Rules for Spades


The rules for the game of Spades as played at the Marlborough, Massachusetts offices of Sun Microsystems (formerly HighGround Systems). These rules were brought to HighGround from the U.S. Marines by Pete Chestna. Other sets of rules can be found on the web -- several pointers are found in my Spades hotlist. If you want to talk the way we do when we play take a look at our Spades jargon.

If have a deck of cards with five suits, try the HighGround Five Suit Rules.

Send your comments on these rules to .

When we aren't playing Spades we are playing Pinochle.

(spade) Overview

Spades is a trick-based card game, with spades as the trump suit, played with two teams of two members each. (When we only have three people we play Ninety-Nine.) For each hand the teams bid to take a number of tricks, and the scoring penalizes teams that regularly take more tricks than they bid. Additional bidding options exist, including allowing individual players to go Naught (that is, try to avoid taking any tricks).

(spade) Setup

(spade) Players

The game is played with four players in two teams, with partners sitting opposite each other.

(spade) Cards

A deck of 54 cards is used, a standard 52 card deck plus big and little jokers. The jokers are considered to be spades and the rank of spades is Big Joker, Little Joker, Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

(spade) Deal

After the first hand, each hand is dealt by the player to the left of the previous dealer. Thirteen cards are dealt to each player, with the extra two cards placed in the center of the table.

The player holding the two of clubs picks up the two extra cards. If no player holds the two, the three of clubs takes the cards. If no player holds the three, the player holding the four of clubs takes the two and three of clubs and complains loudly about their luck. (Note that it is not necessary to declare whether you have the two of clubs immediately. It one team is considering a blind bid (see below) the other deal may delay declaring possession of the two to reduce the information available to the other team.)

(spade) Bidding

There are three types of bids: Team bids, individual Naught bids, and Bemo bids. Each team must have a team bid, unless both team members go Naught (called Double-Naught).

The team bid is the number of tricks the team will try to take. The number of tricks must be between four and thirteen (inclusive). A bid of ten is called Ten for Two [Hundred] (see the scoring rules).

Optionally, individual team members can be given an Naught bid which states that the player will attempt to take no tricks.

In addition to other bids, teams have the option of making bonus bids of Little Bemo (claiming the team will take the first six tricks) or Big Bemo (the first nine tricks).

(spade) Bid Progression

Each player bids once, starting with the player to the left of the dealer and proceeding around the table to the left, ending at the dealer. The first two bidders give hints about their hands, and the second two bidders bid for their teams.

Outside of the normal bid progression, the members of a team can agree to bid Blind Six before either member has looked at any of their cards. Bidding for that team proceeds as normal, except that the team bid for the team must be six. Blind Six does not need to be declared before the start of bidding, but can be delayed indefinitely as long as no member of the team looks at any dealt cards.

(spade) Optional Rule: Blind Seven

Instead of the Blind Six bid mentioned in the last section, some of our games have been played with Blind Seven. This changes the balance of end-game bidding -- it is possible for both teams to make Blind Six bids, but if both teams bid Blind Seven then only one will make their team bid.

(spade) Optional Rule: Six or More

Instead of playing a minimum team bid of four, require a minimum team bid of six. This results in a more teams being set and more naughts broken to help make the team bid. This game is often played when we don't have time for a full game. The consensus is that it is usually best to bid Blind Six rather than hope for a higher team bid.

(spade) Optional Rule: Blind Four Always

Each team must bid Blind Four each hand (with the usual add-ons allowed). This results in a vicious game of avoiding tricks at any cost, especially with Double Bags. Holding the Two of Clubs is a significant advantage as it allows two Spades to be dropped.

(spade) Hints

When making a hint bid, the first member of each team announces the number of tricks they expect to be able to make (assuming a normal distribution of cards in the hands of the other players), and whether they can go Naught (that is, avoid taking any tricks after trading one card with their partner).

The amount of detail allowed in hint bids is determined by mutual agreement of the players. The following bids are typical of the bids allowed at HighGround:

(spade) Bids

The second player to bid for the team makes the final decision on all team, Naught, and Bemo bids for the team. The hints, pleadings, and threats of the first player to bid for the team impose no restrictions on the actual bid, but are important to the arguments after the hand is played.

(spade) Play

(spade) Preparation

After bidding but before play, the player holding the two of clubs drops any two cards. After the drop any team with an individual going Naught must exchange one card between the team members. Any team going Double-Naught exchanges two cards between the members. (Team members can exchange cards after the bidding is finished for the team, but it is advisable to wait until the other team has finished bidding.)

(spade) Tricks

The play of a hand consists of thirteen tricks. The first card of the first trick is played by the player to the left of the dealer. Successive tricks are started by the winner of the previous trick.

