This month's lesson topic has been Hand Evaluation an enormous area which is discussed non stop by experts around the world. Make your own judgement about the hands you pick up - ask yourself what's good about your hand and what's not. Naturally we all add high card points, but remember the other factors too... and be prepared to back your judgement even though sometimes partner might disagree!
Hand evaluation isn't based on any rule. There's no guarantee that on any particular deal you'll make a contract even if you do have enough high card points. Where the opponents' cards are, what the opening lead is, and how good the declarer and the defenders are will usually determine how many tricks are made.
The lessons have covered evaluating no trumps, the major suits, the minor suits and preempts. In each of these, the shape, which of course includes both long and short suits, is a big deciding factor for what to bid. Value for length from the outset, and shortages only when you know there's a fit. Whether you open 1NT or a major or a minor is based on the predominant features of the hand. A balanced one with a five card suit (and 15 - 17) is best opened 1NT.
With single-suited hands, you need to decide whether the hand is worth opening a one-bid or preempting. The strength of the hand is the deciding factor here...never preempt on a hand that looks like a one-bid. Opening one can show many hand shapes but preempting is only one shape - a long suit (and not many points).
Partner will respond based on how they like their hand too, and as usual, the fit is what makes us bid one more. Underbid with misfits carefully, but overbid with good fits. Your points are not as important as the size of your trump fit.
With minors, you try to end up in no trumps, but sometimes it's best to play in the minor suit. That's when you have shortages in other suits, and can't stop the opponents taking tricks in them. If partner opens 1NT and you have a long minor, generally hide the minor, and respond in no trumps. But if you had a very unbalanced hand, show the minor because it may be that 5♣ or 5♦ is better. Decisions, decisions.
Preempts are fantastic, but even with these weak hands with long suits where we purposely bid more than we think we can make, you need to watch the vulnerability, because if your bid is to work, you can't fail by too many tricks (assuming it is doubled) and give the opponents a bigger score than they would otherwise have gained.
Hands improve (or not!) as the bidding progresses too. Bid more with fits, and be cautious with misfits as these hands are better in defence. Sometimes you bid a lot with a little and at other times, a little with a lot. It's all to do with the size of your trump fit.
The most important thing is to be on the same page as partner. Ask yourself “Would partner also open this hand?” Having a similar idea of what an opening bid of 1♣, 1♦, 1♥, or 1♠ would show is a big advantage! Using and developing your own judgement will help you to grow to be a more successful player, there's no doubt about it!
When deciding whether to go one more, or to open, add high card points, but consider these factors;
Shape - Long suits and two suited hands are great - it's like having two trump suits.
Length - Treat these hands as better than 4333's, and add for any suit longer than four cards, from the outset.
Shortage - Short suits in dummy with a fit are gold -the more trumps you have there, the more tricks you'll make via trumping
Where Your High Card Points are - in long suits not short suits
10's and 9's - having them, in long suits is best
Aces and Kings - prefer these to Queens and Jacks
Fits - bid more if you have extra trumps for partner, regardless of your points
Shape - 4333 shapes will not play for extra tricks, and should be played in no trumps, unless partner is very unbalanced
Where Your High Card Points are - in short suits
Queens and Jacks - these slow values are better for no trump contracts, as they won't always take tricks in suit contracts
The Bidding - Your hand is worse if you hold e.g. Qx or QJx in the opponents' overcall, or if you're sitting "under" the overcaller
Misfits - Bid less if you have no fit for partner, or if you hold length in the opponent's suit.
Want more information? These books will help you learn the basic skills required to play bridge.