Saturday, May 28, 2022

How to be a Good Teammate in Spades

I see bags in someone’s future…

NOTICE: This post was originally posted on Medium, but has later been moved to the official World Of Card Games blog to consolidate all posts.

The card game Spades is a team game. Despite that, I still see people playing it as if they’re going it alone. At least, that’s what it looks like to me. I sometimes question my own strategy: am I doing things that make me a bad partner? I don’t think so… but then, you can never be sure, can you?

This got me thinking, and I wrote up a list of 10 dos and don’ts that I think will help to make you a good partner in Spades. Leave a comment if you have any ideas of your own.

  1. Do use chat in a friendly way.

Many times, I’ve seen this brief conversation in chat: One person says “Tx” (translation: “Thanks”) to their partner for saving the bid. The other person says “team game” or “it’s a team game”. It’s a friendly exchange. This type of chat can go a long way in cementing a partnership. Of course, it’s kind of a no-brainer. You don’t need to say “thanks”, since it’s in your teammate’s own interests to make sure that your bid is covered. If you lose, they’ll lose too. But that doesn’t matter. It’s an acknowledgement that you saw what they did and appreciate it. I think it’s a rare personality that doesn’t warm to a friendly comment.

2. Don’t tell your partner how to play.

Some people may be scratching their heads here. If you don’t tell them how to play, how will they know what your brilliant strategy is? I’ve seen people instruct their partners to bag the opponents, or play low cards to set the opponent’s nil. Doing this is usually considered rude, and is known as “table talk” in card games. If you know that everyone at the table is okay with table talk, then feel free to disregard this rule. If you feel your partner is making tactical mistakes, then instructing them (or cursing at them) right in the middle of the game is not friendly. You are more likely to upset your partner than transmit wisdom, and playing with a teammate who’s upset with you is not likely to lead to a win. If you must have a strategy discussion, consider a post-game chat. You certainly have the option of avoiding someone whose strategy conflicts with yours in the future (you can use the “dislike” feature at World of Card Games to do this).

3. Do try to read your partner’s mind.

Now I hear you saying “But Marya, it’s not possible to read someone’s mind!”. Of course that’s true, but you can use the clues that you see at the table as the game goes on to get an idea about how your partner plays. If you see that your partner never leads with spades, hand after hand, that may mean they think it’s bad to lead with spades, and they may get upset with you if you do that. If you see your partner tends to bid risky nils, then you probably don’t want to lead with a low spade when they’ve bid nil, if you have a choice — you might flush out their one high spade. You get the idea. Pay attention to the signals that your partner is sending you by the way that they play their cards. You can adjust your behavior in some cases, and that can lead to more wins for your team.

4. Don’t hurl abusive chats at anyone at the table.

If your partner is a polite person, making angry comments at anyone at the table may very likely upset them, leading to poor gameplay. Just don’t do it. The card table is a public place. If you think it’s okay to curse at people in public, please get some therapy.

5. Don’t throw the game.

This one seems obvious. Throwing the game is a fast way to get out of an unpleasant situation for you, perhaps, but it completely blows your credibility. If you’re prone to throwing games, don’t be surprised if it becomes progressively more difficult to get a game going as time goes by. No one likes a sore loser.

6. Do cover your partner.

As a general rule, if the sum of all bids for the hand is 11 (with a maximum of 13), then one team may start thinking about setting the other team. Given that’s the case, you may want to think about taking an extra trick or two at any point during the hand. This can lead to bag accumulation, true. But it can also save your team from getting set. You will have to suss out how your partner feels about bags (see Rule 3). Some people are quite good at taking exactly the number of tricks that they bid. You might be one of those people! But I think that’s actually a pretty rare skill. Even if you’re quite good at counting cards, your partner may not be, and taking an extra trick is usually better than getting set.

7. Don’t assume your partner is against you.

There are cases when the rules of the game require your partner to play a card that’s not in your team’s best interests. For example, suppose you bid nil. Now your partner is leading, and to your surprise, they lead with the two of diamonds! I’ve seen this happen, and the nil-bidder will start cursing at their partner, assuming the worst. But it turned out that their partner had no choice. Spades had not yet been broken, and the only card they had left to play was that lonely, low card. The solution? First, don’t curse at people at the table (Rule 4)! Second, don’t make assumptions about what people are doing, at least until the hand is finished, and you can see what choices they had. You might want to collect the hand history to verify what they did, too.

8. Don’t take your partner’s tricks.

This especially applies if the bid is 11 or more, or if it looks like your team might get set. I’ve been baffled at this behavior more than once when the bid was 13, and it was imperative that our team make our bid. In one example, I was the second person to play a card, and I’d managed to capture a trick with a low card… only to find that my teammate trumped the trick! They were the last person to play, so they could have saved a spade and let me take the trick instead. Being a polite person, I just keep my trap shut. I chalk it up to newbie behavior or distraction. Please try not to do this!

9. Don’t let your partner take bag after bag after bag.

I know I said not to take your partner’s tricks in rule 9. But here’s an exception. Suppose the total bid is low, 8 or 9. There are four or five bags out there, and someone is definitely going to take them. Suppose I’m long in clubs, and I’m leading. I have no choice but to play one club after another, and dagnabbit, the opponents have no clubs. I’ll play club after club, and the opponents merrily discard their high cards to dump tricks, while I collect bag … after bag … after bag. Meantime, my partner starts bagging me, too, by discarding their non-trump cards! I do not understand this behavior. If it’s pretty clear that your partner is just getting bagged, help them out by trumping in with your highest spade, and then try to escape the lead yourself with a low card.

10. Do graciously forgive mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes. Did your partner play a bad card? The most likely explanation is that they got distracted, or accidentally played the wrong card. Yes, some people are trolls, and will deliberately do things to annoy you. Most people are just trying to have a fun game of cards, and want to win. If your partner does something wrong, please consider that we’re all human and we make mistakes. Forgive and forget.

If you’ve got any rules of your own, or if you disagree with mine, please leave a comment! And if you want to play solo, give Solitaire a try. That can be a fun game too, but personally, I prefer multiplayer Spades for the teamplay!