A player who thinks he can lose every trick individually may declare nil. In this case his partner announces how many he proposes to win. This establishes their side's contract, which is lost if the nil bidder wins any tricks. It is not (usually) permitted for both members of a partnership to bid nil simultaneously; at least one of them must make a positive bid.

      Blind nil is a nil bid made before a player looks at his cards. It is permitted only to a player whose side is losing by 100 or more points. The nil bidder then sorts his cards and passes two of them facedown to his partner, who adds them to his own hand and passes two cards facedown in return.

      It does not matter who leads to the first trick, since everyone is obliged to start by playing the lowest club held. If void in clubs, one may play any heart or diamond but not a spade. Whoever plays the highest club wins the trick and leads to the next. Tricks are played in the usual way, except that trump (spades) may not be led until at least one player has used a spade to trump a trick when unable to follow suit. This does not, of course, apply to a player who has only spades left.

      A team that takes at least as many tricks as it bids scores 10 times its bid, plus one point per overtrick. However, there is a penalty for consistent underbidding. When, over a series of deals, a team's overtricks total 10 or more (as indicated by the final digit of its cumulative score), its score is reduced by 100, and any overtricks above 10 are carried forward to the next cycle of 10 overtricks. (Some schools follow a simpler procedure and merely deduct one point per overtrick instead of carrying any forward for another cycle.) A team that fails to take as many tricks as bid loses 10 times the number bid.

      A nil bidder, if successful, scores 50 points for the team in addition to the score won (or lost) by the partner for tricks made. If not, the nil bidder's side loses 50 points, but any tricks taken by the nil bidder may be counted toward the fulfillment of the partner's contract. Blind nil scores on the same principle but doubled to 100. Game is 500 points.

      Four can play solo (without partnerships). Each player bids individually. In the trick play those following the lead must not only follow suit (if possible) but also (if possible) play higher than any card of that suit already played. If unable to follow, players must trump (if possible), and, similarly, their trump must (if possible) be higher than any other trump already played to the trick. Many variations and alternate rules are followed by different social circles and in different localities.

David Parlett

Additional Reading
Reliable sources for rules include Joli Quentin Kansil (ed.), Bicycle Official Rules of Card Games (2002); David Parlett, The A–Z of Card Games, 2nd ed. (2004; 1st ed. published as Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, 1992); and Barry Rigal, Card Games for Dummies, 2nd ed. (2005).

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Universalium. 2010.

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