Regular Spades (4-player)
Regular Spades Variations
Other Variations of Spades
Spades for Six Players
Spades for Three Players
Three-Player Spades with a Dummy
Spades for Two Players





Culture & Cosmos Card Games



Invented in America in the 1930's, Spades is still widely played in the country. While it was not so popular elsewhere, American soldiers stationed abroad helped propagate the game, particularly in Germany.
Since the 1990's however, Spades has become more popular with the availability of on-line card rooms and the standardized rules and instructions of play. The following page will stick to rule and descriptions that conform to the original standard. As well as the universal Spades rules however, there are also a number of variations and pariah games which (with slightly different rules) which will be expounded here.

Ultimately, Spades is a plain-trick game, where spades always triumph. The standard game is most often played as partnership between four players; however there are still versions for two, three or even six player games.

Regular Spades (4-player)

Before starting, the four players in the game are in fixed partnerships. Partners should sit opposite each other. Also note deal and play are clockwise.

Setting Up

A normal pack of 52 cards is used in Spades. These rank, in each suit, from 2 (lowest) to Ace (highest ranking card).
To start a game, a dealer must first be nominated and chosen at random. The dealer is taken in turns, moving clockwise for the next turn. The cards should be shuffled, and then dealt singly (in clockwise) until every player has 13 cards - that's 52 cards total.

The Bidding

In Spades, the four player all bid a number of tricks. Each team then adds all the bids of the two partners, and this then equals the number of tricks that team should win in order to make a positive score.
Biding begins with the player left of the dealer, and continues clockwise around the table from then forth. Everyone at the table must bid a number - any number from 0-13. There is no rule that every bid to be higher than the last one (unlike many other bidding games). Players cannot pass on bidding. There is no second round of bidding, and bids already made cannot be change. For example, A deals, B bids 4, C bids 2, D bids 9 and A then bids 4. The objective of A and C is to win at least 6 (4+2), and the objective of B and D is 13 (9+4).

If a player bids 0 tricks, this is known as Nil. This also means the player who bid Nil won't win any tricks during the play. There is an extra bonus if it succeeds, however a penalty is imposed if the Nil fails.

The Partnership also has the objective of winning the same number of tricks as the partner of the player who bid Nil. It isn't possible to bid no tricks without bidding a Nil. Also, if you don't want to do for the Nil bonus or penalty then you should bid at least 1. In some games player will allow a bid of Blind nil. The nil must be declared before a player looks at his cards. When everyone has bid - and before the first lead - the bidder can exchange two cards with his partner. Here, the bidder discards two cards facedown, and the partner picks takes them and replaces them with two cards face down in return. Importantly, the Blind nil is also only available (usually) to a player whose side is losing by at least a hundred points.

The Play of the Hand

In the actual play of hands, the player to the dealer's left leads - with any card except a spade as the first trick. Each player should then, in turn, follow suit if possible. If this can't be done, the player can use/play any card.

Any trick containing a spade is won by the player with the highest spade played. If no spade is played, then the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each "trick" or hand, then leads the next game. Importantly, Spades cannot be led unless a player has already player a spade (on the lead of another suit), or the leader has nothing but spade cards in his hand. Playing the first spade is known as "breaking" spades.


Each side that takes at minimum the same number of tricks as its bid calls gains a score equal to exactly ten times the bid. Additional tricks, or "overtricks" are also worth an extra point each.

The Sandbagging rule is an important term in Spades. The "overtricks" explained above, are known as "bags". Notably, any bags beyond ten are carried over to the next cycle of ten overtricks. If they reached twenty overtricks then they would lose another 100 points. For example, if a team whose current score is 337 bids 5 tricks, wins 7 tricks then they score 52 points (taking their overall score to 389). If they win 8 tricks then they'd score 53, however they would lose 100 points because they would now have 10 bags i.e. score becomes 290 (337 + 53 - 100). Also, if a side doesn't make its big, then they lose 10 points for each of the tricks they bid.

As previously mentioned, if a player successful bids nil, then the bidder's side receives 100 points - this is in addition to the score made from the partner of the nil bidder for the tricks made. If a bid fails, then the bidder's side will lose 100 points, however still receives any points scored for the partner's bid. The common rule for nil bids is that when a bid fails, the tricks won by the nil bidder don't count towards making the partner's bid, however they do count as bags for the team. A bid of blind nil also scores twice as much as an ordinary nil, thus it wins 200 points it its successful but loses 200 points if it fails.

