By Neal Taparia - 8/10/2023
A single player may also bid nil, meaning they don’t believe they’ll win any trick during the round. Successfully bidding nil after seeing their cards earns a single player 100 points, or 200 points on a blind nil bid (done before viewing their hand).
The game ends when the first team reaches 500 points (or another predetermined number of points). The team with the highest score wins, even if both teams surpass 500 in the last round.
Spades, a trick-taking card game, is a popular choice among many card game enthusiasts, and understanding the scoring rules is crucial to enjoying the game and enhancing your gameplay.
This quick list of all the scoring and penalties in a traditional game of Spades will help you get started:
|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||If a team fails to meet their bid, they lose 10 points for each trick they bid. For example, if a team bids 5 tricks but only wins 3, they lose 50 points.|
|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.|
What is the penalty for underbidding in Spades? If a player fails to win as many tricks as they predicted, they lose 10 points for each trick they bid. For example, if a player bids for four tricks but only wins three, they would incur a penalty of 40 points.
The most common rule violations that cause penalties for reneging are failing to follow suit when possible and leading with a Spade before Spades were broken. In both cases, all points for the round (completed contracts plus bags) are awarded to the opposing team.
All players must follow the suit of the card played first in each turn unless they have no cards left in that suit. A player may play a Spade (the trump suit) if they have no more of the lead suit and want to try winning the trick — this is called “breaking Spades.” Until Spades have been broken, no player may lead a trick with a Spade.
Penalties are also assigned for specific actions in certain variations of Spades, such as the Joker's variation, where using the Joker card incorrectly can result in penalties. These penalties differ based on the rules of the specific game variation being played.
Some games are also played with house rules that carry harsher penalties for repeated failed nil bids.
Just like the standard game of Spades, its variations also come with unique scoring rules that add a twist to the gameplay. Let's explore a few popular variations of Spades, namely Whist, Euchre, and Joker's, and how scoring works in each of these.
Whist, a predecessor to Spades, uses fairly simple scoring rules.
The team that wins the most tricks in each round earns a point. The first team to reach a predetermined score — often 5 or 7 points — wins the game. There's no concept of bidding in Whist, making it a simpler trick-taking game than Spades.
Next is Euchre, another trick-taking game that uses a smaller deck of 24, 28, or 32 cards, unlike the standard 52 card deck used in Spades.
In Euchre, each trick won scores one point, with an extra point awarded for winning all five tricks in a round — a feat known as a "march." The game typically ends when a team reaches 10 points.
In this Spades variation, the two Joker cards — one regarded as the Big Joker (the highest card) and the other as the Little Joker — are added to the deck.
Scoring follows standard Spades rules with some additions: capturing the Big Joker earns the team an additional 2 points, while capturing the Little Joker awards 1 point.
However, failing to win a trick with a Joker results in a 2-point penalty.
Building on the Joker’s variation, one of the black ways to play Spades is Joker-Joker-Deuce-Deuce. To begin, add both Jokers and remove the two of Hearts and two of Clubs for an even 52 cards.
This variant demotes the Ace of Spades from its top score value and insteads assigns four cards as higher scores, in this order:
All four of these cards count as Spades for the purposes of following suit.
From there, other playing cards are ranked the same.
This version, made popular by Christian A. Baxter, builds on Joker-Joker-Deuce-Deuce with a few additional scoring rules.
Partnership bidding is used, with the minimum bid being 4 and the maximum being 10. However, there are no nil bids.
If a team is trailing by at least 100 points, they may choose to bid "blind" without looking at their cards. A successful blind bid scores double, but a failed one scores only singly. In this case, players aren’t bidding nil — they’re making a blind guess as to the number of tricks they win.
For a standard (non-blind) bid between 4 and 9, the team must win the number of tricks bid, and can have one or two overtricks, but not more.
A successful standard bid scores 10 times the number bid, but if a team falls short or wins three or more sandbags, they lose 10 points per trick bid.
A distinctive feature of the New York Style Spades is the concept of a "Boston" — a team that takes all 13 tricks. This achievement even gives the team "bragging rights" (but no extra points).
For a non-blind bid of 10, the team scores 200 points if they take 10, 11 or 12 tricks. If they bid 10 and win all 13 tricks, they win the whole game. In contrast, if they take fewer than 10 tricks, they lose 200.
The first hand of a new game is usually played without bidding and teams aim to win as many tricks as possible, scoring 10 points per trick. The game concludes either with a Boston, a team losing twice in a row, or when a team reaches or exceeds a score of 500.