Playing Spades: A Few Strategies

When playing Spades, the play of the cards goes clockwise, starting with the player to the dealer’s left. He puts a card face-up in the middle of the table, and then all other players contribute a card in turn.

If you have no cards in the suit led, you can play anything you like; if you play a spade on the lead of a heart, diamond, or club, you win the trick because spades trump the other suits. Even the smallest spade is higher than the ace in any other suit. The person who plays the highest card in the led suit or the highest spade collects up the four cards played and wins the trick.

At every trick, the player who won the previous trick can lead anything she likes — with the exception of spades. You can’t lead spades at any point in the game until the suit is broken. The breaking spades rule means that the suit is off-limits until someone trumps the lead of a side-suit or until a player on lead is down to only spades in his hand. After trump is broken, you may lead spades at any time.

Opening with the other players in mind

Some of the conventions more commonly used in Bridge can also be used in Spades. To start with, when leading with an ace-king, lead the king rather than the ace in order to let your partner know you have that sequence (because your partner knows that you know an opponent would surely have taken the trick). If you follow on your partner’s lead of a side-suit with a high card and then a low card, you’re suggesting that you have only two cards in the suit. Conversely, playing low and then high suggests you have three or more cards.

As a general rule, early on in the play when the opponent on your right leads a suit in which you have a king, queen, or jack, together with some small cards, but no touching honor, don’t put up that court card. Save it for later. Conversely, when you’re in the third seat on your partner’s lead, you should generally try to win the trick by putting up a high card.

When your partner shows out of a suit by trumping it, try to lead to your partner to let him do it again — unless your partner led out trumps earlier in the hand, a sure sign he didn’t want you to lead a suit to force him to trump. Conversely, when your opponents start ruffing in, you should consider leading trumps — or at least not leading that suit again.

Along with your partner, you have to always keep your opponents in mind when leading. When the total of the two side’s bids is 10 or less, don’t allow your opponents to win easy tricks at the start. Aggressive play at the start of the hand causes your opponents to worry about making their bid, which may cause them to wind up with the overtricks themselves. In practice, weak players worry far more about bags than strong players. It may be more rewarding to look for the set, and to not worry about taking an extra bag or two, if you have any possibility of setting your opponents. Lead an ace from a long suit as soon in the play as you can. This prevents anyone discarding from the suit and trumping your ace.

Leading trump

After leading trump becomes legal, you often have a tough decision as to whether to play spades or not. Bear in mind that a long spade suit’s value doesn’t solely come from using a trump to capture an opponent’s high card. It comes primarily from the ability to take out, or “draw” the opponents’ trumps and stop them from scoring trump tricks.

Consider leading trump when you have a long spade suit, unless the lead itself is dangerous (from a holding such as ace-queen or king-jack) and your partner has bid very low. By contrast, when your partner bids high, lead trump when you can.

When you know your partner has long spades, don’t weaken his trumps by forcing him to trump in on a losing card of yours.

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