Play for each trick continues around to the left. Each player must play the same suit as the first card of the trick, if any remain in that player's hand. If no cards remain in that suit then any card may be played. The winner of a trick is the player who threw the highest spade, or the highest card of the suit led if no spades were played.

When the Big Joker is the first card played in a trick, the opponents must play the highest spade in their hand. When the Little Joker is the first card played in a trick, the opponents must play the lowest spade in their hand.

Notes on Jokers: The Little Joker is the second highest spade and must be played in response to the lead of the Big Joker by an opponent. When the Little Joker is lead the only way for an opponent to take the trick is to hold exactly one spade, the Big Joker. The Jokers do not place any special restrictions on the partner of the player leading the joker, and have no special properties (other than being high trump) if played after the first card of a trick.

There are no other restriction on which cards can be lead or played on the first (or any other) trick. There is no restriction on when spades may or may not be played, except that players must follow suit if possible.

(spade) Scoring

Scoring is based on the number of tricks taken by teams and individuals.

(spade) Team Bids

Interactive Spades Score Calculator
Player 1
Player 2

For a team bid of four through nine:

For a team bid of ten through thirteen:

For a team bid of Blind Six:

For a team bid of Double-Naught, one point for each trick taken plus the scoring for the Naught bids.

(spade) Naught Bids

A successful Naught bid (the player took no tricks) is worth fifty points. If a player with a Naught bid takes any tricks the score is minus fifty points.

A successful Double-Naught bid is worth two hundred points, a one hundred point bonus over the scoring for two Naught bids.

(spade) Bemo Bids

A bid of Little Bemo is worth sixty points if successful (the team took the first six tricks of the hand) and minus sixty points if unsuccessful. These points are separate from any scoring for the team bid. Big Bemo (nine tricks) is worth ninety or minus ninety.

(spade) Over-trick Penalty

When a team accumulates ten or more extra tricks during a game the team receives penalty of one hundred points. An additional hundred-point penalty is given if a team reaches twenty extra tricks. If a team reaches thirty extra tricks they receive an additional one hundred-point penalty and are severely ridiculed.

Note that over-tricks don't need to be explicitly counted. The low digit of a team's score (when positive) represents the number of tricks accumulated toward an over-trick penalty.

(spade) Optional Rule: Double Bags

Instead of counting overtricks as one point, we have been counting overtricks as two points. Accumulating ten overtrick points still results in a one hundred-point penalty.

(spade) Optional Rule: Under Bags

In addition to the standard penalty for not making a team bid, we have also experimented with giving the team one overtrick penalty point for each missed trick.

(spade) Optional Rule: Team Two

Since Spades is a game of partners, the two extra cards in the deal should belong to the team of the person who holds the two of clubs. The partners may negotiate which player picks up the two cards or if each player takes one of the cards (sight-unseen). Note that any negotiation passes information to the opponents.

(spade) Optional Rule: Blind Seven or Higher

Instead of just allowing "Blind Seven", teams can make any a blind bid for any team bid of at least seven. In addition "Blind Ten-for-two or Double Nought" is also allowed: The team must bid either team ten or double naught.

(spade) Optional Rule: Six or More

Each team bid must be at least six (or double naught). This variation results in a quicker game. The concensus is that a Blind Six bid is usually the best approach rather than hoping to bid higher (and the reward of setting the other team is sufficient if someone holds a strong hand). Converting a Blind Six bid to Double Naught is allowed.

(spade) Optional Rule: Blind Four

Each team must bid Blind Four. This results in a vicious game with tricks avoided at all cost. Holding the Two of Clubs is a big advantage as it allows two Spades to be dropped.

(spade) Optional Rule: Exact Bids

Team bids can also be made "exact" for extra bonuses or penalties. Blind bids may be made exact by the second bidder of a team, or a "blind exact" bid can be made before looking at the dealt cards. For "blind exact" bids, the team bid can be four or higher (instead of the standard seven or higher).

The scoring of an exact bid is shown below:

  Bid made exactly Too many tricks taken Not enough tricks taken
Exact Double normal score. No points for making team bid, bags count double. No change from standard.
Blind, then Exact Triple normal score. No points for making team bid, bags count triple.
Blind Exact Four times normal score (double standard blind score). No points for making team bid, bags count four times normal.

(spade) Winning

The game ends when any team has a score of five hundred or more after the scoring of a hand (including all over-trick penalties). If the score is tied another hand is played. The winner of the game is the team with the highest score when game ends.

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This page is maintained by B.J. Herbison.
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Copyright © 1997-2009 by B.J. Herbison.
Last modified 09:17 Saturday 28 March 2009.