The Partnership which manages to reach 500 points will win the game. However in the scenarios where both sides reach 500 points in a single deal, the higher scoring teams palpably wins.

Regular Spades Variations

The following rules provide a variant of Spades widely played by some communities in America.

The first major difference is the pack of cards used in setting p the game. In this US colloquial variation of the game, a pack of cards is used with two jokers (distinct) - these replace the two of clubs and hearts, leaving 52 cards in the pack. Importantly, the two jokers are the highest trumps and the more colorful joker is regarded as higher. If the pack has identical jokers only, then these should be altered to make them distinguishable. The rankings of trump suit thus ranks Colored Joker, Joker, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. (Note the third highest trump is the two of spades. For the purpose of following suit, the jokers also count as spades).

With respect to leading, the dealer leads the first trick after bidding, and can lead with any of card of any suit. In this variation of 4 player spades, there is also no such thing as a nil of blind nil bid. A partnership may however, big blind seven - provided none of them have looked at their cards beforehand. Doing this doubles the score to 140 if it's successful, however, if it fails then the partnership loses a score of -140. If they make overtricks, then they count as one each as usual.

As well as this, in theory it is possible to big higher numbers blind (without looking) in order to double the score. For example, blind 8 is worth 160, blind 9 equals 180 point and so on. Realistically however, these blind bids would not be worthwhile - except in cases when they would give you just enough points to win the game (when successful).

Other Variations of Spades

Cards & Rankings

In some less popular version of Spades, there are key differences in the cards used and their value/ranking in the game. For example, in some versions, the two's are elevated to the top of the spades suit. Thus, even twos of different suits in some games are still considered spades. The rest of the cards however rank as usual.

The game of Spades can also notably be played with 54 cards - that is, a regular pack of 53 games plus 2 distinguishable jokers. In this version, the two jokers are both elevated as the top two cards in the spades suit, with a a specific order between the two jokers themselves. If the jokers are used in the game, there will be two cards left over at the end of every deal, which are given to the dealer. Having seen all 15 cards, the dealer then discards any two of the cards face down. Some players also play that the two extra cards are given to the player with the two of clubs, as opposed to the dealer.


The bidding rules in many Spade variations also vary slightly. Some players insist that instead of players all bidding strictly in turn, each partnership can agree on a big through discussions. First the non-dealer's side agrees on a bid, and then each partner on a side communicates the amount of tricks they want to take (based on their cards). The players on the team are limited to what they can say to each other, for example they can talk about "halves" and "maybes", however they are not allowed to divulge or expound on the actual cards held. For example, a player in his team can say "I know I can take 4 tricks, I might be able to take 6", however you would not be allowed to say "I have some high hearts and a singleton in clubs". The agreed bid I then written down, and the other side agrees on a bid likewise. Some rules follow that each team must be a minimum of 4 tricks as well. If for example, a player bids Nil, then that player's partner should bid at least 4.

Other variations of the game stipulate that once each partner has agreed an initial bid on each side, then the side which started the first big then has the opportunity to increase their big. Some players also say to the bids of the two sides must never add up to exactly 13 tricks - this makes it impossible for both teams to win their bid by the exact amount.

Round-the-table bidding and Special Actions/Bids

In the rules of bidding above, noted in the normal Spades rules, the type of bidding described is called "round the table bidding". In this type of bidding, table talk is not permitted an a player may only state a number. Some also play that the dealer, as opposed to the player on the dealer's left, starts play.

In round the table bidding, some games play that no one is allowed to bid 1. For example, if the first player of a partnership does x tricks, the finalcontract must either be x or at least x+2.

There is also a Spades variation where the bid of "zero" is not necessarily the same as a bid of "nil". Also, in round the table bidding, some games allow a second round of bidding whereby each side has the option to increase their bid. During this second round, the bidding sequence takes places as usual just like in partnership bidding. This begins with the same side that started the round the clock biding action.

With respect to special actions and bids, there is a massive variety in the type of special bids or actions a player can make during his turn. A selection of possibilities are listed below:

Misdeal: This can be called by any players whose hand satisfies certain conditions. The actual criteria for a misdeal is contentious and does differ. Possibilities for a misdeal include 0 or 1 spades, 7-card or longer suit, and no face cards. If a misdeal is called by one of the players, then the cards are handed back and a new hand is dealt by the dealer. Normally, a misdeal is only called before the partner in a team has disclosed any information about his/her hand, however the team can consult in a certain manner. For example, a player can say "should I call misdeal?" and his partner can say yes or no but not disclose specific info about his hand.

