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Even before the bidding begins, each partner must evaluate his own individual hand in terms of it's potential for taking tricks in the play of the hand. So how should you evaluate your individual hand for the purpose of determining its trick taking ability & participating in the bidding? The most common method of evaluating one's hand is to use Goren's HIGH CARD POINT count, HCP. But this method alone is only really good for targeting the highest possible bid level of a contract in no-trump. It is really only a general guideline. Therefore, I offer here other methods of hand evaluation, none of which should exclude the others. In what follows, it should be noted that there are different terms used interchangably for the aces and kings. They are called: "PRIMARY HONORS", "FEATURES", "CONTROLS", "QUICK-TRICKS", "STOPPERS", etc. 1. Suit Quality. Look for sequences with touching honors. Observe how your high cards are distributed among the suits. Good suit quality is where you have a 5+ card suit headed by the ace-king & is important for no-trump. Do you have suits with top-down sequences or are there holes? If you have holes, no-trump may not be a contract to be in. 2. Count your NATURAL WINNERS. NATURAL WINNERS" are those cards which will or may take a trick in their suit , assuming a contract in no-trump. Determination of Positional, Sure and Promotable Natural Winners. Your greatest concern is the promotion & development of natural winners & the establishment of runnable suits in your hand & in partner's hand. In a trump contract, no card is guaranteed to be a "sure winner" except the ace of trump. Just because you hold a non-trump ace does not mean it wont be taken by a small trump card when the opponent is void in that suit. But were we to always be so pessimistic we would never be able to evaluate our hand. Therefore, we treat our hand as if we were in a no-trump contract & evaluate our high cards in each suit as being "Natural Winners", of which there are four types. a. Potential Positional Natural Winners are winners only if their would-be captor cards are in RHO's hand.. Example: Q96 <- Queen drop protected by 9-6 The Q is only a winner if left hand opponent does not have AK. For that reason it is only a POTENTIAL WINNER & not a sure winner. b. Sure High Natural Winners are Aces only. c. Length Promotable Winners (aka, Long Tricks/Reserve Tricks or Distributional Winners). Of all the hands at the table, if you have the DOMINANT LENGTH in a suit, then you may be able to run it. if you have a 7 card suit or more all in one hand, then you defnitely have a long trick (or tricks) in that suit, because there can be no more than 6 out all in one hand. With less than a 7 card suit, you may still have long tricks in a 6 or 5 card sui,t even if your partner has none in the suit, because you may stil l get a favorable split which would establish a long trick(s) for you. With a 4 card suit the chances are extremely slim to find the remaining cards distributed 3-3-3. But that does not mean it cannot happen. Example: 8765432 <- The deuce is definitely a long trick. Runnable suits are especially valuable in no-trump contracts, because once they are established, no one can stop the extra reserve of cards (ie, long tricks) held in the dominant hand from winning tricks, ("IF" the player gets in the lead that is). Normally, in a trump contract you longest suit will be the trump suit. But you may have a secondary runnable suit called a side-suit. In trump contracts these runnable side suits are also useful, especially for declarer, because once he has pulled all outstanding trump, he can run the side suit as in no-trump. They are also useful to declarer in helping to pull trump via a tactic called "the Coup" which is discussed later. And they are also useful to defenders in their attempt to defeat a no-trump contract or to tap the declarer out of trump in a trump contract. It should be noted that in considering the length of a suit, any promotable sure natural winners in the suit should not be sacraficed in promoting the length. d. Promotable Sheltered Sure Natural Winners. These cards are sheltered (ie, protected) from left hand opponent as described in the SHELTERED CARD principle. To determine if a given suit is of this type, we must seek out the "LOWEST PROMOTABLE CARD(s)" in the suit (if any) based upon