Call a Spades a Spades

The origin of the card game Spades – my favorite card game – is cloaked in mystery. It was probably invented in the 1930s, likely but not definitely in Cincinnati, possibly by college students, and spread partly because it was passed from soldier to soldier during WWII.

Whoever made it up, it was thoroughly embraced by the African-American community (as noted in this hillarious essay by Panama Jackson at Very Smart Brothas, a website you should probably be reading if you aren’t already). I have occasionally wondered whether this was a coincidence, or whether it was something “discovered” by anonymous white people observing anonymous black people (“spade” being 1920s slang for black person, but also the relevant card deck suit). This is one of those mysteries I don’t have the resources to explore, much less solve, at least for the time being.

However, since I had the good fortune to attend a church and a high school that were as much black as they were white, I had many opportunities to play the game (with people of all complexions), in a particularly happy time of my life insofar as pickup card games. If I had a deck with me, I could pretty much count on being able to find three skilled partners, any time, any place, and probably somebody to sit on the sidelines and disparage every single player for being insufficiently good.

Black history month day 16, a salute to the many expert Spades players in my past. I didn’t know how lucky I was. I can teach other people the rules, but not the culture.

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