By Neal Taparia - 9/5/2023
What you’ll need:
Length: 30-60 minutes
Difficulty: Easy, but can take years to master
Trump ranks: Spades are always the trump suit
Card ranks (high to low): Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
In the 2-player version of Spades, a trick-taking card game, the main objective is to accurately predict and subsequently win a specified number of tricks each round. Scoring and rules are the same as 4-player Spades, but only 26 cards are dealt in any given round.
The game ends when the first player reaches 500 points (or another predetermined number of points). The winner is the player with the higher score at that point.
Some players instead use a predetermined number of rounds, and the winner is the player who holds the high score at the end of the last round.
Winning involves a strategic balance between bidding enough tricks to earn points without overcommitting and facing penalties. The game isn't just about holding high cards; it's about strategically deploying them to win the bid tricks.
Each round is a step towards victory or defeat, relying on your ability to manage your hand and fulfill your bids.
Building a hand in a 2-player game of Spades is the biggest variation from the traditional multiplayer versions. You’ll still begin with a full 52-card deck (Jokers removed), but there’s no official “dealer” in 2-player Spades. Instead, you collaboratively build hands of 13 cards each.
Here’s how to “deal” cards in 2-player Spades (in other words, how to build hands):
How many cards are dealt in spades with 2 players? Only 26 cards are actively played during a game of Spades with 2 people. However, the hand-building round (dealing) involves discarding the additional 26 cards face-up so players know which cards aren’t in play.
Before playing your hand, you and your opponent will bid a number of tricks you each believe you’re able to take. The round of bidding is one of the most crucial parts of the Spades card game rules, as it impacts your score significantly.
How much can you bid? You may bid any number between 1-13. This bid represents how many tricks you’re confident you can win. You have no partner to back you up or save a trick in a 2-player game, but you (and your opponent) both have the advantage of custom-building at least some of your hand.
What if you can’t win a single trick? If you’re confident that you’ll lose all of the tricks in this round, you may bid “nil” (zero). Bidding nil and successfully losing all tricks will earn you a 100-point bonus for that round, but if you win a single bid, you’ll take that many points as a penalty.
You may also make a “blind nil bid,” meaning the nil bidder must make their bid before seeing any of the cards in their hand. To build a hand in a 2-player round for which you bid blind nil, pick up a card and discard the next each time it’s your turn in the hand-building phase without looking at any of the cards in your hand.
How does your bid affect the round’s score in Spades? Be careful not to underbid (bid for more tricks than you can win) or overbid (bid for fewer tricks than you win). At the end of the round, you’ll receive 10 points for every successful trick you bid.
For instance, if you bid 5 and win 5 tricks, you’ll get 50 points.
What happens if you win more tricks than you bid? Tricks you win beyond your bid are known as “bags.” Bags give you a single point each, but accumulating 10 bags also results in a “sandbagging” penalty.
That’s why it’s important not to overbid and quickly collect bags — aim to win your precise bid and maybe 1-2 extra tricks.
What happens if you win fewer tricks than you bid? Underbidding and failing to meet your bid (also called a “contract”) means you lose 10 points per trick bid. It doesn’t matter how many tricks you win; you still lose the entire contract’s potential points.
For instance, if you bid 5 and win 4 tricks, you lose 50 points. If you bid 5 and win 1 trick, you still lose 50 points.
Gameplay is the stage where the true action of Spades unfolds. In a 2-player Spades game, your strategy and the strength of your hand truly come into play. After the bids are in, it's time to see who can win the tricks they've predicted.
What is the highest card in a deck of Spades? In this card game, Spades are the trump cards. This means that they outrank all other suits. Within the Spade suit, the Ace of Spades is the highest card, followed by the King, Queen, Jack, and so on, down to the 2 of Spades.
Playing Spades requires strategy and careful attention to both your own cards and the tricks your opponent is winning. A good player must balance their bid's ambition against the risk of overtricks, additional tricks won beyond the bid.
Overtricks may seem like a bonus, but in fact, too many overtricks can lead to a penalty called "sandbagging." So, be strategic, watch your opponent, and aim to meet your bid as precisely as possible.
The basic rules of 2-player Spades are as follows:
The most common forms of rule violations (called “reneging”) are failing to follow suit even with a card of the suit played in your hand, and leading a trick with a Spade before Spades have been broken.
Both of these reneges result in a point penalty in which the opponent receives all of the player’s points that round.
Engaging in a two-player game of Spades can shift your strategic approach. Because half of the deck isn't in play, you may find yourself in rounds where the Ace of Spades or other high cards aren't in play. And without a partner to help you save a losing trick, your gameplay needs to be more strategic and calculated.
