Tuesday, September 14, 2021

How African Americans Play The Card Game Spades (article excerpts)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part pancocojams series about the card game "Spades".

This pancocojams post presents excerpts of several online articles about how Black people play the card game "Spades". 

While the authors of these articles use the term "Black people", they actually refer to Black Americans (African Americans). 

The rules that African Americans use for Spades and the terms that we use for that game are different from the rules and terms that most non-Black Americans use (from or official tutorial  ). 

 for Part II of this pancocojams series. The title for that post is "Online Comments About How African Americans Play The Card Game Spades".

Also, click for Part III of this pancocojams series entitled "Anthony "Spice" Adams - "Unk: The King Of Spades" & "When An Oldhead Takes Control of a Spades Game" (YouTube videos & comments)."
The content of this post is presented for cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.


The article given as #1 contains most of that article except for a video. The other article excerpts contain a smaller portion of those articles. I encourage you to read each of each of these entire articles.

Numbers are added for referencing purposes only.

WARNING: With the excerption of the excerpt given as #1 in this post, articles excerpts about how Black people play the game of Spades as well as many of the comments for those articles include profanity and what is commonly referred to as "the n word". Abbreviated spelling is used for those words in this post. 

Article #1
From  "The OFFICIAL Rules To Spades" by BET staff, MARCH 2, 2018 
"Since the dawn of time, people have gravitated toward games as a way to unwind, compete, and connect with their loved ones. This is especially true for us in the Black community. There are the all-time favorites, like Uno, and Taboo, which have clearly defined rules, with possible slight variations. All in all, though, you can be certain that if nothing else, everyone who played along got some enjoyent out of the experience (even if they didn't say "you can stand under my ______." "RIHANNA!" for umbrella, and cost your team the match).

But, quite possibly the most contentious game in the Black community, even moreso than 2K, is Spades. Everybody has different rules, and conveniently, they seem to take effect as each hand is played. …

Here to put an end to the madness, we present to you, the OFFICIAL rules to Spades

[video inserted]

Spades is played with four people - two on each team. Before the cards are distributed, the two of hearts, and the two of diamonds are removed, which should make for a total of 52 cards (including both jokers). Dealing and playing are done to the left (clockwise). And of course, first hand bids itself. If your partner jumps out there all crazy with a bid as soon as everyone looks at the first hand, it's not too late to get hungry out of nowhere and go get another plate of food. It's not worth the struggle of trying to teach them to play as you go. Refer them to this list instead.

Next is the order of the cards. From highest to lowest they are "Big" Joker, "Little" Joker, 2 of Spades, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 of clubs. You can tell which joker is which because usually, the big will have a larger picture than the small. But who knows, you might want to swtitch it up, and make it the other way around. Either way, just make sure that you and the other players agree from the outset.

The person to the left of the dealer is the first person to play. They can lead with anything except for a spade. Each player after them must follow suit if able. If they'reunable to follow suit, they can play any card. A "book" that has a spade is won by the highest spade played. If no spade is played, the it's won by the highest card of the suit that led. The winner of each book leads to the next.

After the first hand is played, the books are scored in multiples of 10. So, if you and your partner won 7 books, you would have 70 points. From now on, when the cards are dealt, each team will make a prediciton about how many books they believe the can win. The team that is not dealing places their bid first, and then the dealer's team for that hand places their bid. If either team scores under their number of anticipated books, then that amount of points is subtracted from the team's score.

Last, but not least...DON'T RENEGE! If you have the suit, you have to play on suit. If you play off suit, and get caught, your team loses 3 books to the other team. Not a good look."

Article #2

WARNING: This article includes profanity. Those words are given here with abbreviated spelling.". 

From "A Caucasian's Guide To Spades" by Michael Harriot, 6/15/16
Whether it is played in the back of a college cafeteria, at a bachelor party, or during a Black cookout—not a barbecue, because barbecues are different from “cookouts”—no activity solidifies the bonds of melanated people like a game of Spades.


Know the rules.

We cannot give one set of rules because winning at Spades will depend on who you’re playing with, but let’s try.

Simply put, the game requires two teams (each composed of two people), with each player playing a single card per turn. The first player plays a card, and the subsequent players must play a card of the same suit. The highest card of that suit wins those four cards (called a book) unless one of the players plays a spade. Spades is always the trump card but, and here is the key, one can only use a spades to trump another suit (called cutting) if—and only if—they don’t have a card of the initial suit played.

So if the first player leads with a diamond, you will try to beat his or her diamond with your own diamond. You can cut their diamond and win the book with a spade if you have no diamonds. If you play a spade while you still have a diamond in your hand, you are the lowest, most despicable form of human cheater who probably brings store-bought potato salad to cookouts and tell people you made it. This is called reneging.

