By Kitty and Steve Cooper

We begin here a series aimed at newer players, but hopefully with something for everyone.

First you need to evaluate your hand to see if it’s worth an opening bid. For this you need to count your points starting with your high card points, using the classic 4-3-2-1 count. Subtract a point for a singleton honor lower than the ace.

Next count your distributional points - add a point for every additional card after the fourth one in your long suits. This means that a five card suit is worth one extra point and a six card suit is worth two extra points. Notice that no points are added for short suits when deciding to open. Although we can use them as an adjustment factor, they are not a source of tricks unless we have a big fit with partner’s suit. More on that in a future article in this series.

Basic point count does not provide a complete picture. We recommend the following adjustments. Add one point for every two plus factors in your hand, and deduct one point for every two minus factors using the following table.

Good supporting intermediates Short honors
Shortness (suit auctions) 4-3-3-3 distribution
High cards in long suits Lots of queens and jacks
Mainly aces and kings No aces

Let’s look at some of these factors individually. 

If you are playing in 1NT, do you think KJ32 is worth the same four points as KJ109 when partner has two small cards? The first holding will take two tricks only 25% of the time, while the second holding is a sure thing for two tricks. This is an example of the importance of supporting intermediates.

Now let’s look at why short honors are a negative factor. Suppose you’re playing in one notrump and dummy has no entries other than ace fifth of diamonds. Would you rather have KQx or KQ? The lack of a small card means that you cannot run the suit; short honors can cause you transportation problems when playing a hand. Another problem with short honors is that they are wasted if partner is also short in that suit. Would you rather have AKx or AK when partner has QJ?

When the opponents bid and raise a suit you know you have just one loser in their suit with a singleton, but with a doubleton you expect to have two. At the beginning of the auction, therefore, you know a singleton or void is worth something, but the current system of counting points doesn’t evaluate it. Try using the plus factor adjustment to give shortness some weight.

If you hold a suit of J7652, you are not as happy to open it as a suit of AK765. That is because it is easier to set up a long suit when you have high cards in it than when you don’t. Also if you bid that suit, you will be happier when partner leads it if you have high cards there. Therefore having high cards in your long suits is another plus factor. 

The purpose of counting your points is to evaluate your hand’s trick taking potential in order to get to the right contract. The guidelines of 26 points for game and 33 points for a small slam work very well on balanced hands. For unbalanced hands, once a fit is established controls plus tricks are what really matter. Therefore more adjustments need to be made in order to improve the accuracy of point count and these will be covered later in this series.

Remember, point count is not a complete evaluation of your hand, use plus and minus adjustments to arrive at a more accurate hand value.

Good supporting intermediates    Short honors
Shortness (suit auctions)    4-3-3-3 distribution
High cards in long suits    Lots of queens and jacks
Mainly aces and kings    No aces

Previous page: Basic Bidding   Next page: Basic Bidding 2, Opening the Bidding