Three-Player “Dummy Hand&rdquo Spades

Missing a fourth player for Spades? Not to worry. Although the standard approach to playing Spades with only three players (where each player is dealt 17 cards, etc.) significantly changes the play, the following rules maintain much of the flavor and play of standard Spades (with a bit of Bridge play thrown in). Knowledge of the rules and game play for regular four-player Spades is assumed in this description.

Caution: The uncertainty and individually competitive (cut throat) nature of “Dummy Hand” Spades is challenging and addictive. Some players even prefer this variant to standard four-player Spades!

Overview

Designate one position at the table for the missing (“dummy”) player. The three “real” players are scored as individuals, each accumulating their own points and bags. During each hand, however, two of the real players play (for the most part) as a team against the team consisting of the other real player and the dummy. The makeup of the two teams for each hand is determined by the outcome of the bidding for that hand (see below).

The Deal

As with regular Spades, the first dealer is chosen from the real players by a draw for high card, and thereafter the deal passes to the dealer's left (clockwise) after each hand, skipping over the dummy player. Each player, including the dummy, is dealt 13 cards. The dummy's hand is kept face-down on the table.

Bidding

As in regular Spades, there is one round of bidding. The first real player to the left of the dealer starts the bidding and, in turn clockwise, each real player states how many total tricks he/she expects his/her team to win. The dummy does not bid.

The real player making the highest bid becomes the “declarer,” who will team up with the dummy against the other two real players (called the “defenders”) for the current hand. If the highest bid is made by more than one player, the first player making that high bid is the declarer.

Uncertainty as to the contents of the dummy hand and whether the bidder will become the declarer (teaming with the dummy hand) or a defender adds to the challenge of Dummy Hand Spades. The first bidder has the least information, and must assume that the dummy is likely to have an average hand (able to take 3 tricks) unless his/her hand is especially weak or strong. This disadvantage is countered somewhat by the first-high-bid tie breaker for determining the declarer. Subsequent bidders can consider earlier bids when estimating the power of each players' hands—including the dummy's hand. (See Bidding Strategy below.)

Nil bids: Bidding zero (or “nil”) is done by declaring the nil hand (or hands) at the same time and in addition to the player's team bid. For example, a real player can bid 4 (as his/her team bid) and nil for his/her own hand. A bidder can also specify a nil bid for the dummy hand; for example, a bid of 8 with nil for the dummy. A nil bid for the dummy hand only applies if the bidder becomes the declarer; otherwise, his/her nil bid on the dummy hand does not apply and is ignored. Similarly, a player can bid nil on another real player's hand, and that nil only applies if that real player ends up teamed with the bidder as a defender. Note that it is possible for a player to bid nil on as many as three hands. For example, if the first bidder has a strong hand, he/she might bid nil on the dummy hand and on both of the other real player's hands. The reasoning in this case is that the first bidder may become the declarer, and he/she wants the dummy hand declared nil. However, should another bidder bid higher and the first bidder become a defender, the first bidder will be playing with the other defender's hand declared nil (with his/her other two nil declarations ignored as those hands are on the declarer's team). The nil bonus or penalty is awarded to a player only if he/she bid nil on a player's hand and only when the bidder is teamed with the (real or dummy) player holding that hand. Thus, it is possible that a defender may not have bid nil on his/her own hand, but the other defender did bid nil on that defender's hand, in which case only the other defender receives points or penalties from the nil bid.

Note that being successful with a nil bid is much more difficult in Dummy Hand Spades than in regular Spades. If the declarer bid nil on his/her hand, the covering support by the dummy hand will be visible on the table for all to see. Similarly, if the dummy hand was bid nil by the declarer, its vulnerabilities are exposed on the table. If a defender bid nil on his/her hand or on the other defender's hand, the other defender need not support the nil bid unless he/she also bid nil on that same hand.

Game Play

The first bidder (the real player to the left of the dealer) makes the opening lead. Then the dummy player's cards are positioned face-up on the table opposite the declarer (between the other two defenders), as if the dummy player changed positions as appropriate to the outcome of the bidding. (At the end of the hand, the dummy player returns to its original position at the table before the next hand is dealt.) The suits in the face-up dummy player's hand are arranged in suits (with Spades on the left) in descending order for each suit. This makes it easier for the declarer to play the hand and for the defenders to watch the dummy hand.

Once the cards in the dummy player's hand are revealed, the remaining three cards of that trick are played, including one from the dummy hand as specified by the declarer. Play continues as in regular Spades, but with the dummy hand visible and the declarer playing one card from his/her own hand and one from the dummy hand at the appropriate times on each trick (similar to the play in Bridge). When the dummy wins a trick, the declarer must lead from that hand (“from the board”), but when the declarer wins the trick from his/her hand, the lead is made from his/her hand. During play, tricks won by each hand are maintained face-down on the table, just as in regular Spades.

