It's All in the Cards: Work Lessons in Spades

I grew up in a family that loves their card and board games. My childhood is filled with hilarious Scattergories blunders, riveting deliberation over Mind Trapprompts, and crudely-drawn Pictionary answers that would make for great Monty Python sketches, but I learned early on in life that a good game of Spadescan't be matched. Chock full of lessons about strategy, teamwork, and self-mastery, teaching the whippersnappers in your families to be Spades players is worth it.

So, pull up a chair and let's chat about developing a fine game.

Set the rules. No two Spades games are alike. Lay the groundwork for a good game by making sure that all players are aware of the rules. Don't play with the red deuces (two of hearts / diamonds)? Take 'em out. How many books are taken from a team if they renege? Hash out a mutually agreed upon number and collect accordingly. Does the first hand bid itself (the books that are taken are won without the teams declaring them beforehand)? Make sure those tidbits are communicated before the first card hits the table...and make sure everyone agrees.

Nothing should be assumed. Make sure that terms are hashed out and agreed upon by everyone at the table. You'll likely save your peace of mind and your fingers. It's impossible to gauge success if you're unfamiliar with the goal and markers that signify success.

Pandemic and Axis and Allies are other great games for strengthening one's collaborative and strategic muscles.

Get in working order. The cards have been shuffled, cut, and are about to be dealt. You'll soon have thirteen opportunities in your hand - and you'll need to work with your partner's thirteen to defeat twenty-six unseen rivals acting under your opponents' direction. I'm a planner, so I rearrange my cards as they're dealt by alternating suit (red, black, red, black) in ascending order. When it comes time to take a book or take a fall (so my partner can win the hand), I can easily get to the one I need to play without telegraphing the rest of what I'm working with. Because I've integrated cards as they were dealt, I developed an ability to discern the advantages of a card within the context of my entire hand and can temper my playing style so it's in line with what I'm working with.

No one should be more familiar with your arsenal than you. All might be fair in love and war, but sloppiness and an inability to strategize are unacceptable at the table.

1010! is a great Android app for developing strategic skills.

Make your mark. A standard deck will have two Jokers. If your table decided to play with them, you'll need to differentiate between two amazing cards. Moreover, knowing when to use the big Joker's firepower without wasting it will be a skill that will always serve you. I've been playing for almost twenty years - and I still can't help but grin when I happen to get both of them.

Here's the kicker: a good player knows how to use a Joker aptly; a great player knows how to wield a numbered diamond to get the job done. While Jokers are great, if they are the only spades in your hand, be well aware of the degree of firepower at your disposal...and what can happen if you use a hatchet to do a surgeon's job.

There is a difference between talents at your disposal and your skills with the most firepower - learn to identify the difference and apply your abilities in ways that will serve you well.

Crossy Road and Ticket to Ride (an Android app and board game) are great for figuring out when (and where) to strike.

Tipping and talking points. Even though you have a partner, only you can play your cards. As with all things in life, it's important to maintain the integrity of your hand. One of the most strictly-enforced rules is about "talking across the table". Explicitly conveying information about your hand to others at the table (usually one's partner) will make you persona non grata and for good reason - it's interpreted as either the missteps of a novice or the conniving habit of an untrustworthy player.

While working with others is inevitable (and energizing for some personalities), the integrity of your hand (and your ability to play it) rests squarely on your shoulders. The best teams are comprised of members that are individually skilled and strong, and that workplace harmony is a language all its own. Learn to speak your own language so you can converse well with others.

Monument Valley is another great Android app for developing a great solo game.

Flying blind. Snags in the plan are inevitable, but there are valuable lessons to be picked up during times of struggle. You may have a problem of Herculean proportions to solve, but how you overcome is as important as the solution itself. If you're 100 points behind in a game of Spades, you and your partner can choose to go "Blind 6" before cards are dealt in hopes of earning 120 points. You won't know what you're being dealt, but learning to adapt strategies and work with others (who are also flying blind) will hone your skills and make for great stories.

I once took a position and requested a workload that included programs in need of the most TLC - in hopes of rehabilitating them and coming out all the more impressive in the wash. Become familiar with tension, but do not make a home out of disadvantage. Being on good terms with tension will keep you from being paralyzed by fear and refusing to make a home of disadvantage will keep you from developing an underdog narrative.

One of the highest virtues associated with having persevered is having a great story once you come out the other side.

Shadows Over Camelot is fantastic for learning to work with others toward a goal in spite of formidable foes you'll meet along the way.

Nada, rien, nyet. You can earn a bonus 100 points for successfully completing a round without making one book - but it is a decision that must be made wisely. Going nil will mean tailoring your playing style to complement that of your partner while also playing against your opponents. Some of my most thrilling hands have been played with a number of aces and spades...ultimately pulled off without taking a single book.

You will not always be the big boss making all the decisions. At some point in your career, some aspect of your role will need to be subject to a marketing team, your CEO's vision, or time (or technological) constraints during everyday goingson. Rolling with the punches is an important ability to cultivate, but no one should ever find you without the temerity to play within those constraints well. Remember: the game might not be of your design, but your cards will always be your own.

Uno and Chutes and Ladders are great games for learning how to appreciate minimalism and roll with the punches.

Closed books. Once a book (a total of four cards from all players) is closed, it should not be opened. Some tables even charge a book to reopen the last round (if they allow it at all). Much like I mentioned in Tipping and talking points, table etiquette expects each player to pay attention and keep up with the pace of the game...and as with all things in life, timing is everything.

If you're not paying attention, you can play out of turn (betraying your team's strategy by showing one or both opponents what you intended to play), or play off suit (causing you to renege and cost your team no fewer than three books) - both of which are criminal offenses.

Games that will up your timing and attention game include Ready Steady Bangand Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Reneging. If you polled serious Spades players, they'd tell you that reneging is the most horrendous of all the blunders. It is a mark of some of the worst table behavior - lack of attention, lack of familiarity with the cards in one's hand, and a reason to give your opponents three valuable books. They'd also tell you that they've committed that sin at some point in their playing career.

Failure is inevitable, mon amie. You will misspell someone's name, you will miss a deadline and find yourself churning out an apologetic email throwing yourself on the recipient's mercy at some point in your career. It's alright. It happens to the best of us.

Pay the price. Regroup. Finish the game.

There is no shame in being down, only staying there and building a narrative around it. It's useless at the table and useless at life.

Don't Touch the Spikes and Episode - Choose Your Story are great Android apps for learning to avoid the mistakes you made before...and building a narrative of your own making.

Kids, life is for the living. Get out there - immerse yourself in the thick of things and build a career on the skills and narrative of your choosing. Many thanks to my family for making this only child more disciplined, reflective and exacting through games.