Hand evaluation and re-evaluation

Many bridge players never get beyond counting their points, especially those who do not attend a proper course of lessons. Those who have may well be familiar with all the following. In the universally used points system, aces and kings are undervalued and queens and jacks are overvalued. An ace-less hand should have a pt deducted in assessing its value, and hands full of Qs and Js and no other honour cards should also be initially valued less than the pts total. 10s and 9s supporting other honour cards increase the value of the hand. For example KQxx Jxx QJx QJx is an ace-less flat hand, and in first or second positions it is probably better to pass, than to open 1NT.

Consider this hand: AK6532 AK7652 void A. 18pts. The majority of inexperienced players would open 1 spade or 2. If partner has less than 4 pts the hand may well be passed out if you open at the 1 level. Better players would open an Acol 2 clubs (the strongest opening bid). A slam in s is odds on even if responder has a hand like Q84843 J9864  52 or in s with a dummy such as 84 Q43 109843 J82. A positive response to 2 showing an ace and a king, is more likely to be useful in a slam, than one with two queens and three jacks!

You often hear the statement “I could not bid partner, I only have 4 points”. Well consider this hand 873 52 Q97642 74. If partner deals and opens with any of these bids:1 // then you will pass immediately. But if he opens 1, whether your RHO bids or not, you are going to raise the suit. After a double on your right you might well bid 3 to make life difficult for the opponents! So there is a lot more to bidding than just the points.

2. Honour cards and length tricks

It is evident that honour cards in long suits are worth more than those in short suits. This is because you get more choices when to play them and they help to set up tricks with the small cards in the suit. The higher the contract, the more that long suit tricks become important. Example (i) AQ752 may make 4 tricks in this suit, whereas (ii) AQ7 is only going to make 2 tricks at best.

Voids and singletons do not make tricks, long suits do. So adding a pt for a 5 card suit and 2 for a 6 card suit is another way of assessing the strength of your hand. Honour cards in partner’s suit help to establish the suit for long tricks, whereas a void in that suit only helps if your contract is in a different suit. The worst hand shape is 4-3-3-3, even at no-trumps because there is scope for long tricks in only one suit

 Consider these three hands: A83 K65 QJ84 K104  (ii) A86 K6 QJ84 K1063 (iii) A86 K6 QJ843 K103 All three contain the same number of points, but the potential for length tricks is greater with hands (ii) and (iii)

3. Suit combinations

Look at these same suit combinations

(i) K63             842 with this combination the chances of making a trick is 50%

(ii)Q75             643 with this the chances of making a trick is 25%

(iii) KQ3          752 with this the chances of making a trick is 100%, you may make 2 tricks.

Putting this into practice: QJ8  KQ87 945 AQ3 is a better hand  than AJ8  K873 Q94 KJ4. It is usually better when the honour cards are in combination or only have one missing honour between them. A hand with no touching honour cards is less powerful than one with the same number of points but with touching honours. KQ5 862 QJ86 KQ9 is a better hand than A85 Q96 KJ52 K65 because in the first hand 3 suits have touching honours, whereas none of the suits in the second hand have this.

4. Bidding

The rule of 20 provides a useful guide to opening the bidding in a suit, though some hands meeting the rule should be passed. Consider these two hands A98543 6 A75432 void, only 8 pts but surely worth an opening bid,  (1, or perhaps better a weak two in s?) whereas AJ Q9653 K5 J642 with 11 pts is not. Both meet the rule of 20 but the trick taking potential of the first is far better than the second. A third example: KQxxxx x AQxxx x 11pts, easily meets the rule of 20 and is worth around 14pts, because the honour cards are all in the two long suits. The hand is almost worth a reverse bid (i.e. open 1 and then jump in s) provided you intend to play in s and avoid NTs.