Scoring and Play Strategy

The total number of tricks taken by the declarer and dummy hands are used to determine the declarer's score for the hand based on the declarer's bid contract, with the points awarded or subtracted as in regular Spades. Similarly, the total number of tricks taken by the two defenders are used to determine each defenders score for the hand, based upon each defender's individual-bid contracts.

The two defenders may act as a regular Spades team in attempting to set the declarer. However, the game is cut throat, and a defender may also choose to duck (play low, losing a trick intentionally) one or more tricks in an attempt to set the other defender (if that defender has a higher contract on the hand) while simultaneously giving the declarer additional bags. For example, assume the declarer bid 7 and the two defenders bid 5 and 6. If the defenders take only 5 tricks, the 5-bidding defender wins 50 points, the 6-bidding defender is set 60 points, and the declarer wins 71 points with one bag. On the other hand, if the defenders take 7 tricks, the 5-bidding defender wins 52 points with 2 bags, the 6-bidding defender wins 61 points with one bag, and the declarer is set 70 points. In this situation, the 5-bidding defender can choose his/her strategy for the hand, keeping in mind the potential outcome for the other two real players and their current scores in the game.

If a player bid nil on a hand that is on his/her team and that nil is successful, that bidder wins an additional 100 points (added to the bidder's points as described above). If the nil bid is unsuccessful, 100 points is subtracted from the bidder's score. If a defender bid nil on both defenders' hands, the nil bonus or penalty for each is assessed.

Bidding Strategy

The dealer is in the strongest bidding position on each hand, as the other real players' bids have been locked-in and the dealer has the most information in making his/her bid. Conversely, the opening bidder's advantage is the first-high-bid tie breaker and (as we will see) an opportunity to be deceptive. If the opening bidder has an average (3-bid) Spades hand, he/she is likely to bid 6, under the assumption that the dummy's hand is also average. If all three real players have average hands, the bidding might proceed as 6-6-6: resulting in a 12-total-contract hand with the opening bidder (the declarer) and the other real players (the defenders).

If the opening bid is 6, the second bidder might gamble and bid 7 on an average hand, given the potential that the dummy hand might be better than average. (Since both the first and second bidders have average hands, any remaining strength disparity would be between the dummy hand and the dealer hand.) By out-bidding the opening bidder and requiring the dealer to raise the bidding even higher in order to become the declarer, the second bidder could become the declarer and team with the dummy hand.

If the bidding has gone 6-7, the dealer has several options based on his/her hand. If the dealer's hand is strong, the dealer could bid 8 (or more) if he/she feels that playing the dummy hand as a true teammate is advantageous. The 6-7-8 bidding results in a 14-total-contract hand for one of the defenders and a 15-total-contract hand for the other. Someone (at least) will be set! Even if the dealer's hand is weak, the dealer could gamble that the dummy hand is very strong (given the bidding), and still bid 8 in order to team with the dummy's assumed strength. Again, someone will be set.

If the bidding has gone 6-7, the dealer could decide to underbid an average hand, by bidding 5. The 6-7-5 bidding is still a 13-total-contract hand for the declarer and the other defender, so by ducking the dealer can attempt to set the opening bidder (the other defender) and bag the second-bidder (the declarer).

The opening bidder can introduce some deception in the bidding by deciding right away if he/she would prefer to play the hand as a defender. With an average hand, the initial bidder could bid 5 (or even 4), suggesting that he/she is weak and giving false hope of a strong dummy hand to the other bidders. In this situation, the opening bidder could choose to play his/her hand strong in order to set one or both players who have over-extended themselves based on the deception or to play weak, ducking tricks in order to bag the other players. The opening bidder could also decide to boost his/her bid in an attempt to shut-out the other bidders from being the declarer (forcing them to partner as defenders). This strategy can be particularly advantageous when the scores of the other real players make them unlikely to cooperate fully in defending the hand.

Being set happens more frequently in Dummy Hand Spades, given the need to gamble and bluff during bidding. This leads to longer games than regular Spades, and the total score to win can be adjusted accordingly. (For example, 300 points to win rather than 500.) On the other hand, Dummy Hand Spades is fun, so what's wrong with an extended game?

Variations

If you are skittish, you can reduce the uncertainty in the above “No Peeky” rules by playing under the following bidding variations:

  • “Three Peeky” — Before bidding, each player chooses three cards from the dummy hand and looks at them. Once all players have looked at their subset of the dummy's cards, the cards are returned face-down on the table and bidding begins.
  • “Four Peeky” — As above, except each player chooses four cards from the dummy hand and looks at them. Once all players have looked at their subset of the dummy's cards, the cards are returned face-down on the table and bidding begins.
  • “Flip N” — Before bidding, each player chooses N cards from the dummy hand and flips them over for all to see. (N can be 1, 2, 3, or 4, depending on how much uncertainty is desired.) These cards remain face-up and bidding begins. The remaining face-down cards are turned over after the initial lead is made during play.

The above three-player “dummy hand” approach can be applied to other four-player Spades variants, such as Suicide and Mirror Spades.

Happy playing!

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Last updated: April 20, 2009
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