ACBL21 – General: Counting                        Ward Trumbull

                                                                                                                   Feb 8, 2012

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      Some idiots and all good bridge players talk to themselves.  I don’t know what the mentally retarded are saying, but the bridge players are counting.  So you should learn (train yourself) to count.  On the road to better bridge, counting is the biggest obstacle because it is so complicated.  Declarers do it.  Defenders do it.  Even the dummy does it.  So let’s approach it step by step.  


1. Before the bidding


     A. Count your cards


         You should count your cards; face down before you look at them.

         Rather than count 1 to 13, it is simpler to count them in groups of 3

         as you lay them on the table.  The count goes 3-3-3-4.


     B. Count your distribution.


         After you have sorted your cards, review the distribution of the hand.

         The typical ones are:


                 4-3-3-3     4-4-3-2     5-3-3-2     5-4-3-1     6-3-2-2     6-3-3-1


         If you see something like 4-3-3-2, 4-4-2-2 or 5-3-2-2, you’re missing a

         card.  Look behind the 2 of clubs.  You’ll probably find the 3 of clubs.

         Nobody likes missing a game contract because partner never sorted

         his/her cards properly and missed an ace or king.  


    C. Count your high cards


        You all know how to do that.  But do you remember that count?  Many

        don’t after the bidding starts.





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2. During the bidding


     A. When you open the bidding

          When your partner responds, add his/her minimum count to your


          Example:  With 14 HCP you open one heart:


                         S - 9 7 4

                         H - A K J 10 5                          14 HCP

                         D - K Q J

                         C – 6 2


          If partner responds 1 spade. (6-18)              We’ve got 20+ HCP.

                                                                               We may have game.


          If partner responds 1 notrump. (6-9)             We’ve got 20-23 HCP.

                                                                               Probably no game.


          If partner responds 2 clubs. (10-18)             We’ve got 24+ HCP.

                                                                               Expect to be in game.


          If partner responds 2 hearts. (6-9)                We have 20+ HCP.

                                                                               You now have 15 points.

                                                                               Maybe a 3 heart invite.


          If partner responds 2 notrump. (12-15)         We’ve got 26+ HCP.

                                                                               We’ve got game.


          If partner responds 3 clubs (18/19+)            We’ve got 32/33+ HCP.

                       (jump shift)                                      We should have a slam.


          If partner responds 3 hearts (10-11)             We have 25+ points.

                       (with distribution)                             Bid game (4 hearts).


          If partner responds 4 hearts. (6-11)              Pass.

                      (4+ hearts, a void or singleton)        

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2. During the bidding (continued)


     B. When you make a takeout double


          Your takeout double implies that you have 13+ HCP.   Sometimes

          you don’t have the 13 HCP, but the double is still the best bid.  You

          must count the team points based on partner’s response.


  1.  If your LHO passes after your double, partner MUST bid, even with no points.


               Partner                  Team                       Comment  

              ------------                ----------          --------------------------------------

              0-8 HCP                13 HCP          Respond without skipping

              9-11 HCP               22 HCP         Respond skipping

                                                                  Indicating 4 cards not 5

              12+ HCP                23+ HCP       Cue bid opponents suit


  1. If however LHO does bid, then partner has a free bid and may pass.


  1. A free bid at the 1 level indicates 6+ HCP for a team total of 19+ HCP.


  1. A free bid at the 2 level shows 8+ HCP for a team total of 21+



     C. When you’re a passed hand


          There are 40 HCP in the deck.  If you subtract your HCP and the

          opponent’s (both of them) apparent HCP, the remainder is an

          approximation of your partner’s HCP.


          The following examples are for hands you passed with 4, 8 and 12



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2. C. During the bidding (continued)


          Example 1:


             RHO Bid         Your Bid         LHO Bid         Partner’s bid    

             -------------        ------------         -------------       ------------------

             1 heart               pass            1 notrump             pass  

             pass                     ?


             RHO HCP       Your HCP       LHO HCP       Partner’s HCP    

             --------------       ------------         --------------     --------------------

             11 - 15                 4                    6 - 9                  12 - 19

             11 - 15                 8                    6 - 9                    8 - 15

             11 - 15               12                    6 - 9                    4 - 11            


         Example 2:


             RHO Bid         Your Bid         LHO Bid         Partner’s bid    

             -------------        ------------         -------------       ------------------

             1 notrump          pass            3 notrump             pass  

             pass                  pass


             RHO HCP       Your HCP       LHO HCP       Partner’s HCP    

             --------------       ------------         --------------       ------------------

             15 - 17/18             4                  10 - 12                6 - 11

             15 - 17/18             8                  10 - 12                2 - 7  

             15 - 17/18           12                  10 - 12                0 - 3


3. Declarer during the play


     A. Count your winners and losers


         When the dummy comes down, as part of ARCH, you should count

         your winners or losers.



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3. Declarer during the play

     A. Count your winners and losers (continued)


  1. Notrump Contracts – Count only your immediate winners

Look at the top three cards in each suit.


  1. A suit headed by ace, ace/king, ace/king/queen, etc. – count 1 for each.
  2. A suit headed by king/queen is 1.
  3. A suit headed by king/queen/jack is 2, etc.
  4. A suit headed by ace/queen is only 1.
  5. A suit headed by king/jack is 0. (that’s no winners)
  6. A suit headed by ace/queen/jack is 2.
  7. A 5 opposite 3 suit headed by ace/king/queen is 5

                                                             by ace/king is 4


  1. Suit Contracts – Count only your immediate losers

     Look at the top three cards in each suit.


