Card Manipulation

Basic spades strategy is not always following the spades rules provided. The game of spades is all about being able to force a hand, strategy, and knowing what cards have been played and by whom. I mentioned before that in the gameplay of spades, one should always try and help their partner out by leading back the suit in which the Ace has been lead. This helps to avoid your partner's King from being trumped. But what if your partner has the King in the suit you lead back and now has to choose what card to lead again? Does he follow the same mantra that to avoid killing your King, he should lead back the suit that has already had the boss cards thrown?

No. Why make the game easy for the opponents? The best way to force a play in the game of spades is to be able to read or count cards. This means to be able to know what cards have been played so you know what cards are still left or have now become boss. By boss we mean, which cards will be able to take the lead in a given suit. In other words, the next highest card still in play. In spades, there are thirteen cards per suit. Since you play four cards per throw, you can kill twelve cards in three throws assuming everyone has at least three cards in the given suit. This means that on throw four, only the person who leads that suit again has a card in that suit. Every single other player will be trumping it. Anyone with half a sense knows this. If you lead the suit, West (the front man) will throw off, your partner will be forced to choose to trump high and force the last guy to trump high, or throw off and give East (the back man) a free trick with a low spade. But that is jumping ahead a little.

Let us examine the third throw scenario. The first throw has pulled the Ace, the second throw has pulled the King, and now your partner must decide whether or not to lead a different suit or the suit back. On the third throw, there are still five cards left in play so the Queen has a possibility of walking the board, but the odds are not great. If your partner does not have the Queen, he is risking the opponents getting a free book. Why? Because if he leads the suit and West has the Queen where East (his partner) is void of the suit, you are allowing them to first take a trick with the Queen (usually not counted in anyone's bid) and second allowing his partner to throw off and make another suit less. This can give the back man the advantage of being able to trump a different suit that he had not counted on in his initial bid. That is the worst case scenario. Another scenario could be that your partner actually has the Queen and the opponents take the book they counted anyhow. No loss there. Alternatively, East could be trumping the suit and trump it when lead. This may take away his partner's chance at a free trick with the Queen if he has it. Finally, your partner could be void of the suit and trump it to take a trick he counted; you can usually tell by what cards he throws off in the first two throws though.

So why is it better to lead a different suit altogether? Counting cards is always easy when you can eliminate a suit. You can eliminate a suit by having it lead at least three times. After that, you should know what cards are left and who has them. But if East leads hearts then follows with clubs and then diamonds, you have twelve cards from three different suits to store in your head. Confuse the opponents. Make them think. Make them wonder if their partner is trumping, has the King, or if your partner is void of the suit as well.

This is where counting cards and reading cards comes in to play. You must be able to keep track of what has been played and by whom. Many of times I have had boss only to have my partner trump me. Just because it is the Jack, does not mean it cannot walk the board. If you have not paid attention to what has been played, you will not know. While it is key to mix up the leads in order to keep the opponents guessing, it is also just as crucial for you to keep track of what has been played in your head.

Force a play. If you know you have to take two of the last three tricks, it is not always best to try and take the lead on the fourth or third to last play. Ideally, if you have the cards, you will want West to have the lead so you as the last play can decide how to make your last two tricks. Having the Ace of Spades is always a guaranteed trick so you do not want to throw it out too soon. You place your other tricks at risk. At least with holding it in your hand, you have a good chance to manipulate the cards in your favor. This is extremely helpful when you have the Ace combined with spades that normally would not be boss tricks without it. In other words, if you have the Ace and the Jack and another spade, you can most often count the Jack whereas without the Ace, it is pretty much only good for helping your partner get his tricks by forcing out a high spade. Why does the Jack have a possibility of riding? If East leads spades and you play the 'other' spade, West has a high probability of leading one of the higher spades. Since only the King and Queen can beat your Jack (you have the Ace recall), you can take the gamble of finding out if your partner has the King or Queen. If West decides to play safe and hold their King or Queen, your partner still may be able to take the spades with a lower or better boss. Your odds of getting the Jack trick if even by your partner taking are much greater by you not leading or playing the Ace of Spades. If West leads spades, then it is even easier to control the board because you can then decide if you should play the Ace or not. It would be best to play it if the King or Queen is played by one of the opponents because then you can lead back the 'other' spade and hopefully force out the other card so your Jack can be boss on last throw.

Too many times I have seen a set been blown merely because the last player decides to let his partner keep the lead (after all, he has boss and no reason to waste a higher spade, right?) only to have West be the last play on the next throw thereby allowing them to get their bid due to proper manipulation of the cards. Think about it: if your partner takes the lead, the last player to throw gets to decide whether or not they can use one of their lower cards to take the trick or use their higher ammo. Yet if you take over the lead, you force that back man to choose whether or not to risk the cards falling on the board where their partner may take their trick for them, or throwing out the Ace of Spades which may free up the final boss on you or your partner's end for the set.

Knowing how to manipulate the cards and a player's hand is just as key in the game of spades as counting cards and making bids. It can mean the difference between a set and a save.

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