While used bookstores often have game-related books covering a wide variety of subjects, new book stores rarely have many selections beyond such staples as Chess, Bridge, and Poker. So when I found a book on Spades, it intrigued me enough to pick it up, in spite of the fact that I'm not a particularly big fan of the game. It's a fine game—it's just that when I want to play a four player trick taking partnership game, I greatly prefer Bridge.
The book is divided into twenty chapters, with a rather odd organization. After a brief prologue discussing the history of the game, the first chapter is a glossary of terms—without enough context for the glossary to be useful for anyone who doesn't already know the game. From there, the book settles down a bit, finally getting into some advice on bidding. What surprised me as I read the chapter was the lack of a structured bidding system, such as in Bridge. Playing PC versions of the game even infrequently, I came up with my own system; I was expecting a better one, rather than the overly complex suggestions made.
The chapters discussing nil bids are a bit more informative, on the whole, providing reasonable advice on the use of such a bid, and fairly good advice on partnering a nil bidder. The advice on the play of a hand is also solid, if not quite as detailed as I would have preferred. I suspect the chapter on finesses will be sufficient for the player unfamiliar with the concept, but since it's a technique so common in Bridge, I have a hard time judging this.
Where the book becomes most interesting, and unfortunately also where it veers off course, is toward the end of the book where partnership agreements and advanced examples of play are located. The play advice is reasonable, if mostly borrowed from Bridge; the bidding conventions are scarce, which I found disappointing but what really bothered me was the analysis of hands in the final chapter. While much of this analysis is quite good, there's one piece that is patently wrong:
The situation: East/West lead North/South 446 to 442. East opens with a 2 bid, South bids 4, and West also bids 4—enough for E/W to win. North bids 2. And he gets praised for it by the author. 2 is perhaps the worst bid North can make—the only thing to appeal about the bid is that it's enough for N/S to win if they set E/W. Of course, to set E/W, N/S must take 8 tricks, so a 4 bid would be just as good for those purposes. If both sides make, E/W win regardless of who takes the extra trick. And for E/W take enough tricks (10) to not win because of bags, N can bid 1 and reduce the penalty.
But if North bids 3, there is a significant difference—N/S now win if they take exactly 7 tricks, whereas they would have lost before. There is nothing for North to lose by bidding 3—but the author spends five sentences complimenting North for his actual bid of 2. That's poor analysis, and seriously detracted from my enjoyment of the book. After all, if I can find a analytical mistake with my limited knowledge of the game, what will an expert be able to find?
In spite of the bad taste the final chapter left in my mouth, there are certainly aspects of the book to recommend it. Having said that, I believe that an aspiring Spades player may learn more from a good Bridge book combined with practical experience playing Spades than from this book. But there is still enough material in The Complete Win at Spades for fans of the game to consider owning it as well.
- Joe Huber