By Kitty and Steve Cooper

Before we continue with opener’s and responder’s rebids, let’s discuss an alternate hand evaluation technique that can be very helpful for your rebid choices: losing trick count (LTC) . Australian expert Ron Klinger wrote a whole book on the subject! While we do not recommend using LTC as your only form of hand evaluation, it is extremely accurate when you have a major suit fit. It is also a good method to use to resolve close decisions such as whether or not to open the bidding or bid a game.

Here is the technique; count the losers in your hand in each suit and then total them up. Losers are counted as follows: if you have a suit of three or more cards, all cards lower than the queen are counted as losers, but no suit can have more than three losers total. So the from the 4th card on in a long suit, do not count any  losers. Some examples are: 1) a suit of five small cards is three losers, 2) Qxxxxx is two losers just the same as Axxxx or Kxxx or Qxx 3) AQxx is one loser as is KQx or AKxxx.

What about shorter suits? With only two cards, the queen becomes a loser (but count AQ as no losers and KQ as one loser). With only one card, just the A is not a loser. So Qx is two losers the same as xx but Kx is one loser as is the king or queen alone.

Remember these are not real losers, just LTC losers as a form of hand evaluation. So how to apply this technique? An opening bid is expected to be seven losers. So if you have a marginal opener, look at your loser count to tip the decision. A limit raise is expected to be eight losers so if you have a close decision, use LTC to make up your mind.

Here are two important LTC numbers to remember. If you and your partner have 14 losers and a fit then you can make a major suit game. If your combined assets are 12 losers and a fit then you have a slam as long as you are not off two aces.

So if you have opened the bidding on a six loser hand like AQxxx x Kxx Axxx and partner gives you a limit raise (eight losers), your total is 14 losers so go ahead and bid a game. On the other hand if you have extra points but seven losers, pass the limit raise. For example, say you open 1S with Axxxx QJ Kxx AJx and partner raises to three. You have fifteen points but eight losers so pass. The hand is only barely better than Axxxx xx Kxx AJx which is a hand that would not even consider bidding a game.   

Another place LTC is helpful is when you have responded one of a major to partner’s opening bid and they raise you to game (expected to be five losers). If you have seven losers, the partnership total is 12, so bid blackwood or make a cuebid to try for slam.

One proviso, hands with low loser count but mainly queens and no aces are worth a little less than their LTC value. An adjustment to consider is to count queens as half a loser when the hand has no aces. Or use some of the downward adjustment factors from the first article in this series, but subtract half a loser instead of a point.

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