How to Play Black Spades, Part 3: We Finna Play

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Illustration: Sam Wooley (The Root/G-O)

Now that you have read parts one and two of our tutorials on how to play black America’s favorite pastime, it is time to learn the official way to play Black Spades.


These rules have been adapted from Bicycle Playing Card’s version of white Spades.


There are three objects of every game of Black Spades:

  1. To be somebody: Some people buy nice shoes or spend a lot of money on clothes and cars. But, thanks to Spades, you can achieve those same goals and save a lot of money by winning this card game. Some people consider it a wealth-building strategy
  2. Shit talking: As we discussed earlier, Spades is really a conduit for belittling your opponent. It’s essentially a more complex way to play the dozens.
  3. Scoring points: That, too.


Because it’s black,* Spades is always trump (the most important suit). That’s why the game is called Spades.

*I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Clubs are also black!”

Not really. There’s something soft and apologetic about the suit of clubs. If clubs were a person, it would be Ben Carson. If spades were a person, it would be Malcolm X. That’s why spades are better. They win by any means necessary.


For the sake of this tutorial, we will play Joker, Joker Deuce Deuce. As you learned in lesson one, this means the cards rank are: Big Joker (high), Little Joker, deuce of diamonds, deuce of spades, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.


Therefore, a 10 of spades beats a ten of clubs (in real life, too).


Before the game begins, you must remove the deuce of hearts and the deuce of clubs. This gives you 52 cards.


The first dealer is chosen by a draw for high card, and thereafter the turn to deal proceeds clockwise. The entire deck is dealt one at a time, face down, beginning on the dealer’s left. Each player gets 13 cards.

Pick up your cards and arrange them by suits. To avoid a renege and not have your uncle Lester call you a “cheating motherfucker,” the best way to arrange your hand is to alternate colors (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades, for instance).**


**Uncle Lester is still gonna call you a cheating motherfucker.


Each player decides how many books they will be able to make. The best way to count your books is to count the unsure ones as possibles.


The player to the dealer’s left starts the bidding and, in turn, each player states how many books they expect to make. You and your partner decide on the total number of books you can make. This is the only time you are allowed to talk across the board with your partner. The minimum bid (board) is usually four.

Just before the person taking score writes down your bid in the “ten” column, your Uncle Lester will ask you if you aren’t sure you can get one more book. Don’t fall for it. This is how the “motherfucker-ing” starts.


Bid your hand.


The person to the left of the dealer plays first and every subsequent player must follow suit, if possible. If a player cannot follow suit, they may play any other card. The book is won by the player who plays the highest card in the suit that led. If you or someone else cuts the suit with a spade, the person who plays the spade wins the book. However, if you play any suit other than the one which led (which you cannot do unless you are out of the lead suit) that card cannot win, no matter how high the card is.


For example:

  • Player 1 leads with a three of hearts.
  • Player 2 plays an eight of hearts.
  • Player 3 plays a king of hearts.
  • Player 4 plays an Ace of hearts.

Then player 4 wins the book. But if:

  • Player 1 leads with a three of hearts.
  • Player 2 has no hearts and, instead, plays an eight of spades.
  • Player 3 plays a king of hearts.
  • Player 4 plays an Ace of hearts.

Player 2 wins the book.

The player who wins the book leads next. You cannot lead with a spade unless it is the only suit in your hand or another player has already played one previously.


The hand ends when none of the players have any cards left. Each hand has 13 books combined. After each hand, each team adds up the number of books they made and adds it to the bid.


A team scores 10 points for each book they bid, plus 1 point for each over.

Let’s say you bid six books but made seven books during the hand. Let’s say the other team also bid six books. The easiest way to write this down is to simply write the number of overs next to the number you bid. Here’s how to do that.

  • When you bid six books, the scorekeeper wrote down “6” for your team
  • At the end of the hand, the scorekeeper simply wrote a “1” after the “6.”
  • You have 61 points
  • When the other team bid, the scorekeeper wrote down “6” for their team.
  • Because the other team didn’t have any overs, the scorekeeper simply wrote a “0” after their “6.”
  • They have 60 points.

If you are counting bags, every time a player accumulates 10 overs 100 points is deducted from their score. Thus, the object is always to fulfill the bid exactly. If your team makes fewer books than you bid, then you are set and your bid is deducted from your score.


For instance, if you and Uncle Lester bid six but only made five, then you lose 60 points. This is when Uncle Les starts cussing and wondering why your mama didn’t raise you right.

The score is added up after each hand until a team reaches the total that is agreed on at the beginning. In most games, it is 500 points. Sometimes, when there are a lot of people waiting to play, the game ends at 350 points.


That’s it!

Now you know how to play Black Spades...


How NOT to Play Black Spades

Now that you know how to play, there are a few things you should know not to ever do when playing spades.

  1. Never let anyone see your hand: The cardinal rule of Spades is to keep your cards close to your vest. If you don’t, your opponent will look at them. This is not considered cheating because, if you’re too stupid not to know this, everyone assumes you want them to see your cards.
  2. Pee between hands: Once a hand is dealt, you can’t get up from the table. There is no substituting or time outs in Spades. If your bladder is weak or you gotta use the bathroom really bad and you’re winning, then you just have to pee on yourself. Trust me, they’ll understand.
  3. Don’t take it personal: Players are allowed to talk about your mama, your looks and everything else during a competition because nothing is off-limits in Spades. If you are beating someone really bad or playing against a very experienced shit-talker, you may begin to think your mother is engaged in an ongoing sexual relationship with your opponent. Don’t worry, Frank is just trying to shake your confidence...Maybe.
  4. No outside help: Not only can you not talk to your opponent, but you are disallowed from soliciting help from anyone not playing at the table.
  5. Take it personal: Don’t let them beat you like that. Spades is a serious thing. Your performance is a reflection of your character, intelligence and your family’s honor. You know your mom is gonna hear about it when she meets Frank late tomorrow night.
  6. Don’t believe anyone: You can only trust your partner. Everyone else is lying about which card you played last, your mama and Frank’s romance and how good they are. Have you ever heard someone describe themself as a “mediocre spades player?” Exactly.
  7. Don’t be afraid to renege: Everybody does it. 89% of reneges are intentional. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. You want Lester calling you his “punk nephew who got him set” at every family reunion?
  8. Watch the board: Assume everyone is cheating on you...Like Frank’s wife does.
  9. Don’t lose gracefully: If you are losing, accuse the other team of reneging. Drop your card and say there was a misdeal. Start a fight by telling Lester how Frank was talking about his sister. You know what they call a graceful loser in spades? A loser.
  10. Win: At all costs

Now you are equipped with the tools you need to begin your journey toward becoming a “spades player.”


Good luck with that.

Tell your mom Frank says hi.



Next up in the Root University series: Dominoes.