5. The Losing Trick Count

This device applies to supporting partner in a suit contract, it does not apply to NT hands. It is a far better way to determine the level of the contract compared with raising on points alone. First you count your losers as follows: For each suit, the number of losers is a maximum of 3, or the number of cards in the suit, whichever is the smaller. Then deduct 1 loser for every A,K or Q in the suit. Look at this hand for example 10832 A93 A72 A54 it has 9 losers, 2 in three suits and 3 in the suit. The previous hand has only 4 losers, 1 in the two long suits and 1 each in the short suits, but has 1 pt less than the hand above.

If you are going to raise partners suit, then with 7 losers raise to the 4 level, with 8 losers raise to the 3 level, and 9 losers raise to the 2 level. Be aware that using losers for slam bidding is flawed, and can leave you with two losers but 12 “winners”.

A much fuller version of the LTC is found under “Useful Conventions” in the INFO panel

6. The aces and spaces hand. Should you open 1NT with 7532 A63 A72 A54? After 3 passes, definitely yes because partner is likely to hold on average 9 pts. Vulnerable against non-vulnerable, first in hand, a pass is not likely to cost, especially at teams. You take a view. Third in hand you risk being doubled by the fourth player, and this could be expensive. Consider these three 13pt hands, which would you prefer to hold and open 1NT? (i)9843 J73 AJ6 AQJ or (ii)A1094 J73 J63 AQJ or (iii)A1095 QJ4 J64 AJ9, and it is evident that hand (iii) is the better hand, because the hearts and spades, both combine better. This following hand only contains 11pts but should  be opened 1NT: K109 Q1096AJ10 J97 especially when non-vulnerable.

7. When partner has opened, or bid a suit you can support, an 8 card fit increases the value of the combined hands and more so, four-card fits in two suits increases the value even further. Consider this hand: QJ1075 3 QJ1042 K6. If partner opens 1 and you respond 1, when partner re-bids 2 you are surely going to bid to game. On the other hand, if opener merely re-bids 2, then pass. You may miss a diamond contract, but bidding 2 could get you far too high. Your 9 pts has a different value according to partner’s re-bid.

Responding to a pre-emptive bid

Consider this 13-HCP hand: A62 A853 J54 A86 and compare it with this 17 pt monster: K7 KQJ95 KQ10 K97. If partner opens 3 and you hold the first hand, 3NT is an easy response, with an expectation of 7 tricks in clubs and two side aces. Whereas the second hand as dummy could easily lose the first 5 tricks and more on a spade lead. You are still going to bid over partner’s pre-empt, but may well get too high with this ace-less hand.

In a suit contract an extra trump (a 9 card fit) is worth an extra pt. Also Kx or Qx in partner’s second suit greatly increases the trick making potential of the hand. When partner has re-bid a major suit at the 3 level (showing 6 cards and around 16pts), either of these two above holdings in the trump suit would provide a raise to game with 5 pts outside the trump suit in your hand. Should partner open 1, then you should raise to 4 with this hand xxxx AQxx KQxx x only 11pts but the fit plus the singleton, plus the side suits with their honour concentration, makes it worth at least 14pts.

8. Weak twos in the majors

These a pre-emptive bids, showing a 6 card major suit and usually between 6-10pts. Hand patterns of 6-4-3-0; 6-4-2-1; and 6-3-3-1 are the stronger patterns, whereas 6-3-2-2 is much weaker, so caution is advised if you open 2 with a 6-3-2-2 pattern and less than 8 pts. If you are not likely to gain the contract, do not open 2 with a poor major suit like 964 1086542AK Q9. If you open 2  and the opponents win the contract, a  lead from partner could be disastrous. Partner with say K3 would probably lead the K. Far better to open 2 with KQ10653 in the suit.(Most opponents use “double” for a take-out, so provided the double is not left in for penalties you may escape without serious damage on a poor hand)

9. Texture: Texture is less exact than HCP or length, but is equally important. Texture considers the value of intermediate cards in your suits: 10’s, 9’s and 8’s in suits of 4 or more cards. Such cards count even more in support of suits with honours, especially touching honours. Example: KJ9 counts 4 HCP, but might not take any tricks, while QJ10 counts only 3 HCP but is a sure trick. Subtract 1 or 2 points for poor texture and add 1 or 2 points for good texture. Look at these two holdings in the same suit (i)AJ1098 vs. (ii)AJ432 . Clearly (i) is better than (ii) because of the reinforcing by the 1098 cards