Nil / Blind Nil: As mentioned earlier, these have been described however here provides more information. Also note that Nil can be known as "Naught".

In some variations, the Nil and Blind Nil can be valued differently, such as 50 and 100 points as opposed to the 100 and 200 mentioned earlier. A penalty for losing a Blind Nil can also be classified as only half the score for winning, for example 100 points for winning would mean only -50 points if it fails. Also, if a successful Blind Nil is worth 100 points for instance, then you can only bid it when your side is at minimum a 100 points behind. It can also be played that when the Nil is played, the bidder has to exchange one of his cards with the partner; however sometimes players won't ever allow passing of cards even in a Blind Nil situation.

Another variation is that if a Blind Nil is bid, then you pass one card to your partner and can ask and specify which suit you would like back. While the partner takes this into consideration, he is not obligated to give you the suit you asked for, even if he is able to.

It is also claimed played sometimes that if a Nil bid fails, then the Nil bidder's tricks do count towards making the partner's contract (sandbags). There are also rules saying that there is no penalty for sandbags when playing a Blind Nil, and some claim if one member of a team has lost a Nil, then the partner's bid is automatically lost as well.

Blind 6: This has to be declared by a side before either of the partners look at their own cards. If the side takes exactly 6 tricks, they'll score 120 points; however if they take a different number, then they'll lose 120 points. Some people also claim that to win blind 6 you only have to win at least 6 stick, and some play that a lost blind 6 only loses 60 points rather than 120. Higher blind bids can also be accepted in certain games, with Blind 7 = 140 points, Blind 8 = 160 and so forth. For some people however, a Blind 7 is said to be the minimum blind bid.

10-for-200: This scores 200 points if a side only takes exactly 10 tricks, but loses 200 if they don't. Some players also state that to win 10-for-200 you only have to win at least 10 tricks. It can also be played that any of 10 is automatically a 10-for-200 bid, and in many places this bid can be known as "10 for 2" - which can be written on the score sheet as 10-4-2. Another way the 200 score can be written is with two zeros linked together at the top (called "wheels").

Moon or Boston: This is a bid to take all 13 tricks. If successful, it is worth 200 points, however if fails to take al the tricks then the side loses 200 points. Note if playing 10-for-200 then the Moon or Boston is worth 500 points. Some also claim that a successful Moon bid wins the game automatically - which is better than scoring 500 if you already had a negative score.

Blind moon: This involves a bid to take all 13 tricks and must be made before either partner has looked at their cards. If successful it is worth 400 points, however the side loses 400 points if unsuccessful
No trump bids Spades does not have trump bids like those found in bridge. Spades are still trumps, however a player who bids a certain number of tricks with no trump promises not to win any tricks with spades - except for when the spades are led. Players are also not allowed to big No Trump if they hold at least one spade in their hand.
The value of the bid in Spades is doubled to that of a regular bid for that number of tricks if won. However if lost, the penalty is also double that of a regular bid (Note however some players do play with just a single penalty). A No Trump big notably also requires agreement from the partner i.e. the person who want to bid asks his partner if he can cover a no trump. The partner can reply "yes" or "no". A "No Trump" big can also be made blind, tripling the amount of points from its original value. The minimum number of tricks that can be bid in Blind No Trump however is usually set at one less the accepted/required minimum for a normal blind bid.

Note that a Blind No Trump bid is usually a sign of desperation and should only reall be allowed when the team is far behind, such as 400 behind in a 1000 point game. This is because failing in a Blind No Trump should cost the team the same as if they succeeded - three times to normal value of the bid. Some people however do only play with a double or even single penalty.

Double Nil: This is a bid where both partners play Nil at the same time. One partner can suggest this and if the other partner agrees then it can be played. If successful, the Double Nil earns 500 points (and for some people this also causes an automatic win). If either partner wins the trick however than the bid fails and the penalty is usually set at 250, 500 or an automatic loss. As well as this, if both partners manage to win a trick, their opponents get a bonus of 100 points.

Importantly, a bid of Double Nil is only allowed for teams who are again far behind, such as 400 points behind in a 1000 point game. In some versions of the game, a "Blind Double Nil" bid is accepted, and if successful the bidders win the entire game, however if not, then their opponents automatically win. Some players also say that when a team bids this, each player of the team should simultaneously pass two cards face down to their partner before the play starts.

