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Spades Strategy Tips
The aim of this article is to serve as an overview of spades strategy. While the game of spades isn't as strategically complex as poker or bridge, several strategic considerations take place during the game. And it's definitely a game of skill compared to card games like war or go fish. The advice and tips below are really multiple spades strategies to be used in various situations.
Bidding Strategies in Spades - Spades Bidding Tips
Bidding is the most important aspect of spades strategy. Master the art of bidding, and you've mastered the game.
The best tip I can offer about bidding in a spades game is to always keep in mind the current score. Your goal with every bid is to maximize your potential reward while minimizing your potential risk. The 2nd thing to keep in mind when deciding what to bid is how your opponents have already bid.
If you have a lead, then you should bid conservatively. Avoid being set. The goal in spades is to be the 1st team to 500 points. You don't have to score every possible point. Don't go nil if you have a huge lead. The risk is to high compared to the potential reward. (If you get set when going nil, you stand to lose a lot more points.) Sometimes it's correct to bid only 1 even if you could possibly go nil, just to avoid being set.
Bag penalties are unavoidable. Don't stress out about picking up bags, but do bid strategically. In fact, include your bag penalties when you're crafting you overall strategy for the game.
Last Hand Bidding
Spades games are often closely contested. 30% to 50% of these closely contested games are determined by the bidding on the last hand. (Any hand where a team can win the game is considered a "last hand", even if more hands get played afterward. In tournaments where you're only playing 10 hands, the last hand is considered hand #10.) Even though bidding throughout the game is important, bidding on the last hand is paramount.
Taking into account the current score is the key to a successful last hand bidding strategy. You don't win any extra by getting 550 points instead of 500 points. The appropriate strategy is to not bid any more than it takes to win the game. If you have 470 points, the appropriate bid for your team is 3. (Assuming you're not in danger of getting a bag penalty.) If you're in danger of getting a bag penalty, you have to take that into account and bid more aggressively in this situation.
If you're bidding ahead of your partner, bidding 1 less than the number of tricks you need is an appropriate strategy, because then your partner can just bid 1.
Another situation besides being in danger of a bag penalty where you might have to bid more aggressively is a situation where your opponents might also be able to hit 500 on the last hand. In this case you need to be able to score more over 500 than your opponents do. Bid just enough that if you make your bid, your score will be higher than your opponents'. (Base this on what they've bid and what they're likely to bid.)
When catching bags are a concern for one team or the other, it is possible to actually get set on a bid and still win the game. Take, for example, a last hand where both teams are in bag trouble. Your team has 498 points and the opponents have 448 points. Your competition bids 8, and your team bids 4 points. If both sides make their bids, then your team wins 538 to 528. If your opponents set your bid, they will bag and you will still pull off the win (assuming that we are talking about a 10-hand tournament). And if you bag in the process of setting your opponents, you will still win the game.
Final Spades Advice
Mastering situational bidding is the critical component of spades strategy. If you can keep in mind and adjust for 2 situational factors in a spades game, then you can win consistently over players who can't. Those situations are the score and your opponents' bids.
You only need 500 points to win.
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