How to Score a Spades Game
Scoring in a game of Spades follows a predictable path — but beware the sting in the tail that comes from going set, or from underbidding, and racking up the overtricks!
Dealing with undertricks
If you fall short in your bid, no matter by how many tricks, you lose ten times the value of your bid. For example, if you bid 10 and fail, you lose 100 points.
Scoring nil bids
If you bid nil and make it, you score 50 points, but bidding nil and failing costs you 50 points. Bidding blind nil gains you or costs you 100 points, depending on whether you succeed or not. Win or lose on a nil bid, these points do not affect your partner’s bid, which is scored in the normal fashion.
If you fail in a bid of nil, the rules vary as to what happens to your tricks. Some versions play that your tricks count toward helping your partner make his bid; other variations say that you ignore your tricks for that purpose. The more standard position is to allow your tricks to count toward your partner’s target.
Getting sandbagged with overtricks
If you bid and make your contract, either exactly or with overtricks (tricks over your bid), you multiply your bid by 10 and score that total. Any overtricks you accrue count 1 point each. For example, bidding seven and collecting nine tricks scores 72 points — not all that much different, you may think, from bidding eight and scoring nine tricks for 81 points or actually hitting the nail on the head with a bid of nine for 90 points.
You may see little reason to be cautious in the bidding — because a slight underbid hardly seems to matter — but that’s before you experience the true joy of overtricks.
Here’s a shock for your system: When you accumulate 10 overtricks, you automatically get 100 points deducted from your total, and the clock starts again. In the standard version of the scoring, the 10 overtrick points you gathered during the course of play are also canceled out, although some versions allow you to rack up your 10 as you lose 100. But the mainstream approach dictates that if you’re at 458 points, for example, and you bid five tricks and make seven after racking up eight overtricks, your score becomes 400, not 410 (458 + 52 - 100 (the 10-point overtrick deduction) = 400).
You can consider overtaking your partner’s trick or even trumping it if you seem to be making your contract with ease. This may well be a sensible strategy to reduce your side’s trick-taking potential, particularly when the combined number of tricks contracted for by both sides is less than 10.
If you know you can defeat, or set, your opponents, don’t make it too obvious too soon! Otherwise, both opponents will sacrifice tricks to give you bags. Take this hypothetical situation for an example: If your opponents bid eight and you bid five, your opponents are far better off taking four tricks — giving you nine and thus four bags (which could be deemed to have a real value of -40) — than they are taking six tricks. Going set, no matter by how many tricks, still loses them the same 80 points while you collect your 50, but it only costs you two bags, and thus a notional 20 points.
When either your team or the other team is sitting at eight or nine bags, go for the set, because if you know you’re to lose that 100 points, you may as well get a set out of it if you can. (Remember that if your opponents bid five and go set, it costs them 100 points, in a sense, because they lose 50 instead of gaining that number.) If your opponents are getting close to losing 100, they’re more likely to overbid their hands and are more likely to overtake their winners. In turn, this makes them perfect targets for a set.
The failure to follow suit (or the failure to follow with your lowest club on the first trick if playing that variation) is a serious crime. Such revoking or reneging carries varying consequences. Gracious players will choose to award the non-offending side a 15-point bonus and abandon the hand. But the usual, more severe, penalty is that the offenders are deemed to have failed in their contract(s), and the other side scores their contract. This may be generous to the innocent parties, but it does help to remind the guilty players of the gravity of their offense.