Bemo: When a team bids "Little Bemo", it commits them to win the first six tricks. As well as this, in addition to the normal bid, a team will score a 60 point bonus if successful and lose 60 if not. Likewise, "Big Bemo" similarly committee the team to win the first nine tricks - scoring 90 point bonus for a success and losing 90 if unsuccessful.

Variations in the play of the cards

There are also a number of variations in the play of cards in pariah games of Spades. For example, some say that the dealer should lead, rather than the player to the dealer's left - and that he can lead with any card other than a spade.
As well as this, some players say that on the first trick, everyone has to play their lowest club; with players who have no clubs must discard instead a diamond or hear. No spades can be played to the trick. In this variation o the game, in the first trick it doesn't matter what order the four players play their cards, however some also claim that the holder of the two of clubs should - with play following in clockwise order. The trick is then won by the highest club players.

In the first trick, some games allow any player who doesn't hold a club to play a spade on the trick instead. In this scenario, the trick will be won by the highest spade (if a spade is played). Since the order of play to the trick will now be important (since if you're going to play a spade you want to wait to see of someone else has a higher spade first), the holder of the two of clubs should leads the first trick. This will be replaced by the holder of the lowest club in play if players are using a pack of jokers and the card was discarded. Some also play that spades may be led at any time - thought it is not necessary that they are broken first.

Rake 'em and Shake 'em: When using a 54 card deck with two jokers, some play that when the big joker is led, that is, the first card in a trick; then all other players must play their highest spade available.

Variations in the scoring

Tricks that are in excess of the contract - overtricks or sandbags - can be worth 1 point each rather than plus 1. If this is the case, then the penalty for accumulating 10 overtricks doesn't apply. Some players also use the units digit of the score in order to count sandbags, however don't regard this as being part of the score. In effect the, sandbags are worth nothing until you have 10 of them - costing you 100. For example, in this variation of the game, if your score was 369 and you big 7 tricks and took 9, then your core would become 331 instead of 341.

Some people also play rules where there is a special designated card which can cancel one sandbag on the hand for the side that takes it in their tricks. If the side which wins the special cards doesn't make any overtricks, or indeed loses their bid, then the special card will have no effect. This special card can either be fixed (such as the 3 or 5 of hearts), or it can also be determined by randomly selecting a card in cutting before each deal.

Some variations play that if a team has taken twice as many tricks as they bid, then they will lose their big. For example, if they bid 4 but win 8, they will have a penalty of -40 points. It can also be played that the penalty for taking fewer tricks than were big is 10 points for each trick where the team falls short of the big, as opposed to 10 times the bid. Some claim that id a side's cumulative score is minus 500 or worse, than that side will lose the game and the other team will win. It can lastly be decided, the points target for winning the game is 1000 points rather than 500; and this can also be played at 300.

Solo Spades

There is a solo game available for four players as individuals, rather than teams. In this case the bids are for the number of tricks the individual player will make. During play, it is then compulsory to beat the highest card previously played to the trick. This includes a player playing a spade if he has no cards matching the current suit led.

Spades for Six Players

A six player version of Spades can be played with three teams of two. Partners sit opposite each other (like before) so there are two opponents from different teams separating you from your partner in every direction.

In the six player game, two 52 card decks are used simultaneously (102 cards total) with both of the two of clubs removed. The bidding and scoring are exactly the same as the 4 player game above, and most of the variations above can also be included. During play, if two identical cards (from each of the decks) are played to the same trick, the second will beat the first.

Spades for Three Players

As no partnerships can occur here (odd number of players); players must play as individuals.

The Cards

In the three player game, only one standard pack of 53 cards is used. The dealer deals out 17 cards to each player (51 total). The leftover card is thrown away and not used for that particular game.

In a variation of the three player game, 54 cards can be used (52 plus two jokers). The Jokers can then be distinguished as big and little joker, and 18 cards, rather then 17, can then be dealed out to each player.

The Play

With respect to betting, each player (starting with the player to the dealer's left) names a number - or "bet". Each player's objective is then to win that particular number of tricks. Some claim that the total of the three bets can't be 17 tricks. This is so not everyone can make their bet exactly.

