Very important article

Sunday, February 11, 2007 12:29 PM

Hand Evaluation - Quick Tricks
            Ely Culbertson had it right when Bridge was in its infancy. He said that an opening bid should have around 2 1/2 quick tricks. This standard , he said could be a benchmark for judging defensive capabilities of openers & general trick taking potential for competing , games & slams. In my opinion , quick tricks should be more than just a requirement for an opening bid. You should evaluate your hand re quick tricks for penalty doubles , forcing pass theory , T/O doubles , overcalling & balancing also. Learn to act on the quick tricks ,  you are dealt. All HCP’s are not created equal. Learn to hone in on your quick tricks for your Bridge decisions & not the “soft values” of your hand. Point’s Schmoints as Bergen is fond of saying for opening bids. Do not be a slave to counting up your HCP’s like beads on an abacus. Learn to evaluate your hand by looking at your quick trick combinations A, KQ , AQ , AK & Kx .  Advise partner of the quality of your HCP’s through your choice of bids not just how many HCP’s.
           13 HCP’s was chosen by Goren as a standard for opening bids because the odds favoured two or more quick tricks being present with that many HCP’s.  When your HCP’s are not aligned correctly in quick trick combinations , it is a “game time” decision whether even to open. 14 HCP’s is a must opener regardless of quick tricks as it is mathematically impossible not to have a quick trick & 99% of the time you will have at least two. Culbertson said game should be bid when your side had a combined  5 quick tricks. Goren translated that realization into HCP’s . 13 HCP’s with 2 ½ quick tricks opposite 13 HCP with 2 ½ quick tricks made game more often than not . Goren was in effect saying the same 5 quick trick message as Culbertson , but in a different way expressed in HCP’s. Milton Work invented the HCP scheme & gave quick tricks the highest rating of 4 & 3 for Aces & Kings. These prime cards allowed the timing & control to make game. When you are in game with the opponents holding these cards , they have the timing & control & your game usually fails. Learn to appreciate “quick trick “ combinations as queens grow up & take on their full value. AQx in a NT contract takes two tricks 66 % of the time. When partner has the king , dummy has the king & fails to take 2 tricks only when declarer has the King behind you. KQx is one certain trick & will be two when partner or the dummy has the Ace. Kx is a certain trick with partner or dummy holding the Ace.The "potential" of your hand increases holding HCP' in these card combinations & your hand is more useful to the point of becoming an opening bid.
            Let’s take the decision whether to balance. If you balance with “soft values” , you introduce the danger of balancing them into game. They bid again but this time they leap to game. Indignant that they were in a partial , partner doubles & that adds insult to injury as they make it. The culprit is that the balancer did not have defensive tricks ( quick tricks ) for her balance. Soft values are just that , soft for defense.
            The opponents are vulnerable & so are you. They open a mini 2 bid which shows an opener with a 4-4-4-1 with an unspecified singleton or void. Responder bids 2 non forcing so around to you. You hold QJx Jx Axx ♣QJ10xx so do you balance ? This hand is mostly soft values with only one defensive trick. Keep the same total of HCP’s , but change the values to defensive tricks so it is an automatic balance. Change the spades to the Ace & the clubs to a king and you still have the same 11 HCP & same hand pattern Axx xx AxxKxxxx but with defensive as well as offensive potential ( transferable values as Kokish calls quick tricks ) . This is now a double. The first hand I would just pass as I lacked the defense to balance. A pass shows the lack of quick tricks to take action.
            Balancing doubles should show quick tricks also as they get converted by partner expecting defense for the double. Lack of quick tricks will be a disappointment for partner & a 2nd chance for the opponents . We use quick tricks as a measuring stick for openers , T/O doubles , balancing doubles & overcalls. I am a great believer that a double announces defense or else you would have chosen to overcall or bid a suit. My decision whether to overcall or make a T/O double is based on quick tricks mainly. If I have quick tricks,  I double rather than overcall. Why ? because it allows the option of converting for penalty or double the opponents for penalty later in the auction.  I am informing partner of the nature of my HCP’s.  If I have more distributional & softer values , I overcall which of course takes the penalty conversion element out of the equation. Advise partner of the quality of your HCP’s via the defensive orientated double.
