Monday, February 07, 2005 7:00 PM

Hand Evaluation – Visualization ( Counting Tricks )




            Still another application of training yourself  to “think in patterns” is counting tricks. Counting is tedious so memorizing the patterns & applying them when someone shows out gives you an immediate “trick count’ in a lot of instances. The opponents are in 3NT, partner leads the spade queen . The dummy is   AKx xxx KxxKQxx  ,  declarer wins the spade king , plays the king of diamonds & another diamond to her Ace . Partner shows out. Declarer now leads a club & plays the queen so now what ?    You have ♠xxx Qxx xxx ♣AJ109 with partner showing out of diamonds the 2nd round. This gives the diamond pattern as 6-3-3-1 so declarer has 6 diamond tricks & 2 spades & a club for 9 tricks. You take your club Ace so its panic time. You lead the heart queen , declarer has Kxx & partner has AJ10x of hearts . You are rewarded for down one. If you were lazy & did not apply patterns to count his tricks & just returned partners suit , they make a contract that should have been defeated.


            Sometimes the patterns are right before your eyes to apply. Peter Jones & his partner were defending 6NT against Ray Grace on Thurs night. Peter had pre-empted hearts so you lead a small heart from Jxx , the board comes down with ♠KQ109xx void AQxx ♣xxx  . Declarer plays a small club from the board , partner plays the heart 9 & declarer wins the heart King. Declarer now tests diamonds by playing the king & another so they run . Declarer now plays the Ace , jack of spades & another so you must discard properly. O.K. the board’s pattern makes counting easy 6-4 & the heart trick won initially. Declarer with the heart Ace would have 12 top tricks. You hold onto your club ace & a heart as it appears they have bungled into 6NT off two aces. Peters partner did not bother to count ,so held onto the A & jack of clubs so –1440 !! Peter was not very happy as 6NT making off two Aces is not a very good performance. Bad defenders operate in a “fog of uncertainty”.


            Goren in standard Bridge has brainwashed players to total HCP’s for bidding rather than the Culbertson way of counting tricks ( losers )  to determine a bid. Rod Klinger in his article on losing trick count advises players to “think in tricks” by counting losers . He defines losers as the first 3 cards in each suit that are not the Ace , King or queen. Susan had a close decision recently on whether to open a hand 2♣ or at the one level. Counting tricks via losers helps her come to the right choice. Axx AKQJx K109x ♣A is a hand that is all prime cards . Using Klinger’s methods ,  you have a 4 loser hand . This hand is closer to a 2♣ bid than a one opener , so opening 2♣ will help partner out more often than not. Counting losers or tricks is a bidding hand evaluation concept.


Counting tricks frequently happens during the auction so assists your bidding accuracy. Partner opens a weak 2 , you have AQx AKQxx Ax ♣Axx . This is an easy hand as you just apply patterns during the bidding to count your tricks. Give partner KQxxxx of diamonds so you can count 12 tricks by establishing the 5th heart. When partner has a maximum weak two with an outside king , you may be able to count 13 tricks in diamonds. You bid 2NT to ask for a further description of her hand or just bid 4♣ KCB & use the queen ask to find an outside king. A grand slam is a distinct possibility just by counting tricks during the auction.  Just “think in patterns” to help you visualize the final contract.


            You hold Axx AKJxx JxxxA , partner bids 1. You respond 1 & partner rebids 2. You bid 4 KCB & partner shows the AK of diamonds. You know that partner has 6 diamonds so the queen is not a problem. Apply a pattern in order to count tricks during the bidding. 6 diamonds & a king in order for partner to have an opening bid means 7 tricks. This means you can count 13 tricks , when partner has 3 clubs or the 5th heart is established. When partner has the heart queen ,  you have 15 top tricks.


            I do not like playing controls over 2♣ but here is the perfect hand for that system. AQx Ax AQxAKQxx so you open 2♣ & partner bids 2 showing two controls. This gets doubled so you bid 3♣ & partner bids 3♠ showing 5 or longer spades. You show the spade support with a Q bid of 4 & partner offers encouragement by bidding 5. Partner should have 5 or more spades to the king & the K for her two controls. You can count 12 tricks off the top & the 5th club established for the 13 th trick. Sometimes you play the hand before the bidding is over by counting tricks. Your bidding accuracy improves immensely.


            Here is a hand bid by Kiz Fung in Las Vegas  where counting tricks during the auction assisted her in making the correct 5 level bidding decision. Kiz held Axxx Kxx A109x ♣xx . We were vul & they were not & LHO opened 1 & I overcalled 4 . Her RHO bid 4NT which shows clubs with a diamond fit. Kiz now starts counting tricks using my bidding & her hand. Kiz counts 8 spade tricks , 1 & a ½ trick for the heart king. This trick is nebulous though as the opening bidder is behind the king. Kiz knows we have 9 tricks & when I have an outside card we may make game. What if the opponents land in diamonds ? Since we have the boss suit , there is no need to hurry. You can double 4NT to let partner in on the act or just wait. LHO does indeed bid 5! This goes for +500 as partner did have an outside ♣K but this was not enough to make an 11 trick contract your way because you counted tricks during the auction. Who would of thought that the elementary Bridge concept of counting tricks is a bidding skill !!!


            When you have a source of tricks with a nice suit or a void or both , counting tricks during the auction is a must for accurate bidding. A player held ♠void Axxx AKQxxQ109x  & opened 1♦ . Partner bid 2♣ so you have a source of tricks with both a suit & ruffing power. This is a hand to count tricks during the auction . When partner has as little as ♣AKxxx(x) , you can count 5♣ tricks , 5 tricks , 1 & two spade ruffs for 13 tricks. You can bid 5NT immediately as a  grand slam force or use exclusion in spades. No need to even support partner in clubs as you can count the tricks during the auction. Trick totals are way more important than HCP totals.