Wednesday, April 30, 2014

spades card game strategy - never trump your partner?

Last night, I attended another live, in-person card game session. We started out to play Spades. It turned out that my partner was new to the game, so it was decided to play a few rounds open-handed, so we could explain the rules and a bit of strategy. This turned out to be an interesting exercise.
Spades game, first hand, East leads. I'm playing the King and the Ace is still out there.
The initial hand is shown in the photo above. The dealer is North. I am South, and I bid 2. I did this despite the fact that I had a fairly strong set of spades. My thought process went like this in developing my bid:

  • I have a lot of clubs, almost 50% of the clubs at the table. I can't count on the King of clubs winning a trick; it will very likely be trumped. So I won't include that in my bid.
  • My diamond and hearts cards are useless.
  • I may not be able to create a void very early in the game. I felt uncomfortable assuming that my one of my high spades would not be trumped by the Ace at some point.
  • My best bet seemed to be aiming low, and dumping a couple high cards where possible. I figured that with a bid of 2, I might wind up with one bag if I took tricks with all of my spades cards. I thought that I'd pretty easily be able to dump the King of clubs.
Notice the total of all bids is 9! That leaves 4 bags on the table. After all bids were made, I was sure I'd make my bid, and definitely did not want to take a trick with the King of clubs.

The game started with East playing the 4 of clubs. With this play, it seemed unlikely to me that East was holding the Ace of clubs. I figured the Ace must be held by West or by my partner, North.

Whoever had the Ace was probably counting on using it to take a trick. I decided I would dump my King now. If my West opponent had the Ace, they would probably feel compelled to use it in order to make their bid. If my partner had the Ace, they would surely play it even though it meant trumping me. Anyone who plays a King in the first round must know that it will very likely be taken. My partner should realize that I knew that, and that I must be trying to dump my King. Especially seeing how many bags were at the table, it should be clear I was trying to get rid of a high card which might lead to a bag.

It turned out that my partner was holding the Ace of clubs. Since we were playing open-handed, my opponents both advised my partner not to trump me ("never trump your partner")... when in fact I wanted that to happen!

When I explained to the table my reasoning for playing the King, both of my opponents disagreed. They told me that if they were my partner, they would never overtrump me if they had the Ace - instead they would let me take the trick (in this case, this would likely lead to me earning at least one bag).

This kind of surprised me. In Spades, when there are so many bags on the table, it makes more sense to try to load the other team with all the bags, rather than to try to set them. So, I would try to take as few tricks as possible. I would assume my partner was aware that playing a King when the Ace has not yet been played would almost certainly lead to it being taken, and would therefore feel no need to refrain from trumping the King.

I am curious to know what other people think ... Do you just never trump your partner unless you have no choice? Or do you sometimes trump when it seems clear that they haven't planned on taking the trick?