            By the way , on the hand that you balanced with a double with the soft values . They leap to game & make 6 !! Your one defensive trick prevents a grand slam from being made their way. Think in quick tricks when you make a T/O  double rather than HCP’s . Being a slave to HCP’s is more than just opening bids. When evaluating your hand , think quick tricks not just HCP’s. All HCP’s are not created equal.
            Responding to overcalls & your choice of bids should be based on defense measured in quick tricks. ♠KJ10xx QJxx QxQx with everybody vul your LHO opens 1♣ , your partner overcalls 1. They double to your right so what is your choice of bids & why ? The redouble is your last choice as with your unsupported queens & soft values you have only ½ a defensive trick. They may be cold for slam for all you know. Next in line is a Q bid showing limit raise or better. Is this hand a limit raise ?  I think not as you have all soft values. You have too many HCP’s for a 4 pre-empt so I would settle for a 3bid. In your system this shows 4 with simple raise values. Your partner competes to 4 , so they bid 5♣ which gets passed out . You win 13 IMPS as your partners got to 6♣ for +1370.
            Competitive double theory ( D.S.I.P. ) was based on quick tricks for making decisions rather than HCP’s . This “quick trick” thinking should be more than just for D.S.I.P. theory. If you have defense , choose to double or redouble as opposed to Q bidding or bidding a suit. You do not rescue opponents  that way & you give partner many more options. Think quick tricks  & controls for all your Bridge decisions. Quick tricks vrs soft values is a simple but effective hand evaluation skill. 
        Vulnerability & quick tricks of course , affects your forcing pass strategy. With both opponents vul , you open 1♠ with Kxxxx Axx void ♣AKJxx , partner bids 2♠. Your vul RHO bids 3so you show your playing strength with 4♣. They subsequently bid 5 so what do you do ? Partner has heard you bid 4♣ & has heard the bidding. Your forcing pass decision on this vulnerability is very clear. As Eric Kokish says , your quick tricks are transferable values which are good on either defense or offense. Count your quick tricks & you have them beat for 500 in your own hand ! You pass 5saying that you would like to bid 5♠ very badly & simultaneously showing partner your diamond shortness & defensive quick tricks. Partner hears all this but doubles 5 anyway. Now what do you do ? You have an excellent playing hand with a lot of defense ( 3 ½ quick tricks ). They are vulnerable so with diamond wastage & with only 15 HCP opposite a 2♠ bid you have no guarantee of making 5♠. The pass & pull part of forcing pass theory is a slam try. You do not want to be near slam after partner just has a 2♠ bid with diamond duplication of value. You pass , 5X has 5 quick losers , a 4-nothing beak to worry about & 3 spades to ruff with only 3 trump on the board . Partner  will probably rectify that at her first opportunity . They go for 1100 to 1400 , 5♠ goes two down vul. Play the vulnerability , acknowledge your quick tricks  along with forcing pass theory. A good player holding this hand rescued the opponents & bid 5♠ going two down for a phenomenal swing. I can only hazard a guess that she is not trained herself to notice quick tricks in her hand !!  Quick trick myopia I believe is the diagnosis :)  Failure to count or notice quick tricks may be hazardous to your partner’s Bridge health !!
            My advice to improve your hand evaluation skills is look at your HCP’s through “quick trick” coloured glasses. You will see the game differently & your Bridge judgment will improve. Hand evaluation skills are far superior to just bidding for the sake of bidding so as to make the opponent’s guess. The late Mike Chomyn tongue in cheek used to say “I’d rather be lucky than good”. Luck evens out in the long run , so being good wins the race. As a nice side effect , partner does not become the 3rd opponent that way. :(