This chapter is about the bidding phase of Spades, also known as the "auction."
POTENTIAL TRICKSThe first step of bidding is estimating the number of tricks your hand can take. I don't recommend strictly following a "point count" system, since other factors, such as game score, are just as important. That said, a point system is a good place for beginners to start. So here's one for you to follow unstrictly.
Non-trump acesCount each ace as 1 trick if the suit is less than seven cards long. If the suit is seven or eight cards long, count as 1/2 of a trick.
Non-trump kingsCount a lone king as 1/4 of a trick. Count each king as 3/4 of a trick if the suit is two, three, or four cards long. Count a king as 1/4th of a trick if it is a suit five cards long.
If the suit is shorter than six cards, and you have the ace, queen, or jack in the same suit, add 1/4 of a trick.
Non-trump queensCount each queen in a suit five cards or shorter as 1/4 of a trick, unless you have AKQ or AKQ+other in which case count the queen as 1/2 of a trick.
TrumpTrump can be counted as tricks depending on these factors:
NIL PROBABILITY AND VALUEThe second step of bidding is estimating the probability of the hand succeeding as a nil bid. The computer simulation I wrote (see Appendices A and B) accomplishes this by breaking the hand down by suit:
The program estimates that someone playing this hand as a nil will be able to successfully throw off spades about 22% of the time, hearts 100% of the time, clubs about 80% of the time and diamonds about 84% of the time. The product of these probabilities, 14.5%, is the approximate overall probability of success.
While this process is unnecessarily complicated (not to mention imperfect), analyzing nils in this way, that is, as a product of four probabilities, is a good habit to adopt. I recommend finding a patient friend and partner with whom you can practice nils. Try going nil with every hand. This will teach you which combinations are hard to play as a nil and will also teach your partner how to cover.
The third step of bidding is weighing the risk and reward of a nil against the risk and reward of a non-nil bid. By going nil, you're giving up the opportunity to score with a non-nil bid. Take these two hands:
Hand #1: ♠T32 ♥AQ432 ♦AK432Both of these hands are reasonably good nil hands. Hand #1 will succeed as a nil bid more often than Hand #2, yet it's probably wrong to bid nil with Hand #1, and correct to bid nil with Hand #2. Why? Because, with Hand #1, scoring 40 or 50 points with a non-nil bid would be very easy. Hand #2 has little hope of scoring any points as a non-nil bid.
In other words, with Hand #1 you're risking a sure 40 points for the chance to win 50. With Hand #2 you're risking 0 points for a chance to win 50.
Also consider that bidding nil might cause your partner to underbid, get set, or take excess bags as a result of your nil bid.
BLIND NILGenerally speaking, when your team has the opportunity to bid blind nil, either you or your partner should take that opportunity the first chance you get.
One possible exception is if the other team has bid nil before you:
North should consider bidding to cover and South may or may not want to bid blind nil depending on what East bids. The idea is that North-South wants to either bid enough to catch up to the other team, or else bid in a way that will put them behind by 100 or 110, so they can go blind nil again. It's important to avoid deficits of between 50 and 99 whenever possible. This concept is covered more in Chapter 4: The Score.
Another reason for North to bid to cover is because when both teams have a nil bid, the team acting immediately after the opponent's nil has a big positional advantage.
If you're covering a blind nil, bid 1.5 to 2 points more than you normally would, as you expect your partner to pass a couple of good trick-taking cards. The exception would be if your opponents have bid strongly, which may indicate that your partner doesn't have any high or trump cards to pass.
If you are against a blind nil, bid carefully. Passing gives the other team opportunity to become short or void in a suit. High ranking non-trump cards are more likely to be trumped and are therefore less dependable as tricks. Bidding conservatively also gives your team room to set the blind nil without worrying about making the bid.
REACTING TO OTHER BIDSYou may want to adjust your bid according to your position or the bids of other players.
If you are 1st or 2nd to bid, keep in mind that your partner may go nil. You should slightly undervalue short suits and high non-trump if you also have low cards in that suit. The reason is because if you are protecting a nil, you'll often forgo the opportunity to take tricks for the opportunity to dump low cards.
You can estimate distribution of tricks based on your hand and previous bids. For example, if your RHO (right hand opponent) has bid 4, and you are next to act with 3-4 tricks, you can assume that there are four to six tricks distributed between the remaining two players. Similarly, if your RHO bids 2 and you are next to bid with one trick in your hand, you know the third and fourth players are either or both sitting on monster hands.
If the player to your left has (or you believe has) a strong hand, underbid slightly. A strong bidder will be more likely to trump or overtrump tricks you would otherwise expect to take.
If you are 3rd or 4th bidder and your partner has bid nil, you should undervalue short suits and high non-trump if you have low cards in the same suit. If your partner did not bid nil, you can bid more aggressively.
If your partner or the player to your right has bid strongly (4 or more) you can take riskier nils. Conversely, if your partner or the player to your right has bid weakly (2 or fewer), you should be slightly less inclined to bid nil.