What Are Bags in Spades?

By Neal Taparia - 3/29/2024

What are bags in spades

Are you looking for a card game that tests your ability to strategize, requires skill and concentration, and allows you to indulge your inner competitor? Spades is a fast-paced game centered around trick-taking, where players place bids on the number of tricks they expect to win per round, and a win is determined by the status of the card.

Correct bids earn points while underbidding the successful number of tricks, known as overtricks or 'bags,' can see players lose up to one hundred points. Essentially, any trick you win in excess of your total team bid is a bag and will give you one point. Collecting ten of these generates the one hundred-point penalty. For example, bidding five tricks and winning six will give you one bag or one point.

To help you boost your chances of success, we’ve put together a guide to Spades, including tips on how to play Spades with three players, strategies to help reduce your risk of collecting bags, and the best place for playing Spades free online.

How Does Spades Work?

Traditionally, the game features four players, each of whom is dealt thirteen cards–this is based on how many cards are in a deck without Jokers. Players must take turns to win tricks by placing their cards in the center of the group, and the highest card per hand will win the trick.

What is the point breakdown of the cards? Ace is the highest scoring card, then king, queen, jack, and ten through one‒with one being the lowest scoring card. As suggested by the name of the game, a Spade of any value will trump all other cards.

Before placing their cards, players make 'bids,' or estimations on how many tricks they will win per hand. A successful bid is worth ten points, while winning more tricks than you bid in each round will generate one point. Collecting ten bags‒or ten penalty points for overtricks‒will incur a one hundred-point penalty, and this will be deducted from your score.

The first player to earn 500 points wins, but this can be reduced to 200 points for a shorter, faster game.

How to Reduce the Risk of Bags

How to reduce the risk of bags in Spades

As you can see, reducing the number of bags can help you win the game‒and this is a matter of strategy rather than pure luck. There are two main tips and tricks you can use to reduce your chances of overtricks:

Underbid Rather Than Overbid

This may seem counterproductive‒after all, isn’t the overall goal to reduce bags? The key thing to remember here is that each bag will actually win you one point until you get to ten bags.

Bidding too high and winning fewer tricks, however, will earn you zero points. This means that if you only have a few bags, the best strategy is actually to underbid, and end up winning more tricks than you initially bid. This helps you win that important single point.

For example, if you bid four tricks and win five, you will receive forty points for your success, and one point for your overtrick (as long as you are within the ten-bag limit). Bidding five and winning four, however, means you will not receive any points for that hand.

The key here is to pay attention to the number of bags you have accumulated‒when you get to nine bags, the strategy gets riskier as you may be facing a one hundred-point reduction if your next big ends in a bag. In this case, you will need to change tactics. However, up until these dangerous moments, underbidding is the smarter strategy.

Know Your Cards

Another key aspect of success is knowing your cards and counting your high cards; remember, Spades trump all other cards, and the highest Spade per hand will win. Have a good idea of the status of your hand and that of your teammate, and try to work out the probabilities of the other team having certain cards. By being observant, you can play your cards in the best order and maximize your chances of success.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding bags is hugely important when playing Spades‒and part of this involves knowing when to take the chance and risk a bag, and when it is best to play it safe. When in doubt, always aim to underbid‒this could net you a point and, as long as you keep your eyes on the prize, could prove to be a winning strategy.