Spades: An Overview (Rules, Printables, Strategy, Definitions)

History of Spades

Spades is a tricktaking card game. The most common version of Spades involves 4 players: 2 teams of 2 players each. Variants (see below) exist for 2 and 3 players.

How to Play

Note: these directions will be specific to the 4-player version.

The most common variations of spades use a standard 52-card deck. Each player is dealt 13 cards. The player to the left of the dealer indicates how many books/tricks they will take. Each player in clockwise succession declares their number of tricks until all players have bid. There is only one round of bidding, and each player must bid at least one or go nil (see below for nil details).

In spades, spades are always trump. The other suits do not have any special ranking. Individual card are ranked as follows: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

Once bidding has been completed, the player to the dealer’s left leads first. Each player must follow suit (i.e., play a card of the same suit). If a player does not have a card from the lead suit, they may play either a trump (spade) or off-suit (one from a suit that is not a spade or from the lead suit).

Spades Card Game Scoring

Making BidTeams making their bid receive 10x the number of tricks they bid. So, a successful bid of 6 would result in 60 points.

BagsEach trick a team takes in excess of their bid scores 1 point. So, a team who takes 8 tricks after bidding 6 for the hand will receive 62 points (6 tricks x 10 points + 2 bags x 1 point).

Bag PenaltyIf a team accumulates 10 bags over the course of a game, then they lose 100 points.
NilA successful nil bid results in 100 points. An unsuccessful bid results in a loss of 100 (negative 100) points.

Blind NilA successful blind nil bid results in 200 points. An unsuccessful nil bid results in a loss of 200 (negative 200) points.

Common Spades Terms Defined

Blind Nil

Blind Nil has the same rules for Nil, except the person bidding nil does not look at their hand first. A successful blind nil scores 200 points, and an unsuccessful attempt reduces the score by 200 points.

See entry for Nil for more details


Each hand of spades consists of 13 rounds, with each player playing a card during a round. A book (or trick) is the name for winning a round, so each hand of spades has 13 books. A book is won by the person who plays the highest spade; if a spade is not played, then the person with the highest card from the lead suit (i.e., suit of the card played first in the round) wins the book.

Breaking Spades

This occurs when a player plays the first spade. Spades must be broken in order for any player to lead a spade. Spades may be broken two ways: 1) a player does not have a card from the lead suit, or 2) all of a player’s cards are spades.

Double Nil

Shorthand for if both players from the same team bid nil.

Long Suit

When you have 4 or more cards from the same suit. This usually means you are short in another suit, which means you may have trumping opportunities; unless of course your short suit(s) are spades. You can also run into issues if your partner is expecting to take the same tricks you plan on trumping.


Bidding nil indicates a player intends to take zero books/tricks during the hand. A successful nil bid is worth 100 points; conversely, an unsuccessful nil bid reduces the score by 100 points.

The most common rule is to not allow partners to exchange cards during a nil bid, but some groups play Nil 1 (1 card passed between partners) or Nil 2 (2 cards passed between partners).


Some groups allow players to call a misdeal if they are dealt no spades.

Short Suit

When you have 2 or fewer cards in a suit. Excellent opportunity to take tricks by trumping, unless your short suit is spades. Having spades as your short suit, though, may be a good reason to consider going nil.


Any time when you play a card with the intent to not take the trick. This generally occurs due to one of three circumstances: 1) Partner is likely to take trick, 2) Avoid taking a trick when going nil, or 3) Avoid taking additional bags after fulfilling your bid.


Spades for 2 Players

Scoring is the same as 4-player spades. The only difference is the lack of partners and the “dealing” of cards.

Cards are not actually dealt, but are instead drafted before the hand begins. The two players will need to decide who will be the first player on the initial hand.

The first player draws card, and then decides whether they want to keep the card. If they choose to not keep the card, then they draw the next card, which then becomes part of their hand. The next player performs the same process (looking at a card, and then deciding whether to keep or not; if they do not keep, they get the next card).

This process continues until each player has 13 cards. The hand is played as a normal spades game, just with two players.

Spades for 3 Players

3-player spades can be played one of two ways.

17-Card Hands | No Dummy Player

Other than 4 extra cards and only 3 players (meaning no partners), not much changes in this variant. You have to ditch one card–usually this is the 2 of clubs–in order to have a number of cards that can be evenly split (51 / 3 = 17 cards per player).

Scoring is the same as regular spades.

13-Card Hands | Dummy Player

This one plays much differently than regular spades. The basics are below, but you can check over here for a more detailed explanation.

Essentially, each hand consists of two ad-hoc partnerships: one between two humans, and the other between a human and the dummy hand.

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