The one steadfast commandment is that the house makes the rules. To become a consistent player you must be flexible enough to handle the infinite number of variations. The key is knowing the rules before you sit down to play the game. If they are playing with jokers—a card that will play higher than every other—ask them to show you each one. In some houses they will write on the card which one is which. If they use both the deuce of diamonds and/or deuce of spades as a trump card, for example, make sure you find out which of the two is higher. You can’t win if you don’t know the rules, and losing is no fun. Remember, Spades is not about fun, it is about winning. If you want to have fun, play Uno.

 Scoring is complicated.

At the beginning of each game, each team will place a bid for how many books they think they can win during the game, based solely on the cards in their own hands. Spades uses a complex scoring system that awards 10 points for each book bid, and one point for each book a team makes above their bid. The game ends when a team reaches 500—except during a cookout, party, and family reunion situations, when the goal is usually shortened to 350. In situations with special circumstances (no paper, no pencil, the participants are too drunk to perform addition and subtraction, etc), it is sometimes acceptable to play until one team makes 13 more books than their opponent.

Scoring is complicated.

At the beginning of each game, each team will place a bid for how many books they think they can win during the game, based solely on the cards in their own hands. Spades uses a complex scoring system that awards 10 points for each book bid, and one point for each book a team makes above their bid. The game ends when a team reaches 500—except during a cookout, party, and family reunion situations, when the goal is usually shortened to 350. In situations with special circumstances (no paper, no pencil, the participants are too drunk to perform addition and subtraction, etc), it is sometimes acceptable to play until one team makes 13 more books than their opponent.

Know The Lingo

Spades comes with a particularly interesting set of jargon that you’ll need to know if you want to succeed:

Joker, Joker, Deuce: This designates the order of the most important cards in a game. Although “Joker, Joker, Deuce” is the most common hierarchy played, “King High, no Jokers” is the truest form of the game, usually only played by old Black men...

Make-em, Take-em: This is not just a Spades rule, it is common sense. If you win a book, it is your responsibility to rack it. If you sit there contemplating or hesitating over your book, someone will take your sh-t*, and just as in life, possession is nine-tenths of the law. You must be on point at all times and during all phases of the game. All you have in this world are your books and your partner. If someone touches your books, you have the right to do to them what you will...

Dime or Boston: A “dime” is when a team wins 10 of the 13 possible books. A “Boston” is when a team wins 13 of the 13 possible books. If you hear either of these words it means you need to concentrate on that particular hand like you’re taking the S.A.T. to be admitted into heaven. If you or your partner bids a dime, you are about to humiliate your opponent. Likewise, having someone “bid a dime” or “run a Boston” on you is not only a sure loss, but the equivalent of being castrated...

Set: The most disappointing thing in Spades and a valuable lesson—getting “set” means you bid too much, reached too high and failed. When one bids an amount of books and cannot make them all, the amount of the bid is subtracted from their score. Overbidding is the only way to lose points in Spades, but you can’t win if you underbid. If you are afraid of getting set, you shouldn’t partake in this activity. Just like life, however, getting set is not the end of the world. You just have to fight back.

Know your partner.

I cannot overemphasize this. Selecting a partner in Spades should be taken as seriously as choosing a husband or a wife. I proposed to my Spades partner James on a warm September evening at a church picnic, and we have been together ever since. Taking a partner is akin to putting another person’s life and Spades reputation in your hands, and should not be treated lightly. You will eventually have to learn the intricacies of eye contact, non-verbal cues and even a little light mind-reading together. The greatest Spades player in the world is nothing without a good partner, and an experienced partner can make a beginner look like a pro. Never take a random partner without watching them play at least one hand, and avoid jumping from partner to partner. Don’t be a Spades ho.

Never trust anyone.

A seasoned player holds the cards in such a way that doesn’t look paranoid, but ensures that no one else can see his hand. Watch the dealer, too, because he or she might stack the cards (even though a successful case of card-stacking has never been verified). Assume all your opponents are out to get you, and would stab you in the throat with a rusty Phillips head screwdriver if given the chance… because they would, if it meant they could stop you from “setting them.”

Leave your emotions at the door.

This is not a pastime for the sensitive, so if you are prone to having your feelings hurt, you should play jacks or double-dutch…. Part of the beauty of Spades is the vitriolic sh-t*-talking…. This is why I don’t play Spades with my mama anymore.

Know how to bid.

Like in life, Spades is not about which cards you get, it is about knowing what to do with the cards you are dealt. Bidding is the key to the game of Spades, and perhaps the biggest obstacle in bidding is the “possible.” How one bids the “possible” says everything about their character, self-esteem and interpersonal relationships... 

Never, ever renege.

