Hand Evaluation

By Linda Lee

I love thinking about hand evaluation. When we start out playing bridge it seems so very simple:

Add up your high card points 1, 2, 3, 4.

Then add up your distribution points. When I learned to play we counted shortness points:

3 for a void, 2 for a singleton and 1 for a doubleton.

Did I have 13 points in total? If I did I could open the bidding. Now beginners often learn to count length points adding an extra point for long suits, one for the fifth card and one more for each other card. That seems simple enough and it is beautifully easy to explain. Those extra little cards take tricks eventually, just like the aces and kings.

In fact, if you look at the arithmetic generally both methods will give you the same answer. When you have long suits you have to have short suits. So if you start with 4-3-3-3 (no distribution) and add a card to the four card suit you have to take one away from a three card suit and in both methods you have one distribution point. However, since the long card counting method does not give you extra points for extra four card suits you don’t get any extra points for being say 5-4-2-2. So here there is a difference since the short suit counters consider this worth more than 5-3-3-2 and the long suit counters don’t.

Does this all matter? I don’t think so. There are so many more things that go into hand evaluation that a point or two for distribution just doesn’t cut it. So it seems to me that if you find it easier to explain long suit counting or you feel short suit counting gives you a more accurate result, it?s up to use as a teacher.

When I evaluate a hand I look at a lot of other things. I think today most bridge players are opening weaker and weaker hands. It is a big advantage to open the bidding; it’s safer and it uses up the opponents space, if they have some cards. Playing in a championship our side did not open a hand with a hand that looked something like this and it cost up a game swing:

♠ 52 AQ1043 76 ♣ A32

Our side can make 4. The opponents bid up to four of a minor and played it there. We never entered the auction. Partner was 5-5 in hearts and clubs with theJ7652 and ♣KQ1076 and just didn’t have the strength to enter the auction vulnerable.

Some things I look for in marginal hands are:

  • Aces and kings are worth a lot more than queens and jacks, the point count system does not treat them fairly. The original point count system was designed to be simple not accurate and it treats the top honours unfairly.
  • Honours placement is important. Having honours in long suits is more valuable than the same honours in short suits and putting honours together is stronger than honours separated.
  • Spot cards especially 10’s have value especially in long suits.

So the hand shown above is a lot better than this hand even though it has the same high card points and an identical distribution.

♠ A2 76543 K6 ♣ QJ2

I think it is pretty obvious that although this hand has the same number of high card points it is much worse than the first hand. You would never think about opening this hand. So I think it is important to treat these hands differently.

When I have very distributional hands I like to count losers. Yesterday I held:

♠ 4 AKQ982 AK1054 ♣ 3

How good is this 16-point hand? Very, very good. I have 3 losers. I expect to make 4 hearts with almost no help from partner. Here is what happened to me. My right hand opponent bid 3♠. I bid 4. This went pass, pass, 4♠. What would you do now? I bid 5 and wouldn’t you know it, partner had enough to bid 6. Here was his hand:

♠ 62 J1073 62 ♣ AK9652

Wonderful partner! So here we could make slam quite easily and we only had 24 high card points.

Of course, all of this is not for beginners. It is part of the fun of learning and developing your bridge skills. Hand evaluation is a challenge for beginners and experts too. It’s part of why bridge is so much fun.