This is the big question for both beginners and experts when you first see a bridge hand. Why do we add up high card points anyway? (4 for each Ace, 3 for each King, 2 for each Queen and 1 for each Jack). It's to evaluate the trick-taking potential so we can bid to the correct contract. But relying on high card points alone won't give us the true worth of a hand. Even with high cards points, some people feel that aces are undervalued, queens and jacks overvalued, and 10's should be recognised more than they are. Let's consider some other factors that improve a hand.
Shape: Hands with long suits and short suits have far more potential than balanced hands. Value length from the beginning. 11 high card points and a six card suit (below left) is much better for taking tricks, in spades, than 11 high card points and 4333 (below right). Open the first hand (1♠), but pass the second.
♠ A K J T 5 3 ♠ Q J 9 4
♥ K T 9 ♥ K J 8
♦ 8 6 ♦ K J 3
♣ 9 5 ♣ 8 5 3
Long suits are good in no trumps too, so add for the fifth card. 14 high card points and a fifth card (5332) should make you lean to opening 1NT as this is really 15 points (below).
♠ K 8 6
♥ Q 7 6
♦ A Q T 9 4
♣ K 9
Short suits: (Doubletons, singletons, voids). Don't add extra for them in the beginning, because they won't improve your hand unless you have a fit. Wait until you've heard some bidding. If you had ♠Q74 and ♥2 and partner opened 1♥, your hand doesn't look good. But if the opening was 1♠, it's a different story as your singleton heart will allow you to trump losers. The more trumps you hold with a singleton the more tricks you'll take.
Two suited hands: These are great, because you can use one long suit for trumps, and set the other up. The Guideline of 20 takes long suits into account, when you're deciding whether to open borderline hands in first or second position. Here's how it works: Add your high card points to the length of your two longest suits. If the total is 20 or more, open. In the hand below, you have 10 high card points plus five for the spades and five for the hearts = 20. Go for it, and open 1♠.
♠ A K T 6 5
♥ Q J T 9 5
♦ 8 6
Where your high card points are: They'll take more tricks if they're together in your long suits. The hand on the left will take more tricks than the hand on the right.
♠ A K J T 6 3 ♠ Q J
♥ K 9 6 3 ♥ T 9 7 5 4 3
♦ 6 4 ♦ A K
♣ 2 ♣ J 9 7
10’s and 9’s: Having them in your long suits will help take extra tricks. ♠AK5432 is not as good as ♠AK10984. But if the 10's and 9's are in short suits, e.g. 1062, don't take special notice of them.
Aces and kings: (first and second round controls, called "primes", or quick tricks) are much better than queens and jacks. Be prepared to bid on with them, but be cautious without them.
Hands improve (or not!) as the bidding progresses. Bid more with fits, and be cautious with misfits as these hands are better in defence. The most important thing, though, is to ask yourself “Would partner also open this hand?” Being on the same wavelength and having a similar idea of what an opening bid of 1♣, 1♦, 1♥, or 1♠ would show is a decided advantage!
After you have played the hand, watch the walkthrough video. Click on the little box icon in the menu to change the video to full screen.
Want more information? These books will help you learn the basic skills required to play bridge.
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