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Hand Evaluation

High card points in bridge are used to calculate the strength of your hand and are the most common method of hand evaluation. For each ace in your hand, count 4 points. Kings are 3 points, Queens 2 and jacks are counted as 1 point.

High Card Points
Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

This hand has 15 high card points.

Knowing how to count your points is one of the first things you're taught when learning how to play bridge. Points are great for balanced hands because your combined point might be all you need to know when you're deciding to to bid game, slam or stay in a partscore.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

You open 1d and partner responds 1NT showing 6-9 points. You can immediately tell you have 25-28 points between the two hands, enough for game but not slam, so you simply bid 3NT.

Rule of 20 in Bridge

The Rule of 20 in bridge is a simple way to decide whether or not to open the bidding on borderline hands. A hand with a long suit will normally take more tricks than a balanced hand and you may already be familiar with the concept of adding points for length. The Rule of 20 combines high card points and length points into an easy method for deciding whether or not to open.

  1. Count your High Card Points
  2. Add to your points the length of your two longest suits.
  3. If the total equals 20 you have enough to open the bidding.

On the following hand You have 11 high card points. Your two longest suits are spades, 5, and hearts, 4, which equals 9 long suit points. Combine your high card points with your long suit points: 11 high card points + 9 long suit points = 20.

rule of 20 in bridge

Your hand is strong enough to open the bidding.

The rule of 20 is only a guideline, of course, and you're free to use your judgement in all cases.

I favor light opening bids. When you're my age, you can never be sure that the bidding will get back around to you again. Oswald Jacoby at 77

Adding points for length

High Card Points in bridge work best with balanced hands. A long suit can be more valuable than points alone would suggest so it's common practice to add points for length. Adding 1 point for each card in a suit longer than 4 can be a helpful adjustment.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

This hand has 11 HCP but nothing special in the way of long suits and not strong enough to open the bidding.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

You have 11 High Card Points again but this time you have a 6 card suit so it's worthwhile adding on a couple of points for the length in hearts. This time your hand is strong enough for a 1 opening bid.

Adding points for shortage

High Card Points in bridge aren't only about the cards you have If you find a trump fit then adding points for a shortage in a side suit is often more accurate than adding points for length. Try adding a point for each doubleton, two for each singleton and three for a void but be flexible! - If you have a really good trump fit then shortages can be even more helpful.

Now try playing the practice hand. With a void, determining our strength based on our high card points isn't sufficient.

It's almost like we're playing this hand with a 30 point deck! So, how strong is our hand, really?

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

On these next two examples, partner opens 1.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

This hand has 4 points and that's all. Nothing much going for it other than, maybe, the fifth club.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

Partner opens 1 and, although you still only have 4 points, your singleton spade means you might be able to score extra tricks by ruffing. It's worth adding on two points for the singleton making this hand worth a 2 response.

Notice that you also have a five card club suit so it's tempting to add on a point for length as well but it's better not to add points for shortage and length on the same hand. Before you find a fit add points for length, after you find a fit add points for shortage.

The Power of Tens

We learn to upgrade for length sometimes and for shortage other times. Adding points for tens and nines can be appropriate, too, specially on balanced hands.

After watching the video, try the practice hand. We only have 9 HCP, but doesn't our hand look stronger than that? Our hand has good intermediate cards. We don't count points for many of our cards, but they're worth something!

In the video above, Graeme is playing strong 1NT openigns, but for those playing Acol, think would you apply the same concept to how you would bid this hand.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

Tens and nines sometimes get overlooked in the bidding but, in notrumps especially, those high pip cards can be a big help.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

Bad. Playing in notrumps, whether as declarer or defender, this isn't going to be much fun.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

Good! Look how your tens and nine guarantee tricks. Maybe not a fun hand but not as bad as it would be without the tens.

Points working together

Can a Jack be worth as much as an Ace? Sure can!

Here's a hand from the video for you to play yourself.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

It's normally better to have your points working together.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

An Ace in one suit, King in another and Queen in a third suit is going to make a trick and maybe some more.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

AKQJ in the same suit is four tricks. The Jack is as good as the Ace!

Points in your long suit

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

The heart honours are working well together but they're not helping to establish extra tricks.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

Same 10 points but this time your points are in your long suit so the S32 already look like winners.

Points in partner's suit

For the same reason that points in your long suit are worth more, points in partner's suit are also extra helpful.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

10 points, good trumps and a doubleton heart are all good features but it's not good that we have nothing in partner's first bid suit.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

This is great! Same hand but partner opened 1♣ so the CKJ look like they're worth extra.

Understanding the importance of having points in your partner's suit will really help your bidding.

Here's a hand from the video for you to play yourself.

Hand Evaluation in Bridge in Bridge

Losing Trick Count

The losing trick count is a way of evaluating the strength of your hand when you have a trump fit.

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Educative always
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