Managing to Count Hands

Lesson Notes

The Count

If you really want to improve your declarer play, aim to "count" hands. It’s a fact of life that you can’t move to the next skill level until you do this. The bad news is…it’s NOT easy. It requires a lot of concentration. But the good news is that practice makes perfect and these tips will help. 

What do we mean by “counting”?
It's knowing the distribution of the opponent’s hand/s by mentally remembering the cards they play to each trick, and therefore working out the defenders’ shapes. If you start trying to count a hand and then you forget or lose the count, leave it and start again on the next hand. Don’t be frustrated and give up, because the more you try the easier it will become.

As declarer, the most important things to consider are:

1)   Always count the trump suit.

As soon as dummy goes down, make a special note of how many trumps your side has.  Say you have six and dummy has three.  That's nine.  Keep that information stored away, but then focus mainly on how many trumps are missing and how they will be distributed. 

If you have nine, four are in the opponents' hands, and you usually hope they will split 2-2, but more likely 3-1, and hopefully not 4-0. As you play trumps, watch to see how the four trumps fall in the opponents' hands.

2) Some suits are more important than others.

It’s hard work to count every suit. With experience you will recognize when dummy comes down which suits you need to count, the trump suit always, as already mentioned, and often your other long suit.

3) Remembering the bidding will give you clues in counting.

Let’s say West opened a pre-emptive 3. They are likely to hold seven of them. Subtract from thirteen the number of hearts you see in your hand and dummy. Then you know how many hearts East has. And Hold that Thought!

4) The best way to get a count is when an opponent shows out in a suit.

Make a mental note of how many their partner has or had. And Hold that Thought!

5) Counting will help you make the right play at the right time.

Try to play the "easy" suits first to get a count on the "difficult" suits. if you’ve kept a count as you went along it will often help you know how to play an important suit at the end.

The real trouble with counting is that sometimes we FORGET as we go along, and the more tricks that are played the harder it is to remember the distributions. Our minds tend to focus on how to play suit combinations etc, and we are sometimes surprised at the cards the defenders play, and we lose the thread of the count.  But practice makes perfect, so please keep trying on every hand. Success will be guaranteed and you’ll feel great satisfaction!


Resources

Looking for more information? These books will help you learn the basic skills required to play bridge. 

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