In starting the game, the player holding the two of clubs should make the first trick, however in the rare occasion the two of clubs was thrown away (in 51 card game), the player with the 3 of clubs then leads. The following players must then play a club; however if another player has no club, he can either take it by playing any spade, or refuse it by playing a non-spade of a different suit.

The player who wins the trick should lead the next, and the other two players should still play a card of the suit that was led. If this isn't possible, then the players should then take with a spade or refuse with a non-spade. If both of the players don't have any card of the suit led, and both have played a spade, then the higher spade card will trump. Also note that no player can lead with a spade until a spade has been already used to take another trick led by a non spade - however an exception exists where a player has nothing left but spades in his/her hand.


If a player wins more tricks then he bet, he gains 10 points for each trick bet. Conversely, if he wins fewer tricks then bet, he will lose 10 times the amount of tricks bet - losing like this is commonly referred to as a "cut".

An important part of the three player game is the role of sandbags (or overtricks). If a player takes too many tricks, then for every extra trick over what was bet, the amount that the player will win for the contract is reduced by 10 points. For instance, if a player bet 4 tricks and takes 5, he will only win 30 rather than 40. If he takes 7 tricks after betting 3, he will lose 10 points overall i.e. 30 - 40.

A possible variation in the three player game allows players to count sandbags. Rather than losing 10 points a contract score for every sandbag, when a player accumulates 10 sandbags over a number of deals, he will drop 100 points. For this reason, players will sometimes refuse tricks since taking them will give them too many, thus they lose points.

The three player game can also be set to a different number to play to, including 300, 400, 500 or something else. If one or more player passes that the number, then the player with the highest score will emerge victorious.

Variation - bonus scores

There are a number of other bonus scores and rules that can be played to in the following:
If a player takes the last trick with a high spade - such as nine or above - and makes that trick with his exact bet, then he gets an additional 10 bonus points. If he "bags" - that is, gets too many tricks, then the player will not receive a bonus.

Another one is, if a player wins an unbroken sequence of tricks at the end of a game, such as 2,3,4 or more, with high spades (9 and above), and gets exactly what he bet, then there will be a similar bonus of 10 points for trick. For example, if a player took the last 5 tricks with high spades to make his bet, then the bonus would be 50 points. There isn't a bonus for winning the last tricks with non-spades or low spades however. For example, a bonus is not awarded to a player who, at the end of wins the last trick with a four of diamonds. However, you have the Ace of spades and don't play it until the end, than it is rewarded (as it is largely considered good play).

As well as this, for successful bids of seven or more tricks, a player will get an extra 10 points for each of the tricks bid above six. This means if a player a makes a seven trick bid exactly, he'll get 80 points, eight tricks exactly gains 100 points, 9 tricks - 120 points and so forth. You'll find that these bonus points in fact reward those who are most daring. Making bets of two, one, or even zero is also difficult, and provides the following rewards: If a player bets 2 and gets 2, he'll win 40 points (rather than 20). Getting 3 here will also still reward 20 points (one bag). Four tricks however isn't worth anything, and every additional bag carries a penalty of minus 10 points as usual. A player who bets 1 and gets 1 wins a bonus 60 points, and if he gets 2, then he'll get nothing - with each additional bag afterwards carrying -10 points penalty as before. Also, any player who bets none and gets it is rewarded with 100 points, however if not then minus 10 points is imposed for every trick taken - like regular bags.

As well as this, a player can make a bet without looking at his cards, and this will be rewarded with double points. For example, if a player bets 5 tricks, he will win 100 points. However if missed, then the penalty is also double i.e. -100 points.

Three-Player Spades with a Dummy

Dan Corkill developed a 3-player "Dummy Hand" Spades within which all four hands are dealt: three to the player and one dummy. The highest bigger than players with the dummy hand as a partner, and the dummy is then exposed "bridge-style".

Spades for Two Players

The two player Spades game has no deal. Instead, the deck should be placed (face down) and players then take turns to draw.
At each players turn, he draws the top card, looks at it (without showing to his opponent) and then decides whether or not to keep it. He can either put it in his hand and draw the next card (which he looks at) and then discard face down. Or, if the player doesn't decide to keep the first card, he should discard it face down and then draw the next card (which he puts in his hand). After this, the next player than draws, and this continues until the stock is used. Each player should then have a hand of 13 cards - with 13 cards discarded.

Each player then bids a number of tricks, and the game follows as it would for the three or four player games.




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Last Updated on: April 08, 1999
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