I think success in duplicate bridge is in large measure based on good hand evaluation. It is easy to get stuck in “intermediatesville” and never lose the crutch of the 4-3-2-1 count. Knowing when and how to get beyond that is bridge’s great aperitif.
No analysis of hand valuation would be complete without hearing from Marty Bergen. He wrote a book in 2008 entitled “Slam Bidding Made Easy.” In large measure it is about hand evaluation. I had some e-mail correspondence with Danny Kleinman this summer and asked him about some of Bergen’s ideas. Danny is one of the great bridge theorists, and a world champion in backgammon as well. He said that Bergen is at his best when discussing hand evaluation. Bergen divides hand evaluation into three stages: (i) The Initial Valuation (these adjustments apply to both hands in before any bidding commences), (ii) Revaluing Dummy after a fit is determined by responder and (iii) Revaluing Declarer’s Hand after responder shows a fit. Marty’s approach requires a modest amount of study, but then if all good hand valuation only entailed counting to ten, we would all be experts.
Step 1, The Initial Hand Evaluation. Marty calls this “Adjust 3”, but you will notice that I have managed to divide the adjustments into 4 steps so we will call this first step “Adjust 4.” Adjust 4 applies to both partners and is applied before the auction. Start with your high card count and then:
1. Add your Aces and tens (positive undervalued honors), and Subtract the number of Queens and Jacks (negative overvalued honors). You ignore Kings since they are properly valued at 3 hcps. If the result is at least 3 or more positive add a point and if at least 3 or more negative subtract a point. If the difference is 0-2 no adjustment is necessary. (This is the “honor quality” adjustment).
2. Subtract 1 hcp for any dubious doubleton and/or singleton honor combinations like KQ, KJ, QJ, Qx, Jx, K, Q, and J. (the “wasted honor” adjustment).
3. Add a point if you have a 4+ card suit with 3 of the top 5 honors. (The “suit quality” adjustment).
4. Add another point for every 5 card suit and one additional point for each extra card beyond (The “suit length” adjustment).
All of these are cumulative, so if you have a 6 card suit with 3 of the top 5 honors, you count it as a 3 point adjustment. Two points for the suit length and one point for suit quality. Try these for practice.
(a) AQx, AQTx, KTxx, Ax: Hcp count 19. Add 1 point for honor quality (+3) (5 positve honors and 2 negative), one point for the quality of the 4 card heart suit and it adjusts to 21. Open the hand 2NT.
(b) KQJ, KQxx, AJxx, KJ. Hcp count 20. Adjust down one point for poor honor quality (-3), (one positive card and 4 negative cards) and down one more point for the KJ as a wasted honor, so it adjusts to 18. Open 1 diamond and rebid 2NT.
(c) QJxx, K, Jxxx, AJxx. Hcp count 12. Reduce one point for poor honor quality (-3) and one additional point for the wasted honor. Adjusted count 10. Pass.
(d) AJTxx, 3, ATxx, Axx. Hcp 13. Add one point for honor quality (+4), one point for a 5 card spade length and one more point for the honor quality of the spade suit. Adjusted count 16. Open 1 spade.
(e) xx, AKTx, AKTxxx, x. Hcp Count 14. Add one point for the honor quality (+4) , add 2 points for the 6 card diamond suit, another point for the quality of the diamond suit and finally a point for the quality of the 4 card heart suit. Adjusted count 19. Open this 1 diamond and feel free to reverse with the heart suit.
Well, you may think these Initial Adjustments are a bit overwhelming, but I have tried it for a while and they can be quite easily mastered. I am not smart enough to evaluate the correctness of Bergen’s methodology, but I feel quite comfortable in my belief that it is a better Initial Hand Valuation than you would get by simply ignoring these features.
Step 2. Revaluing Dummy. Once a fit is established responder further adjusts the Initial Hand Valuation to reflect the value of the fit. You can add to your Initial Hand Valuation (i) One point for a doubleton (ii) Two points for a single if you have only 3 card support but add 3 points if you have 4 card support and (iii) for a void, add additional points equal to the number of trumps in your hand. So if you have 5 card support, count 5 for your void. Not too different that the usual dummy point revaluation.
Step 3. Revaluing Declarer’s Hand After a Fit (Bergen Points). If partner supports opener’s suit (e.g.1 spade/2 spades), then opener makes a further adjustment to his Initial Count as follows: (a) add 2 points for a singleton and 4 for a void (b) add 1 point for 2 doubletons (c) add 1 point for each trump suit card over 5 and (d) add one additional point for a 4 or 5 card side suit.
If your combined adjustments now equal 33 points (as adjusted on both sides) you have enough to bid a small slam.
At last Friday’s Open Pairs game in Rochester, N.Y as East I held :
A72, KT762, J9, QJ4.
West held: KQ9653, void, AQ8, AT93. None vulnerable. Dealer North passed, I passed with the East hand, West opened 1 spade, South overcalled 2 hearts and I cue bid three hearts showing 10-12 hpcs and spade support. Join Marty in valuing the East-West hands.
East has 11 hpcs. The Initial Valuation (Adjust 4) would be one added point for the 5 card heart suit and one point subtracted for the worthless doubleton Jack of diamonds. No other adjustments, so an Initial Valuation of 11 hcps. A pass feels right in any system.
West has 15 hcps and gets a 2 point add-on for the 6 card suit and no other adjustments, so West’s Initial Valuation is 17 hcps. The one spade bid seems right.
East has a spade fit, so he needs to revalue his Initial Valuation for Dummy Points. That Jx that initially cost him a point, he now gets to add it back, so 12 Dummy points. Since North made a 2 heart overcall, I cue bid 3 hearts showing support and 10-12 Dummy Points.
West now knows there is a spade fit and must revalue the hand to reflect that fit. Don’t be impatient, this is the final adjustment. Initially he had 17 adjusted points, but he now adds back 4 points for the void, 1 point for the 6 card spade suit and 1 point for the 4 card side suit in clubs. So 17+6=23 adjusted points for opener. Our pair total should be 33-35 adjusted points depending on the size of my limit raise. What Would Marty Do? Probably bid 7 spades which makes, but if you bid 6 spades you get a top board. Sadly, we failed. Joe and June DeSantis were the only pair that got to the slam and a cold top. Congratulations!
Marty has 10 commandments for good slam bidding. No. 1 is “Never forget the magic of Voids.” No 2. is “Hcps are Not the key.” Have you ever looked at the Rodwell-Meckstroth convention card? In bold across the top is “ Frequent upgrades and some downgrades.” Do you suppose they are just lucky or are they doing something we are not?
I hope you find this valuation concept interesting. A more interesting question: Is it an improvement over what I am presently doing? If you are relying on “Kentucky Windage”, consider that with a room full of World Class players (BBO standards) , only one pair found this 26 hcp slam.