the diminishing suit length. Example: QJT <- Ten is sheltered by QJ against the AK & a sure natural winner. Identifying the HIGHEST SHELTERED CARD. Starting from the top of the suit down, the highest sheltered card can be identified by the following formula: REQUIRED # Of Cards Above It = Required Protection = RP = ((16 - Value Of The Card) / 2 ) - 1 Where A = 14 K = 13 Q = 12 J = 11 Example: Given QJT is there a sheltered winner/stopper? Examining the Q, we compute RP = ((16 - 12) / 2) - 1 = 1. The Q is not sheltered. Examining the J, we compute RP = ((16 - 11) / 2) - 1 = 1.5 = 2 . The J is not sheltered. Examining the T, we compute RP = ((16 - 10)/ 2) - 1 = 2. The T IS SHELTERED. Example: Given KJ98 is there a sheltered winner/stopper? Examining the K, we compute RP = ((16 - 13) / 2) - 1 = .5 The K is not sheltered. Examining the J, we compute RP = ((16 - 11) / 2) - 1 = 1.5 = 2 . The J is not sheltered. Examining the 9, we compute RP = ((16 - 9)/ 2) - 1 = 3.5 The 9 is not sheltered. Examining the T, we compute RP = ((16 - 8)/ 2) - 1 = 3. The 8 IS SHELTERED. In addition to any sure natural winners (stoppers) in a suit, you may also find long tricks. IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT FOR ANY REALISTIC POTENTIAL LONG TRICKS TO EXIST, YOUR SUIT LENGTH MUST BE AT LEAST 5 CARDS LONG. Therefore, if you have a suit that is 5 or more cards long, you need only check for any sheltering in the top 4 cards, since you will give distributional credit for each card beyond the 4th card in length . In other words, in counting your natural winners, you should not count any cards beyond the 4th card as being sheltered, but instead count them as potential long tricks. This allows us to state this SIMPLE RULE: IF YOU HAVE AN 8 OR HIGHER AS THE 4th CARD FROM THE TOP OF A 5+ CARD SUIT, THEN YOU HAVE A NATURAL WINNER PLUS 1 OR MORE POTENTIAL LONG TRICKS. Another way if looking at it is to identify the LOWEST PROMOTABLE CARD. It is rather simple to identify our sure high winning cards, ie, the aces. But it becomes a little more difficult task to identify the lower valued cards that may be promotable into winners. It is at this point we come to realize that we must use our higher cards not just to win a trick or two, but to use them to eliminate the opponents cards that might capture our lower valued promotable cards. When it comes to identifying such "Low Promotable Cards" there is an important concept to know. I call it the "Lowest Promotable Card". Assuming a no-trump contract & given the length of a suit, it is possible to determine what is the lowest valued card that can be promoted into a natural winner. The formula for this is: LPC (lowest promottable card) = 16 - 2 X (Suit Length). Were we to calculate the LPC for each suit length, we would ultimately come up with the following table. Suit Length LPC -------------- ----- 1 Ace = 14 2 Queen = 12 3 Ten 4 Eight 5 Six 6 Four 7 Two 8 0 3. Culberson is an old abbrevited system for counting winners, whereby you counted your quick tricks, with an ace being one quick trick and a king being 1/ 2 quick trick. These asignments were based upon the probability of the ace or king taking a trick. 4. Count your losers. Although we started off by saying to count your winners, a more expedient approach is to count your losers. This is the best way to evaluate your hand, especially when you have very few losers, because you can ask yourself if partner might have protection for thise losers. Probably the determining factor in counting winners as opposed to counting losers is: a. If you have a strong hand, count losers. because there are fewer of them to count. b. If you have a weak hand, then count winners, because there are fewer of them to count. Consider the hand where you hold AKQJxxxxxxxx in one suit & a ten in another suit. You don't need to count your points to see if you have slam. (You have only 10 points.) In this hand. you have 1 looser ( a 1 looser hand) , and all you need to make grand slam is for partner to have the right ace to cover the losing ten you have in the other suit.. So forget your points. Many times you will hear a player say, I bid it that way not because I had points, but because I had a 4 looser hand. Ask yourself, "What are the possibilities that partner has the cards needed to cover my losers?" When you combine that question with the point range indications given by your partner, you can begin to see if game or slam is a possibility. Always opt for this method over counting points, if you can do so reasonably. 