Spades Strategy Tips with Joe Andrews

This month we follow up with card expert Joe Andrews, author of Win at Spades. Read Below for his special tips about Suit Management to increase your skills and up your Spades game! These tips as well as many others are located at

Spades Suit Management – Watch those Bags!

The original game of Spades was created in Cincinnati, OH in the late 1930’s, with a bidding and scoring system loosely based on the game of “Whist.” However, Spades was differentiated by the use of the Nil, a fixed trump suit, and no “Kitty.” Bidding became very conservative, with no penalty for overtricks. Suffice to say, this version had little pizzazz and underbids ruled!

Bags or “Sandbags” were added to Spades in the mid 1950’s, and within 10 years, became a standard rule. (A few groups still prefer the original game). Accurate bidding was now at a premium and overtricks resulted in penalties. In theory, every round of bidding should add up to thirteen tricks and all contracts should be successful!

It sounds logical, to be sure. In actuality, the typical combined bid for a given hand is eleven. There is a reluctance to overbid, as the penalty for a defeat is severe, especially if the partnership bid is greater than four. The biggest problem is evaluating hands. Let’s look at three deals:

Hand #1

A K A 5 A 3 Q J 7 5 4 3 2


Hand #2

None A K Q 6 5 3 A K Q 10 A K Q


Hand #3

Q 3 2 Q J 8 7 K 10 9 A J 9


You have the opening bid in a new game. How would you bid each of these hands?

Hand 1: It just does not get any easier. You have four top tricks — period. There is a remote chance one of your red-suit Aces might get ruffed. That is not likely to happen. BID FOUR.

Hand 2: You have great strength in 3 suits, with lots of hearts. With normal distribution, you should score five tricks. The best line of play is to take two club tricks, then two diamond tricks, then a third club. Now you can duck a heart or two if necessary. If a minor suit gets ruffed, you must then take a high heart. The idea is to test the club and diamond suits before committing to the heart suit. This hand may bag a trick or two with an unlucky lead. It could also get set, as someone will have long trump and shortness in one of your minor suits. BID FIVE. (A safe bid of four is also acceptable.)

Hand 3:Give me a break! This hand has only one top trick and is very difficult for determining trick potential. The trump queen may not win and other suits have unconnected or “broken” honor card sequences. The diamond king may win or the club jack could promote. You may also get nailed with three or four bags here—especially if the final bid is eight or nine. BID TWO.(Three is also acceptable.) A one bid is just too conservative. This is a classic example of a hand, which will get set if overbid and “bagged” if underbid! There is a variation of Spades called “bag-em”—which is a reverse form of the game. A lot of players really believe in this strategy.

The idea is to underbid your hand and intentionally sacrifice sure or expected tricks in order to force the opposition to win unexpected middle or lower card tricks. Typical “bag-em” techniques include refusing to trump when possible, ducking side-suit tricks with high card winners, and intentionally under ruffing with low trump.This approach can be very effective, especially if the opposition has more than six bags and/or is threatening to win the game.

It is interesting to note that the penalty for overbidding is the “set,” and for underbidding it is “bags.” Advocates of the “bag-em” game thrive on eight, nine, and ten bids! While this idea does have some merit, it has the inherent flaw of throwing away ten points for each underbid trick. Some players go to extremes and play the bagging game at the beginning of a match.

The antidote to all of this is proper discarding and trump management — which can “turn the tables” on the opponents. Nothing is more heartwarming than to dump bags on the baggers! Another alternative is to “ratchet up” your bid by a trick or two—if you suspect or realize that your opponents are playing “bag-em.” In any case, you have to be aware of all that is going on at the table, including the score—and react accordingly.

Bags have been around for almost fifty years and are here to stay!

Play Championship Spades Now

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