It’s hard to pinpoint why the game of spades is so popular in the African American community, but what we do know is that it has been a staple since around the start of World War II.
It started in Cincinnati, Ohio, and took off. People in every state or city have a different way to play, and it’s a given that spades games are likely to be found at cookouts, HBCU student centers, or wherever Black joy can be found.
For comedian, writer, and producer Clint Coley, spades plays a pivotal role in reclaiming joy that was lost, as well as how the rest of his year will play out. The Philly native started off 2020 with a home break-in that left him feeling unsettled. He didn’t want to be home much after that and began spending more time with friends. However, he almost lost one of those friendships over a spades game.
Anyone who is familiar with spades has probably heard or witnessed a similar story. The one thing most people who know spades can probably agree on is that the games get raucous and can certainly almost unravel relationships if people aren’t careful.
“When I tell you it got heated! I’ve known this guy for like 10 years at this point, and now I’m about to choke this motherf—er,” says Coley. “And then I realized that this would be great TV.”
That is how The World Series of Spades was born.
Filming began in February, and it will premiere on Facebook Watch on September 1, with 16 episodes leading up to the big season finale.
Coley developed The World Series of Spades as a professional way to play the game but also to introduce the nuances of what it’s like to play in the Black community—without anyone feeling like their life is in danger—and with streamlined rules.
“It gets very disrespectful—not like you’re at a barbecue or anything. This is a professional game, but we’re talking shit though,” says Coley. “I would say with the first episode, I think a lot of people were nervous. I casted it, but we all didn’t really know each other to the point where we can say, ‘Hey, your mom ain’t shit!'”
The setup involves two commentators, including Coley (who also plays), who will be intentionally wearing different HBCU paraphernalia each episode, a roundtable of four people from different parts of the United States, and a moderator. The rules will be set specifically for this game, but commentators will talk through how certain rules and lingo can be different depending on where you are.
For example, Coley explains that going to visit his aunt in New Jersey was a different experience from how he played growing up in Philly.
“My aunt used to call a book a ‘punk’ when we used to play. I would come to Jersey and play hard,” says Coley. “They played totally different rules, too. Like, when I would come up there, they would play big joker, little joker to a spade and that’s it. And they also played board, where they have everybody. That’s when I realized that everybody plays differently.”
The only thing most people agree on when it comes to spades is that not knowing how to play is just as controversial as losing, as evidenced from a 2018 viral Twitter thread where people felt brave enough to give their testimonials about not knowing how to play.
I learned how to play spades at 11 years old. When I fucked up, you would have thought I shot somebody! My "teacher" got up from the table like… pic.twitter.com/AMo6rA03uM
— Snark Master Flex (@Mr_Spann) July 7, 2018
Coley says he’s still working out what the prize will be. That won’t be unveiled until the championship game. The teams aren’t playing for money, because it would be weird if the creator paid himself. However, bragging rights as a spades champion—and on video at that—would never get old.
“I’m either thinking of a trophy or a championship belt,” says Coley. “A trophy would go on a mantle, and you can show it off, like you won a World Series trophy, or a belt like you’re a wrestler. But I also hope people who don’t know how to play learn how to play or have an idea of how to play and actually get some confidence to play. I hope they feel like this is something that they would want to participate in, and I would hope that this is something that they would want to continue to see and learn how other states play. I just want to show something positive in Black culture. Regardless of what spades has done to people and friendships, it’s still fun. And it’s something that we connect on.”