The History of Spades and How it Became the Well-Loved Card Game That We Know Today

Americans grew up playing Spades the same way East Asian kids grew up learning how to use chopsticks. Like any other card game, though, the history of Spades is always shrouded in mystery, often a combination of speculative stories, educated guesses, and flat-out ridiculousness.

So, what is the history of Spades, and how did it reach its status as a universal card game? Let’s find out.

History of Spades

Also known as Call Bridge, the card game Spades was invented in the United States in the early 20th century. That’s pretty much the only given about the game’s history; everything else could either puzzle pieces hastily put together or perhaps pure speculation. Granted, it’s still worth knowing every version there is about the history of spades. What truly transpired was probably somewhere in the middle, although there is no absolute way of knowing. 

The game of Spades was introduced in the 1930s and became widely popular by the next decade. George Coffin, a publisher and author of books about Bridge and other games, tracked Spades’ roots in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there, it spread to other cities and states.

Here is where a slight confusion emanates. A version of the Spades’ history says it started in college campuses where students already familiar with Bridge and Whist looked to invent a new card game. Thus, Spades was born.

In another rendition, Spades allegedly exploded in popularity in the Army back in World War II because soldiers from Cincinnati taught the card game to their comrades. The game’s fast-paced nature allowed the soldiers to play in less than 20 minutes and Spades is a game that can be interrupted at any time. Pretty convenient.

After the war, the returning soldiers from Cincinnati taught the locals this game, and it eventually spread. In addition to that, the GI Bill inadvertently gave the popularity of Spades a boost since some soldiers went to college and taught the card game there with fellow students. The rest, they say, is history.

Evolution of Spades

Spades is considered America’s favorite pastime for the last century. To say that it’s wildly popular is an understatement. In fact, if a person doesn’t know how to play Spades, people would have a hard time wrapping their heads around it!

Even with its massive following, Spades received no mention in any of the accepted rule books for playing card games. For example, the Official Rules of Card Games was a book published by the Cincinnati-based United States Playing Card Company, and it did not contain anything about Spades. If you can recall, Cincinnati was the acknowledged birthplace of Spades! That is why Spades has remained an underground game for years. 

Today, with the existence of the Internet, the game has gone mainstream than ever before. You can find Spades money games online and thousands of players on queue looking for a quick game. There are also online Spades tournaments organized weekly, and there are several online platforms that allow you to play the game in a click of a button.

How To Play Spades

Spades is one of a few partnership card games. This makes the gameplay much more exciting as you should keep an eye on yourself and your partner.

Here is how to play Spades:

  • The most popular gameplay setup consists of four players. The individuals seated across each other are the partners or teammates. The standard 52-card deck is used.
  • The objective in spades is to win as many “tricks” or rounds. But, wait, not so fast! Before competing for a round, every player must “bid” or predict how many “tricks” or rounds they could win. If they meet that “bid,” they win and would be penalized if they went under.
  • After bidding, the player to the left of the dealer will lead with his first card. It could be any suit except the Spades. Like the game Hearts, you can only lead with a Spade if it is already broken. The term “broken spade” means any player has thrown a Spade because he doesn’t have the specific suit initially laid.
  • The “trick” or round is won by the player who has the highest-ranked card of the led suit. If Spades were played, it acts as a trump card that overpowers other suits no matter how high the rank is.
  • When a player has won a “trick,” he may lead with any card and suit except a Spade. He may only lead a “trick” with a Spade if the Spade is already broken.
  • “Tricks” are usually not disguised. When a player is asked how many “tricks” he has, he should count them and give a correct answer.
  • The play continues until every player has used up all the cards in their hands.

Scoring in Spades

Here are some of the things to keep in mind when scoring a Spades game:

  • If you fail to meet the number of your bids, you lose ten times the value of your bid. For example, if you bid five and fail, you will lose 50 points.
  • If you bid nil (which means zero) and succeed, you get 50 points. If you fail, you lose 50. Bidding nil without looking at your cards (bidding blind) may fetch you 100 points if you succeed and lose that many if you fail.
  • Overtricks or tricks over your bids are only scored 1 point. For example, if you bid six and collect nine, you’ll get 63 points. 
  • Here’s the thing: 10 overtricks means a 100-point deduction on your part. Some versions allow you to rack up the ten to lower the total loss to 90, but some won’t let you do that. 
  • The typical winning condition is for the partners to score 500 or, if they go -200. Still, no rule is set in stone. Some games announce winners after a certain number of hands or a time limit.

Bottom Line: The Fascinating History of Spades

It’s interesting enough that one of the most popular card games in the world for decades has a bit of a mysterious history. Truth be told, nobody cares if the game was taught by soldiers to or from Cincinnati, the more important thing is we have a legitimately fun pastime in our hands.

But the curious case of Spades does not stop there. Despite being a front-running card game played by people of all social classes, it was not really recognized as an official card game until very recently. With the advent of the Internet, its popularity has soared to new heights.

How? Popular platforms such as Yahoo and Facebook offer a Spades game, while others support real money games and tournaments. If you have just learned Spades and want to expand your repertoire, finding lots of eager people online to play a quick game with is no longer a problem!

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