A staple of social gatherings the world over, the card game Spades is a favorite for many because of the strategy involved in mastering the game. What’s interesting about the game is how it has become especially popular in the Black community. While the root causes of this may seem difficult to isolate, an in depth look into the game’s origins and rules may provide better insight.
Spades was created in the United States in the 1930s. It became popular right before World War II in Cincinnati, Ohio. There it spread to military bases all around the world, and eventually cookouts, college dorms, and shot houses all over. To date, the only meaningful contributions the city of Cincinnati has given to society is Ivory Soap, Bootsy Collins, The Isley Brothers, and the game of Spades.
It, along with Bridge and Hearts, is derived from the English game “Whist”, which was popular since the 18th century. It was a game of the serving class, rarely played by high class men and women, instead by hunting men and squires. Bid Whist is a slightly different version played more in the United States even now, usually by older Blacks that are referred to as “Auntie”, “Uncle”, “Grandma”, or “Grandpa” and are above average cooks who may or may not enjoy cognac and suffer from high blood pressure.
The main difference between the three games is the trump suit, which is chosen in Bridge, (obviously) spades in Spades, and hearts and the Queen of spades in Hearts. Proponents of Hearts are clueless why the game hasn’t gained fans in Black communities because of the importance of the Single Black Queen. Critics argue, though, that the Black King’s low value in the game could be the reason.
As a trick-taking game (which explains some of the appeal, as we love taking tricks), the object is to accurately bid the number of “tricks” or “books” a team possesses, then obtain that amount while simultaneously attempting to thwart the other team from doing the same. Now from there, the rules can change greatly by region, city, HBCU attended or prison in which one was incarcerated. The minor variations in rules, however, are not the reason Spades is so popular. The reason is the social aspect.
A game requires at least four people. Usually more are present to also play after, and/or observe your hand and give unwanted suggestions on how *you* should play. Often food, drinks and music are present, and many will be present just to socialize and talk loudly. And nothing is more important to a Spades game than loud talking.
Sidebar, but it is amazing yet confusing that when I Google image searched “Black people playing Spades” how…FEW pics there were of Black people actually playing Spades. Check for yourselves. What could be the cause of that? I know that we’re well represented on the Internet. Black Twitter has an entry on Wikipedia, plus there is Urban Dictionary and World Star. I’ll blame Miley Cyrus. If we get paparazzi shots of her at a card table maybe we could proper representation. Moving on.
Black people generally love to talk loudly and make a lot of noise anyway, so given a legitimate excuse, will likely do so. Arguing over a renege, threatening to “go to Boston”, warning opponents against over or underbidding, slapping cards down on the table or one’s forehead with intense force, all necessary parts of a Spades game. Combine the fondness of loud volume with adult beverages, food, socializing, and Bootsy Collins, it is clear why Spades speaks to the heart of the Negro Soul.