10. Position: you hold K3 in spades. If spades are bid on your right, you have a useful holding, but if they are bid on your left, you need to down grade your hand accordingly.So in a competitive auction, the position of your honours with respect to the opponent's bidding can be very important in valuing your hand

11. Hand re-evaluation

One of the commonest maxims is “one up, shut up”, but unfortunately this leads to a number of missed games. You open 1 and partner responds 2. Remember that occasionally partner will only have 3 cards in the major suit, how do we decide whether to try for game? Those who use losers as a method of hand evaluation, will then pass with a 7 loser hand, and you really need a 5 loser hand to jump to game. In general to make a forward bid, opener should have at least 16 pts. Trial bids are probably the best way forward, making a bid in a new suit that you want help in. The responder needs three factors to then bid game: at least four cards in opener’s suit, help in the “trial” suit, and a maximum point count. Help can be in the form of a singleton/doubleton or aces or kings. Make a trial bid, if responders hand needs only two specific cards to make game.

If opener holds AQ985 72 5 AQ1073, and responder raises your 1 to 2 then two kings in the black suits should be enough to make game. Note despite the 12 pts, it is 5 loser hand, so make a trial in s, that’s where help is needed. If instead opener holds AQ652 K32 Q5 A72, despite the 15pts you should pass.

Look at this mundane 7pt hand: A7 1098652 8 K943. As dealer you should pass, and then partner opens 1. Not being good enough for a response at the two level you bid 1NT. Then partner bids 2 how good are you now? Well you have a 10 card fit in s, your A reinforces partner's suit and the K is in a a useful side suit. Actually a 7 loser hand in s You would raise partner to 4. Supposing instead you had held 75 Q98652 A8 Q95, now your chances of making 10 tricks in s is much lower, 1 more pt, same number of losers, but your hand does not reinforce partners suit, and the suit could be a source of losing tricks. Basing your bids on points or losers is only part of hand evaluation

12. Supporting responders major suit

Opener bids 1 and responder bids 1, with opener then bidding 2. How should responder now proceed? If the hand is completely balanced, then look at your hand as if opener had opened 1NT, and if you would have bid game, then do so. For unbalanced hands a “rule” of 19-20 is useful. Responder adds together the length of the two longest suits and the number of pts, and bids game, if it is equal to or more than 20pts. When opener raises responders suit to the three level, responder should bid to game with as few as 6 pts, outside the trump suit, with a shortage in an un-bid suit i.e. a “rule” of 16.

When opener makes a jump re-bid at the three level especially in a major suit, even a bare K or Q in the suit solidifies the suit, but you still need some values elsewhere for game.

13. Ruffing in the long trump suit gains no tricks per se, and is a common error by less experienced players. Ruffing in the shorter trump suit (usually dummy) always gains tricks. It is a maxim that if dummy does not hold 4 trumps you should look at dummy’s shortest suit to play before drawing trumps. Of course you may need to ruff in the long trump suit to prevent opponents from scoring tricks to help establish dummy’s long suit for later discards. If you have a 3 card fit for partner’s suit and a singleton/doubleton in a side suit, then your hand as dummy is normally worth an extra trick. So if you play that  an opening bid in a suit is at least 5 cards, then with 6-9 pts and 3 cards in s it is better to bid 2 rather than 1NT, especially if you hold a side suit doubleton.

14.Re-evaluation in Competition.

Once opponents enter your auction, the meanings of many of your bids may change. Some responses will become unavailable to you because opponents have taken up bidding space. (1–3– ?) But some responses will become available that were not before e.g. the negative double, a redouble and cue bids. In competition, the flatter your hand the more you should want to defend rather than declare, and vice versa. With a fit, and especially a double fit or a fit and a side suit of some length, compete strongly.


Eddie Cirket and John Howes both made important contributions to this article. I have drawn on books written by Brian Senior and Tony Forrester and others and the EBU and Mr Bridge magazines