Alpha Theta Rules Spades

Spades was one of the favorite (non-collectible) card games at Alpha Theta in the 1990s. However, over the years, it evolved into something somewhat distinct from "standard" Spades. These rules are adapted (heavily in places) from this page — it’s worth a look for comparison, and also has many other variants of Spades played elsewhere in the country.


Spades is a standard-deck card game for four players. The four players are in fixed partnerships, with partners sitting opposite each other. Deal and play are clockwise.

The cards, in each suit, rank from highest to lowest: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. As you might expect, spades is always the trump suit.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen at random, and the turn to deal rotates clockwise. The cards are shuffled and then dealt singly, in clockwise order beginning with the player on dealer’s left, until all 52 cards have been dealt and everyone has 13.

The Bidding

Bidding proceeds in two rounds, each starting with the player to dealer’s left, and proceeding clockwise. In the first round, each player has the option of declaring nil or blind nil.

Nil is a declaration that that the player will not win any tricks during the play. Any single player may bid nil. The nil bidder’s partner will also bid the number of tricks to be taken by the partnership.

Blind nil may only be bid by a player whose partnership is losing by at least 100 points. It is a nil bid declared before a player looks at his cards. The bidder may ask their partner whether they can cover a blind nil. If they responds in the negative, the bidder may still choose to declare blind nil regardless, but if the bidder’s partner responds in the affirmative, the bidder must declare blind nil. If a blind nil is declared, the bidder and their partner each pass the other one card, simultaneously and face down.

The second round of bidding determines the number of tricks each partnership must attempt to win. Each player bids a number of tricks, from zero to 13. Zero is distinct from nil. When all four players have bid, each partnership writes down the sum of their bids; this is the contract that the partnership must attempt to meet.

The Play of the Hand

The player to dealer’s left leads the first trick. Each player, clockwise in turn, must follow suit if able. If unable to follow suit, the player may play any card.

A trick containing a spade is won by the highest spade played. If no spade is played, the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads the next trick played.

There are no special conditions that must be met before spades may be played or lead, except that every player must follow suit when able to do so.


A partnership that takes at least as many tricks as its bid calls for receives a score equal to 10 times its bid. Additional tricks (overtricks) are worth an extra one point each.


A partnership which (over several deals) accumulates ten or more overtricks has 100 points deducted from its score. Any overtricks beyond ten are carried over to the next cycle of ten overtricks: if they reached twenty overtricks they would lose another 100 points and so on. (Note: it is not necessary to keep track of overtricks separately as the cumulative number of overtricks taken appears as the final digit of the partnership’s score, if positive).

If a partnership does not meet its contracted bid, they lose 10 points for each trick by which they fell short. If the contracted bid was 8, and the partners collectively took 3 tricks, they would lose 50 points.

This scoring method is called “partial penalty.” The “full penalty” variation stipulates that a partnership will lose 10 points for each trick bid if they fails to meet their contract. (Full penalty games are seldom played at Alpha Theta, because they take much longer to finish.)

Nil bids

If a bid of nil is successful, the nil bidder’s partnership receives 50 points. This is in addition to the score won (or lost) by the nil bidder’s partner for tricks made. If the nil bidder takes one or more tricks the nil is "busted," and the bidder’s partnership loses 50 points. They still receive any amount scored for the partner’s bid, and the tricks won by the nil bidder do count towards making the partner’s bid.

A bid of blind nil scores in the same way as an ordinary nil but is worth twice as much: it wins 100 points if successful and loses 100 points if it fails.


The partnership which reaches 500 points first wins the game. If both sets of partners reach 500 points in a single deal, the higher score wins.