Try these tips to win your next game of Spades with 2 people:
1. Bid Smart: In a two-player game, bidding becomes even more critical. As you don't have a partner to cover your mistakes or help fulfill your bid, you must carefully evaluate your hand before making a bid.
Overbidding can be costly when it leads to a sandbagging penalty, but underbidding will also lose you valuable points when you can’t fulfill your contract.
2. Pay Attention to Cards Played and Discarded: With only two players, it's easier to keep track of the cards that have been played. This allows you to make more accurate predictions about what cards your opponent holds.
For example, if high-value Spades haven't been played after several rounds, it's likely your opponent is holding onto them.
You should also closely watch the cards you and your opponent discard face-up during the hand-building phase. If you hold the Queen of Spades but the Ace and King were discarded, you now know you can confidently win at least a single trick with the now-highest card.
3. Save Your Spades: As always, Spades are your trump cards, but without a partner's Spades to back you up, they're all the more precious. If possible, hold onto your Spades until later in the game, when they can help you win critical tricks.
4. Utilize High Cards in Other Suits: Remember, your high cards in suits other than Spades can also help you control the game. Leading with a high card in another suit can force your opponent to use their valuable Spades before they might want to.
5. Understand Nil Bids: Nil bids can be risky in a two-player game. Without a partner to support you, it's all on you to avoid taking any tricks. Only attempt a nil bid if you're confident that your hand won't win any tricks, such as a hand with 0-2 Spade suit cards and mostly other low cards.
In a two-player game, this is easiest to do if you do not lead the first trick. Being the follower on all 13 tricks allows you to strategically play a lower card, rather than to allow your opponent to purposefully lose a turn to violate your nil bid.
Scoring Spades in a game with 2 people is the same as a traditional game, with the exception that there’s no partner’s bid to add to your own and there are no double bonuses or penalties for bidding nil with a partner.
Basic Spades scoring with 2 players works like this:
It’s easy to keep score with a pen and paper. You can also try our PDF score sheet (click here to download printable version) for two players.
|Winning a trick within your bid||10 per trick bid||Each trick a team wins that aligns with their bid is worth 10 points. For instance, if your team bids 5 tricks and wins exactly 5, your team earns 50 points.|
|Overtricks (up to 9; also called bags or overbooks)||1 per bag||Each trick won beyond the team's bid becomes a “bag” or “overtrick,” adding an extra point to the team's score for that round. For example, winning 6 tricks when you bid 5 earns your team 51 points.|
|Successful Nil Bid (single player)||100||If a player successfully bids “nil” after seeing their hand, meaning they win no tricks during a round, their team is awarded 100 bonus points.|
|Successful Blind Nil Bid (single player)||200||If a player bids “nil” before seeing their hand and wins no tricks during that round, their team gains 200 bonus points.|
|Successful Double Nil Bid (both players)||400||Both players on a team may bid “nil” in a single round after seeing their hands. If neither player wins a trick that round, the team gets 400 points. This rule variant is only allowed if agreed to by all players beforehand.|
|Successful Double Blind Nil Bid (both players)||800 (game)||Both players on a team may bid “nil” in a single round before seeing their hands. To gain 800 points (and win the game), neither player may win a single trick. This rule variant is only allowed if agreed to by all players beforehand.|
|Underbidding (Penalty)||-10 per trick bid||Once a team collects 10 overtricks or “bags,” they get a 100-point penalty. This means you must be strategic in the number of tricks your team wins each round. This is sometimes called “bagging out,” and may occur multiple times in a single game.|
|Sandbag (10 overtricks/bags) (Penalty)||-100||Once a team collects 10 overtricks or “bags,” they get a 100-point penalty. This means you must be strategic in the number of tricks your team wins each round. This is sometimes called “bagging out,” and may occur multiple times in a single game.|
|Failure to Follow Suit (Penalty)||All round points awarded to the opposing team||If a player reneges by not following the lead suit even when they have a matching card and is caught, all points for that round are given to the other team.|
|Leading with a Spade Before Spades is Broken (Penalty)||All round points awarded to the opposing team||If a player reneges by leading a turn with a Spade suit before Spades has been broken, all points for that round are given to the other team.|
|Failed Nil Bid (Penalty)||-100||If a player bids “nil” but wins at least one trick, they subtract 100 points from their team's score.|
|Failed Blind Nil Bid (Penalty)||-200||If a player bids “blind nil” but wins a trick, a 200-point penalty is applied.|
|Failed Double Nil Bid (Penalty)||-400||If both players on a team bid “nil” but one of them wins a trick, the team receives a 400-point penalty.|
|Failed Blind Double Nil Bid (Penalty)||-800 (game loss)||In the rare case that two players on a team bid “nil” before seeing their cards but win at least a single trick, they get a penalty of 800 points and lose the game.|