  1. A suit not headed by an ace, king or queen will be from 1 to a max of 3 losers (no more).
  2. If such a suit is 3 opposite 3, it is 3 losers.

                                           2 opposite 3, it is still 3 losers.    

                                           1 opposite 3, it is still 3 losers.

                                           0 opposite 3, it is still 3 losers.

                 However, in the HOW of ARCH, you might see that some of

                 those losers can be ruffed.  Many bridge players do not have

                 the skill to see those ruffs.


           Most players tend to under-count losers, a pitfall.  Learn to be

           pessimistic when counting losers.  Remember potential finesse

           cards must be counted as losers.





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3. Declarer during the play continued)


     B. Counting trump


          Immediately verify the number of trumps between your hand and the

          dummy.  Were you expecting 8 but only have 7?  Do we have a

          bidding problem?  When pulling trump, trying to count all 13 cards

          can be hazardous to your health.  Learn to count only the

          opponent’s trumps as they are played.  If you have 8, then they have

          five.  That’s only five trumps to count.


          When pulling trumps, it is imperative that you look at the opponent’s

          cards as they play them.  Many an easy suit contract has gone down

          the tube because the declarer missed it when one of the opponents   

          showed out on trump.


     C. Counting opponent’s points


          Another important part of ARCH is the review of the bidding.  If either

          of the opponents made a bid; you should mentally assign a HCP to

          that hand: that is, 12 for an opening bid of a suit, 15 for an opening

          notrump bid, 13 for a double, 10 for an overcall (might be less), etc..

          Now as you play the hand, remember where you assigned points.


     D. Counting cards in a suit that you attacked  


         In suit or notrump contracts, declarers typically go for tricks in long

         suits between both hands, such as 7, 8 or 9 cards suits.  If you have

         the top 4 cards in that suit, no problem.  If not, count-count-count the

         cards in that suit to see if the last card(s) left will be good.


     E. Count opponent discards


         An excellent line of play is to run a long suit to squeeze the

         opponents on discards.  In this case, when you have a second suit

         to follow with, count the discards in that suit.  Multiple discards by an

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     E. Count opponent discards (continued)


          opponent in that secondary suit may resolve a finesse decision in

          that suit.  Or they may set up the whole suit for you.


          By a slight stretch of my imagination, dummy is counting when  

          he/she watches for a renege by either partner or the defenders.  The

          declarer should be alerted immediately; so that he/she can correct

          the error. The dummy should say “No xxx partner?”.  


          However, do not alert the opponents of their possible renege.  Wait

          until later in the play when their renege is officially established; i.e.,

          they play a card in the suit which they earlier did not follow.  Then

          dummy can announce the renege.


5. Defenders during the play


     A. Counting partner’s HCP  


         Using the logic in item 2C above, count yours and the opponent’s

         HCP to estimate your partner’s HCP.


     B. Counting partner’s trumps


          Review the bidding to estimate the number of partner’s trumps.

          Remember, now you can see yours and dummy’s trumps too.


     C. Counting declarer’s distribution


          Review the bidding to visualize the declarer’s distribution.


              1) Did declarer rebid his major indicating 6+ cards?

                  If so, expect a 6-3-3-1, 6-3-2-2, 6-4-2-1 or 6-4-3-void hand.


              2) Did declarer open a major and then rebid another suit?

                  If so, expect a 5-4-2-2, 5-4-3-1 or 5-4-4-void hand.

                  Or perhaps it’s a 5-5-2-1 or 5-5-3-void hand.

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5. Defenders during the play


     C. Counting declarer’s distribution (continued)


          3) If the declarer ruff’s a suit, revisualize his/her hand, that is,

              count the hand again.


     D. Count declarer’s trumps


          In suit contracts, be sure to count declarer’s trumps as they are

          being played.  Some declarer’s pull too many rounds of thump and

          make themselves trump poor.  If declarer is ruffing a side suit, count

          his/her trumps and lead that suit at every opportunity.


     E. Counting declarer’s side suit  


          In a suit or notrump contract, if the declarer bid two suits, it pays

          for defenders to keep count on both of the suits..  Is that asking too

          much?  Yes, if you don’t ever count.  No, if you are trying to improve

          your counting skills.


     F. Counting suits when declarer/partner shows out


          When declarer or partner shows out in a suit, you have a

          complete count on that suit.  Don’t waste this valuable information.

          If it’s partner, recount declarer’s distribution.  If it’s the declarer,

          recount partner’s hand.


     G. Counting discards


          If declarer is running a suit in dummy, then LHO discards after

          the declarer.  Usually, LHO should discard the same suits as

          declarer.  Likewise, if declarer is running a suit in his/her hand, then

          RHO will be discarding after dummy.  RHO should try to keep the

          same number of cards that dummy keeps in a 4 or 5 card side suit.

          That is, RHO should try to discard the same suits as dummy.


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5. Defenders during the play


     G. Counting discards


          WARNING: However, as mentioned above, if declarer has a second

                              suit, RHO must try to keep long in that suit too.


6. Final words on counting


     Counting takes practice.  So as long as you’re sitting there with 13

     cards in your hand (you did count them didn’t you?), why not take a

     stab at it .


     To help you out: aces are 4, ………………………………………………..