Brian Senior
Brian Senior

ADJUSTING THE COUNT:  Areas to watch for unexpected strength and weakness.

Quickly and reliably calculating your playing strength is the cornerstone of good bidding.  But good judgment is built upon this foundation through fine adjustments to your running estimate.

The following is from Hand Evaluations by Brian Senior.

Positive features – factors that might persuade you to upgrade your hand:

  • Honor cards in combination
  • Honors in partner’s suits especially in support.
  • Many intermediates
  • Intermediates in long suits
  • Having a five card suit or two four card suits
  • Honors in long suits
  • Length in the major suits
  • Holding aces
  • Honors in suits bid by RHO
  • No wasted honors opposite partner’s shortness
  • The spade suit when opening discourages overcalls by the opponents

Negative features – factors which might suggest you downgrade your hand:

  • Secondary honors in short suits, unless in partners suit: doubleton KQ, QJ. Qx, Jx
  • Honor singletons except the A
  • Lack of intermediates
  • Sterile distribution 4333, 5332, 6332, 7222
  • Too many jacks
  • Honors in suits bid by LHO
  • Honors in opponent’s suit
  • Suits headed by unsupported honors and non-touching honors
  • Excessive honors within suit fits
  • The club suit when opening allows opponents to overcall more easily

 Sources of duplication:

  • Honors in the same short suit as partner
  • The same short suit as partner
  • Secondary honors in partners short suits

When in competition (overcalls and takeout doubles):

  • Good suits are valuable lead suggestions
  • At least have a good suit if the overcall consumes little bidding space
  • Overcalls which consume bidding space can be successful but also create greater risk
  • Flexible distributions should encourage you to compete:5431, 6421, 6430, 6511, 6520, 7321, 7330

Which hand is better?

(1) 63 (2) QJ The same shape and honor cards, but hand (1) has the edge because there are more honor cards in the long suits where they will help to establish extra length tricks. Honors in a short suit may still win tricks, but they are less likely to help establish length tricks.
K83 AQJ
QJ84 K843
AQJ5 8653
(3) 98643 (4) AQ986 The same shape and honor cards but (4) is much stronger. The doubleton honors in hand (3) are not pulling any weight.  Either black suit in hand (3) would require partner to hold a number of honors, while just one honor would be sufficient opposite each of hand (4)’s black suits.
AQ 43
KQ 32
J832 KQJ8
(5) A84 (6) A84 If partner has three small cards opposite your diamonds the five card suit will usually produce one more trick.  After opening one diamond, rebidding 1NT and partner invites a NT game the long suit plus intermediates make hand (5) a game accepting maximum.
K5 K65
AJ1096 AJ109
1095 1095
(7) KQ8 (8) AQ8 The diamond suit in hand (7) justifies upgrading the hand by at least a point to 14, while (8) might not be quite worth 13 points.  Hand (7) is a clear NT game acceptance while (8) would be better to decline.  Following an inverted diamond raise hand (8) would probably accept a NT game invitation.
QJ5 QJ7
KQ1092 107643
85 A9

Points to remember and put into practice:

  • Keep these types of adjustments in mind and make it a regular part of the process of estimating the playing strength of your hand.
  • Stay flexible in how you think of the strength of your hand – continue to adjust and refine that value as the auction progresses.
  • Work at improving your judgment.Regularly review both failed and successful contracts looking to detect and correct these types of adjustments.  Again, hand records are valuable tools – use them. Seeing what works and what doesn’t will build confidence in your judgment.

HOW TO IMPROVE:  Developing and refining hand evaluation skill requires practice.  Trial and error with plenty of self evaluation, along with the attitude to remain flexible and open minded in incorporating what you learn.

Do not get in the habit of counting your high card points and establishing this value in your mind as the set value of your hand.

  • Be flexible:count points, tricks, quick losers, and projected winners throughout the auction.
  • Choose bids which communicate your playing strength and that elicit information that will allow you to refine your estimates of playing strength.
  • Have confidence that these measures are reliable. Most of the time you cannot accurately count the combined tricks.  Total point count is amazingly accurate and frequently more versatile than other measures.
  • But, we have seen that adjustments must be made as we discover additional information about the fit and mesh of our hands throughout the auction.
  • When your evaluation fails – you are either too high or too low – check the hand records and in consultation with your partner, review your combined step by step evaluation process.Determine what positive and/or negative points were overlooked.