5 . Count your Goren High Card Point Count, aka, HCP. Over the years there has been an evolution of how to evaluate a single hand for bidding purposes. One of the first evaluation systems was Culberson's quick trick count system where an ace is 1 & a king is 1/2 quick tricks. Then Charles Goren introduced his High Card Point Count (HCP) bid point evaluation system where: Ace = 4 points, King = 3 points, Queen = 4 points, Jack = 1 point, Ten = 1/2 point. The Goren High Card Point Count System, HCP, has become the most universally agreed upon method for hand evaluation, regardless of bidding system. This method basically assigns relative probability numbers to the four highest cards (honors) in each suit, with 4 being the highest probability of taking a trick and assigned to the ace. Notice that 4 is the highest PROBABLE number, meaning that the ace will most likely take a trick, but not with absolute certainty. An ace could be trumped. Never-the-less, Given this evaluation standard, it's fairly easy to determine the relative value of your hand by adding up the Goren points and comparing them to the total possible Goren points in the deck, ie, 40 points. Even is you have a singleton king, queen or jack, you should include it in your total count. Don't fudge. It should stand to reason that if you have at least better than half of the total points, 20+, then you should be able to take better than half of the tricks, ie, 7+ tricks in a no-trump contract. 6. Examine your Distribution, ie, your hand's SHAPE. Notice, I did not say "count" your distribution. Distribution only counts when there is a fit. Before you count distribution, you want to be sure that you & partner have at least an 8-card trump suit between you or that you have all suits stopped for no-trump. If you are targeting a suit contract you can give extra credit for shortness, counting only voids or singletons, but not doubletons. If you are targeting a no-trump contract, COUNT LENGTH, not shortness, because your long suits will be tend to be runable. Give an extra 3 points to every card over 4 in a suit. How did we arrive at this? Consider the hand that has 13 cards in the same suit. Using GAP, you have 10 HCP. BUT YOUR HAND IS WORTH THE EQUIVALENT OF 37 POINTS BECAUSE OF DISTRIBUTION. How do we get the other 27 points from this holding? Taking away the top 4 cards, ie, the AKQJ, you have nine cards left. Dividing 27 points by nine cards means that each of the nine cards must be worth 3 points. So be patient! Then re-evaluate. Another way of looking at shortness in distribution is this way. If you have just one 5 card suit, it is not as likely that your partner would have support for you than if you held two 5 card suits. With just one 5-card suit, the chances are less than 50% that partner will have adequate support. But with two 5-card suits, your chances are now 50%. So, with a single 5 card suit holding and a void or singleton, don't count the singleton until you hear support from your partner. There is more incentive to count shortness initially when you hold a two suited hand, because there is a better chance of not having a misfit. But still I would be careful here. Finally, here is what Goren recommended for assigning points to shortness: Void = 5 points Singleton = 3 points Doubleton = 1 point. But in general, doubletons are worthless for setting up a ruffing situsation. 7. MHCP- MODIFIED HIGH CARD POINT COUNT - Experimental Evaluation of Distribution. If you are relatively new to bridge, this is not recommended for you to use. It is included here only for its future possibilities. The idea of this system is to give weight to holding the higher ranking suits. Notice that clubs gets 0 points, since it is the lowest ranking. Thus, a spade holding gets the most encouragement to bid. With this system, in addition to the 40 high card points, it is possible to have and additional 27 points ( 3 points x 9 cards). This is base upon the idea that a hand holding all 13 spades has only 10 HCP, but is worth 37 HCP. Besides your high card points, add points for distribution as follows: a. 1 point for each diamond that you have over the 4th card. b. 2 points for each heart that you have over the 4th card. c. 3 Points for each spade that you have over the 4th card. |