Whether it is because of a genuine error or a cheating tactic, don’t ever renege, period. You would rather call your grandmother a whore… at her funeral… as you’re giving the eulogy. The love of God and all the prayers of the righteous can’t save you from the scorn that accompanies reneging. If you or your partner happens to renege, your only recourse is to rack the book and put it in the middle of the other books you’ve won before anyone notices it. If someone does notice it, tell them the rules say they must pick out the exact book, then tell them they are wrong—even if they are right. Never admit to a renege. …
This article and the other articles that I've come across online about Spades that are written by Michael Harriot are somewhat tongue in cheek (include some jokes that are written to appear serious).  

Excerpt #3 
From "How to Play Black Spades, Part 1" byMichael Harriot, 3/25/20 9:00AM
…"For years, The Root was asked to create a tutorial for our spades-illiterate readers but—for a number of reasons—we have never answered the call. The first reason was that we simply assumed that it already existed. However, after looking at Bicycle playing cards’ [ tutorial], we were shocked to discover that most of the spades-related instructions were sorely lacking the black perspective. First of all, they refer to “books” as “tricks.” What the f—k* is a trick?

The biggest reason that we resisted offering a spades tutorial was that we weren’t sure it was possible. Everyone at The Root knows how to play spades but no one could specifically remember being taught. I erroneously assumed every black person was born with the innate ability to play spades, season chicken and hit the exact notes on Frankie Beverly’s wail in “Before I Let Go.”

Well, we have a trick for your ass.

While this tutorial will not make you a “spades player,” it will teach you the basics of the black version of spades (which is a different version than the Caucasian version. White Spades is a game).**

**A white person once told me they “enjoyed” playing spades. Spades is not for “enjoyment.” Spades is about dominance. It is a conduit for shit-talking. It’s exciting and scary. Then again, white people love scary sh-t* like bungee-jumping and hang-gliding. Come to think about it, spades is black people’s version of bungee-jumping—You might get smashed or you might end up flying.

We’re gonna teach you how to play spades."...
This is the way this article was written, except for the abbreviated spelling for the curse word. 

…And—if you are really diligent, maybe someday you will be lucky enough to find the one thing we are all searching for:

 A true “partner.”...
The italic font was the way that article was written. I added the link for that Bicycle Playing  Cards website.
Click "How to Play Black Spades, Part 2: The Glossary" by Michael Harriot, 3/26/20. 

Comments from Part I and Part II of Michael Harriot's articles on Spades are included along with some other online comments in an upcoming pancocojams post about that card game . 

Excerpt #4

WARNING: This article includes profanity.

From "How to Play Spades with Black People" by Jackie Williams, April 24, 2018
Summer is almost here! Probably the most popular time for Black families to get together and enjoy cook-outs, family reunions and my favorite activity- Spades.

I’m being incredibly selfish with this post, because I LOVE spades, and nothing irritates me more than someone sitting down at the Spades table not knowing the rules of the game or worse, the rules when you play with Black folk.

So, I’m going to provide some much needed common sense rules on how to play spades this summer.

Note: This is for the Spades Beginner or Enthusiast who hasn’t played with Black people before. Learning how to play Spades is the easy part…here’s something you’ll actually need to survive a full game:

Rule #1: Do not play if you cannot shuffle.

No matter the family member, their politics, their age, what they did or didn’t do, everyone is invited to play. BUT, before you throw down cards you have to learn how to shuffle. Nothing is worse than getting a hand with 10 out of 13 cards from the same suite because you didn’t shuffle enough. You partner will be pissed. I will be pissed. Everyone will be pissed.

Rule #2: Joker, Joker, Deuce.

This is pretty common but the top 3 cards in most Black folk games are Big Joker, Little Joker, and the 2 of Spades respectively. So, if you forget the Ace of Spades doesn’t beat the Two of Spades, you’re in trouble… and likely going to get to set.


Rule #5: You have a maximum of 10 seconds to play your card.

We don’t have too many rules in Black Folk Spades, so we play fast. Yes, the quick decisions make the game go faster, but it also gives a chance for more teams to play.

Please don’t make the game unenjoyable by taking your precious time. Think on your feet and keep it moving.

Rule #6: Make Em, Rake Em.

I can’t say this enough. If you win a book you better take your cards, stack them into a pile, and put them on your side. If you don’t, I will rack them myself and add them to my books, since you clearly didn’t want it enough."

Rule #7: Talking Sh-t* is Mandatory.


Please leave your sensitive ears at the door if you’re thinking about playing at the grown folks table.

Rule #8: Winner Stays at the Table.

If you lose, please get your ass up from the table.

Rule #9: Have Fun (Kinda).

Spades is really only fun if you win. Just kidding. But seriously, most families are crazy competitive. So yes, get a drink and have a good time but don’t forget to have your game face on. Because we play to win."
*This word is fully spelled out in this article.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment