Paperless Spades - card game rules

Paperless Spades

Invented by Hugh Aguilar (

Spades is a good game, but it has some faults. It is cumbersome to keep track of the score with pencil and paper. Spades also has negative scores as well as positive. This prevents the game from being played in a fixed period of time, such as a lunchbreak. It can happen that both teams' scoress keep getting set back by negative games causing the game to drag on for a long time.

To remedy these faults, I have invented a game called Paperless Spades. This game has somewhat of a different flavor than Spades. Before delving into the rules, readers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the following games:

These are the rules:

  1. A set of games is a series of games played until one team or both has more than five points. Before the set, the two and three of spades and the two and three of hearts should be removed from the deck. These are the score counting cards (used similarly in Euchre). The captain of one team takes the spades and the captain of the other team takes the hearts. The three is set face-up on the table. The two is set face-down covering it. The two is slid away from the three to reveal pips on the three. When the score is over two, the two is flipped face-up. The total pips revealed denotes the team's score. A team that has exactly five points is said to be "in the barn", as any score will put them over. The score counting cards can't denote scores higher than five. The set is finished at that time so the team's final score (which is over five) should be apparent to everybody.
  2. The entire pack is dealt out, giving twelve cards to each player. Each player passes three cards across the table to his partner. The player can not look at the cards passed to him until after he has passed his own cards. After the pass, each player bids in turn clockwise starting with the player to the dealer's left. Each player's bid is for how many tricks that he personally will take. The player may also bid nil, meaning that he personally will not take any tricks. There is no double-nil or blind-nil. As in Spades, the team members' bids are added togather for the team's total bid. The second team member, after making his bid, should verbally state what the total bid is and if either team member has bid null. This is to help the players remember, as the information is not written down anywhere.
  3. The tricks are played out in the standard way. Players must follow suit if they can. If they can't, then they may follow with any suit. Spades are trump and can not be led until they have been "broken" (played by a player who was void in the led suit). The winner of each trick leads the next trick.
  4. After the game, the tricks taken by each team member are added togather and compared to the total bid. As in Spades, a player may bid nil, but any tricks that he takes in are counted towards the team's total tricks. The nil bid is a side bet and doesn't affect the comparison of total tricks to the total bid. It is illegal for both team members to bid nil, although each team can have a player bidding nil.

    The jack, queen, king and ace of hearts are called "honour cards" (we use the British spelling in honor of their game Whist). Scoring takes place after each game as follows:
      2 points for the team
      if the team's total tricks exactly equal their total bid
      1 point for the team
      if the teams's total tricks exceed their total bid
      2 points for the opposing team
      if the team's total tricks fall short of their total bid
      2 points for the team
      if a team member bid nil and personally takes zero tricks
      2 points for the opposing team
      if a team member bid nil and does personally take tricks
      2 points for the team
      if the team collects all four honour cards in won tricks
  5. Games are played until one or both teams' score surpasses five. This ends the set. Whichever team has the higher score wins. If playing for money, each point is worth some fixed amount of money (one dollar would be reasonable). The losing team should pay the winning team the difference in their scores. In the case of a tied score, the scores are reset to zero and an overtime set is played. An overtime set is finished when one or both teams score more than two points (rather than five points as in a regular set). As mentioned before, the two and three that were removed are used for score counting with the three covered up by the two. In an overtime set, the two is covered up by the three and the three is never flipped face-up. If the overtime set is tied, another overtime set is played.


Teams sometimes are dealt "bad" cards in the sense that not many tricks can be won with them. This does not affect the scoring potential at all. Unlike in Spades, the score is not increased by winning many tricks. In Paperless Spades, the team's job is to exactly hit their bid. Whether it is a high bid or a low bid, the score earned is the same for hitting it. A player who complains that his team was dealt bad cards can be refuted by pointing out to him that he could have bid accurately and scored anyway. The only really lucky hands to be dealt are hands that offer a good chance on a nil bid. As mentioned earlier, the nil bid is a side bet. It relies somewhat on luck and is risky to try for.

Typically, each player will pass to his partner his own worst (lowest non-trump) cards. He will also try to void himself in a suit so that he can start trumping tricks as soon as possible. If a player has more than three trump cards, however, he may want to pass the excess to his partner. This is so his partner, who may not have any trump cards otherwise, can trump a trick. This is especially a good idea if the player is long in some non-trump suit because this may mean that his partner is void in that suit and can trump it. If a player has prospects towards a nil bid, however, then he should pass his best cards. Presumably, his partner will pass bad cards giving the player an improved chance at a nil bid. The pass makes the nil bid more common in Paperless Spades than in the standard game.

Some teams may purposely bid low because they don't want to risk giving their opponents two points if they should fall short of their bid. This team will make an effort to earn points by collecting the honour cards. This strategy is an alternative to the standard strategy of trying to exactly equal the bid. Paperless Spades is made interesting in that it affords two strategies which the teams can choose between.

A player with honour cards in his hand is inclined to play them early, before the opponents are void in hearts and can trump the trick. Because there are only eleven hearts available (the two and three have been removed), however, the chance that an opponent is void in hearts and can trump the trick is increased. There are also only eleven spades available, however, so the opposing players may eventually become void in spades if the holder of the honour cards waits long enough before playing them.

Because there are only eleven spades available, no player is likely to have a very long holding in spades. This makes the development of a point-count system for bidding difficult. Such systems are largely based on counting trump cards in the hand. In Paperless Spades, relatively more tricks are won with non-trump cards. Note that Paperless Spades has artificially reduced the number of trump cards (by removing some of them from the deck). This is the exact opposite of games like Euchre and Sheapshead which have artificailly increased the number of trump cards (by making certain cards of other suits be considered trump cards).

I hope that folks will try Paperless Spades. I think that there is a lot of opportunity for skillful play here. I have gotten rid of the bookkeeping needed to keep track of the score in Spades. I have also reduced the amount of time needed to play a set and have made that amount of time fairly constant. Both of these improvements should make Paperless Spades more amendable to people who have a limited amount of free time for card playing. I think that if Phineas Fogg ("Around the World in Eighty Days") were alive today, he would be more inclined to forsake his Whist for Paperless Spades than Spades. My name and email address are listed above. I would appreciate a note from anybody who has comments on the design of the game. Even if you have no comment on the design, I would like to hear from you. Tell me where you live, where you play (office lunchroom, club, etc.) and if you play for money or not.

Last updated: 9th August 2003