September 21, 2010


Hand Evaluation – HCP’s ( Culbertson )




        Ely Culbertson & players of his era like Oswald Jacoby were bona fide Bridge geniuses . Learning from them can help our Bridge game is this day & age. What distinguished them from more modern players is that they evaluated HCP's rather than totaled them . They knew quick tricks were important prime cards so they associated them with trick taking potential . A couple of hands came up tonight shows how important quick tricks are in the scheme of things.


        A veteran pair bid the following hand this way, ♠A10xx AKQxx x ♣AKx which is 20 HCP when you sum up your HCP's. However , what is this hand worth when you consider trick taking potential ? Your HCP's are all prime quick tricks with both majors. Counting losers as those only located in the first 3 cards of each suit , you have only 4 losers . You need absolutely nothing from partner to make game with your 9 tricks . I open this hand 2♣ because opening at the one level may cause me to miss game when partner cannot respond. Tricks & defense are my criteria for strong 2’s,  not counting HCP’s. ♠Kxxxxx alone in partners hand makes +1430 !! 


        Partner had  QJx 1098 xxxxQxx so did not respond. They played in 1 making 6 for +230 which was a clear bottom in any form of Bridge. I would "play the vulnerability" with this hand. Partner opened nv vrs vul so I would respond 1NT just to make things difficult for vul opponents. I do not pass weak hands with a fit on this vulnerability.  Dora Lee , my partner tonight held xxxx xxx xxx ♣xxx tonight & I opened 1♠ nv vrs vul . Dora "played the vulnerability" & responded 1NT. I bid 3& Dora enlisted the principle of "fast arrival" & bid 4♠ ! I received terrible defense so I made +450 . Both these hands are too weak to pass on this vulnerability. Tactics are required on the terrorist vulnerability. Make life miserable for vul opponents !!


        Another hand came up tonight that proves again Culbertson's genius. ♠AK Jxxx Ax ♣KJ10xx & you are in first seat playing matchpoints. You decide to open 1NT as you have a rebid problem . Borrowing  a page from Culbertson , I would not open 1NT due to the nature of my HCP's. They are all controls ( 3 1/2 quick tricks )  not soft values which are more suited for NT . However , in matchpoints there are no bad bids , just bids that do not work. You open 1NT & partner transfers to spades followed by leaping to 3NT . What is your decision ? Borrowing a page from Culbertson's book , this is easy. Your ♠AK is as good as honour third & you are all quick tricks which play better in a suit. You bid 4♠ which makes +480 instead of going one down in 3NT !  


                 Here is a hand lately that Culbertson would have outbid the entire field recently. Kxx KQx AJ109xxx ♣void .  Culbertson uses hand evaluation to make bids not totaling HCP’s. his auction would go 1 with partner responding 1♠ so he would bid 3as he has a ♠ fit , a source of tricks ( lomng suit ) & a void. Partner with 14 HCP mostly in quick tricks rather than soft values bids 6 & 1370 is lay down  The entire field rebid 2 as HCP’s are the only hand evaluation concept they know. Partner with a flat 14 HCP ( mostly quick tricks ) leaps to 3NT as they totaled their HCP’s . Result 3NT down -200 as the opponents cashed 6♣ tricks ! Culprit in this auction is the standard fixation on HCP’s. In my mind HCP’s outside of NT should take a back seat to hand evaluation from the Culbertson era. HCP’s are useful to teach beginners how to bid until they develop the hand evaluation skills.


            Bridge is more than counting your HCP's like Walter the Walrus. You may have 20 HCP's which is not enough for a 2♣ opener counting HCP’s. However , when you evaluate your HCP's instead you have 9 tricks which is certainly enough for a 2♣ opener. Your hand may total 5 HCP or zero HCP but maybe "playing the vulnerability": is a more important Bridge consideration than counting beads. Culbertson , Jacoby & others from their era were geniuses in their chosen profession as well as Bridge . They also had tremendous insight into the fundamentals of Bridge. Those who belittle quick tricks in the modern era are Bridge fools . As the song says , "when will they ever learn" . Probably never :( no matter what the evidence presented. They obviously understand the game better than Jacoby & Culbertson did. So why listen to them & experts who followed them for decades ?? Counting HCP's for all your Bridge decisions is the only way to go , right ?