Tip #12 - Hand Evaluation



“But partner I only had 8 points!”

How often have you heard this, or expressed it yourself, when a game rolled in, but it wasn’t bid? The problem is usually with evaluating the trick taking capacity of the combined hands.


When I was learning bridge nearly 40 years ago I was taught to open hands with 13 points and that 26 points were needed to bid game. (This was using a system where 1NT opening was made on 16 to 18 points.) In suit bids points for shortages could count towards the points required. Opener could count 3 points for a void, 2 points for a singleton and 1 point for a doubleton. Responder, with support in opener’s suit, could count 5 points for a void and 3 points for a singleton and 1 point for a double ton. There are of course many exceptions to these guidelines, particularly when there is an honour in the short suit. These days this system of hand evaluation is still reasonable to use. That 8 points could suddenly become 12 or 13! However, there are other ways to evaluate the trick taking capability of the hands, one system of which is the losing trick count.


In today’s world hands are now opened a point or two lighter than 40 years ago, and game requirements are more like a combined 25 points. I now routinely open with 11 high card points when holding a 5 card or longer suit, otherwise with 12+ points. For a No Trumps game we are looking for 25 points, but for suit contracts I use the losing trick count to determine whether to go onto game or not. The losing trick count is calculated for each hand and the combined total is deducted from 24. The resultant is the number of tricks expected to be taken. For example if the combined hands had 14 losers then 10 tricks could be expected. Similarly, if the combined hands had 12 losers then slam could be expected, but first check on aces and kings. There is of course no certainty about these results, they are what may be expected on average.


So, how to determine the number of losers? This is done by examining each suit in turn, considering only the first three cards in each suit. Determine the number of losers in that suit, then total for all four suits. Anything below a Queen is considered a loser.

The number of losers are calculated as follows:


Nil              Void, Ace singleton, AK, AQ, AKQ

1 Loser       Ax, Kx, AKx, AQx, KQ, KQx, K, Q, x.

2 Losers     Axx, Kxx, Qxx, Qx, xx

3 Losers     Any 3 card or longer suit without A, K or Q.


Remember, we are only considering the first three cards in each suit. Also where the trump support suit is less than three cards, add an additional loser for each missing card. For example if have a doubleton in partners suit then add an additional loser.


Having calculated the losers in your hand how do you know what is in partner’s?

An opening hand can expect to have seven or less losers. A rebid at the two level confirms seven losers. A jump rebid in the same suit suggests a five or six loser hand. (No trump rebids are showing high card points). Reverse bids and jump rebids in a new suit are probably showing a five loser or better hand. Two Diamond and two No Trump openers could expect to have five or six losers and a two Club opener five or less losers.

What about responder?

Immediate support at the two level suggests a nine or ten loser hand. Support to the three level needs an eight loser hand. If opener has six losers then can go onto game. With a six or seven loser hand responder can go straight to game. With 5 losers investigate slam. Depending on the bidding, either of the partners can make an assessment for the contract.