Source: Pocket Posh Tips for Bridge Players By Marty Berge


Honors in short suits are worth less than their assigned value and should be downgraded. A doubleton A-K won’t build as many tricks as A-K-x-x-x, or even A-K-x-x or A-K-x. There-fore, Hand 1 (below) is much stronger than Hand 2.

1  6-3  A-K-9-8-7  A-K-9-8  6-3
2  A-K   9-8-7-6-5  9-8-7-6  A-K

However, with the A-K doubleton, at least you are assured of winning two tricks. When considering lesser honors, the value of singletons and doubletons is very much in doubt. For example, Q-J doubleton could be worthless. Here are the eight least effective honors in short suits. I strongly recommend subtracting one point for each.

Doubleton: K-Q, K-J, Q-J, Q-x, J-x Singleton: K, Q, J


The traditional 4-3-2-1 point count overrates queens and jacks. Too often, these cards are not worth their assigned values. That is especially true when they are not accompanied by higher honors. To express my disdain for queens and jacks, I often refer to them as «quacks.» When I have a hand that is dominated by quacks, I substract a point (or two) and treat the hand as if it had fewer HCP than its traditional point count would indicate. As dealer with the following quacky hands, here are my thoughts and actions:

1  Q-J-7-2  Q J   J 6-5-3  K-Q-J Pass. The hands with 13 HCP are usually strong enough to open. However, opening this pile of junk is definitely not warranted.
2  Q-J-3  K-J-2  A-Q-3  Q-6-4-3 Open 14. After counting up to 15, many players would make the mistake of opening 1NT. No way! This mess is definitely not worth 15 HCP.
3  K-Q  Q-7-5-4  A-Q-J  K-J-6-4 Open 1NT. This hand is not worth 18 HCP, so it is not too strong to open 1NT.


Aces are worth their weight in gold. Your number of aces is very relevant. I would much rather have one ace than two queens. Having no aces is not good. If I am fortunate enough to have three or four aces, I add a point to the value of my hand to reflect their true value. Tens, nines, and eights should not be viewed the same as small cards. The presence or absence of intermediate cards will often be crucial in determining the outcome of a contract. The purpose of good constructive bidding is to try to predict the number of tricks you can win. Suppose that you open 1 and partner raises you to 2, and you are trying to decide whether to bid on. A spade suit of  A-Q-10-9-8 is very likely to result in taking more tricks than  A-Q-4-3-2, and your bidding should reflect that.

Would you open these hands?

1  A-3-2  A-7-5-4  6 4-3 4  A-5-4 No intermediate cards and 4-3-3-3 distribution is not good, but always open with three aces.
2  A-4-3-2  7-6  K-J-3-2  K-5-4 Pass. No reason to open.
3  A-10-9-8  7-6  K-J-9-8  K-10.9 Because of the intermediates, it’s clear to open. Hand 3 is worth about 2 HCP more than Hand 2!


All honor cards increase in value when combined with other honors in the same suit. Compare the following three hands. Each of them has the identical distribution along with 13 HCP.

1  A-K-x-x  x-x  K-Q-J-x  x-x-x

2  K-J-x-x  K-x  Q-x-x-x  A-x-x

3  K-J-x-x  x-x  K-Q-x-x  A-x-x

Hand 2 is the weakest. Three of the suits contain only one honor card. All honors become less valuable when «isolated.»
Hand 3 is better. Both of your red-suit honors are now in the same suit. Therefore, the value of each of those cards is greater than in Hand 2. Whether the K and Q are married or just living together, they are happier now that they are together, and rate to produce extra tricks.
Hand 1 is the strongest. This hand has the same 13 HCP as in the other two hands, but each of the five honors is supported by other honor cards. A hand with two strong suits is upgradable.


I refer to a suit with four-plus cards and three of the top five honors as a «quality suit.» These suits are worth their weight in gold. Long suits help to win additional tricks. Long, strong suits can enable you to win a lot of tricks. The presence of a quality suit can make or break a con-tract. For each quality suit you are dealt, add one point to the value of your hand. All of the four-card quality suits are listed below. Obviously, everything stated on this page also applies to longer suits with at least three honors.
HCP      Suit

3 HCP    Q-J-1 0-x

4 HCP    K-J-1 0-x

5 HCP    K-Q-1 0-x           A-J-1 0-x

6 HCP    K-Q-J-x               A-Q-1 0-x

7 HCP    A-Q-J-x               A-K-1 0-x

8 HCP    A-K-J-x

9 HCP    A-K-Q-x

FY I: Only 14 percent of the hands you pick up will have a quality suit.

FYI 2: Nines and eights are not included in the list above, but they are often relevant. I regard a suit such as K-J-9-8 as worth significantly more than K-J-3-2.


In a suit contract, if your distribution in your three shortest suits is the flattest it could be, that is not good.

If your longest suit is four cards: 4-4-3-2 distribution is not great, but 4-3-3.3 is truly awful. You have nothing to ruff and no suit to set up.

If you have a five-card suit: You are grateful to have a long suit, but 5-3-3-2 shape is a turn-off. * A significantly better distribution is 5-4-2-2.

If you have a six-card suit: 6-3-2-2 is a bummer. You would much prefer to have a single-ton or void.

If you have a seven-card suit: By now, you know the story: 7-2-2-2 is just too flat.

In conclusion: When you are dealt any of the four «flat as a pancake» distributions, 4-3-3-3, 5-3-3-2, 6-3-2-2, or 7-2-2-2, downgrade your hand and proceed with caution.

*The only time you don’t mind 5-3-3-2 distribution in a suit contract is when you bid notrump earlier and are already known to have a balanced hand.


After discussing «flat as a pancake» hands, I like to remind players how crucial it is to look beyond their longest suit. The following chart emphasizes that. Hands with long suits are much more effective in a suit contract when they also have very short suit(s).

Here are some practical examples of the way that your distribution in your side suits should affect your bidding. Your partner opens INT. You have a nice six-card heart suit and 6 HCP. You respond 2 (Jacoby Transfer); your partner bids the expected 2. The only difference in the three hands is your distribution in the other suits.

1  6-4  K-Q-1 0-5-4-2  J-10  6-5-3 Pass. Game is very unlikely.
2  6-4-2  K-Q-1 0-5-4-2  J-1 0-9  3 Raise to 3 . This hand is worth an invitation.
3  6-4  K-Q-1 0-5-4-2  J-10-9-8  3 Raise to 4 . Looking good! 6-4, bid more.


Any hand with 5-5 distribution has great potential. This is especially true when you have good suits, and really gets ex-citing once you find a fit. Here is your hand for the three auctions below:
 K-10-9-8-6  A-10-8-7-2  6-5 4  2

Bid 3 . Partner should have three-plus cards in at least one major, so you expect to have a fit in one major (or both). That is all you need to justify forcing to game with this very shapely hand.

Bid 4. Now that you have a fit, this hand is golden.

Regardless of vulnerability, show your two majors in one breath with a 2 Michaels Cue-bid.


How many points do you add for distribution when you pick up your cards? If your answer is «none,» then you are saying that you regard the following two hands as equivalent, and think of both as 7-point hands.

1  A-Q-J  3-2  10-9-8-7  5-4-3-2
2  A-Q-J-4-3-2  4-3-2  10-9-8-7  –

Regardless of your bridge level, or number of masterpoints you have, I am confident that you appreciate that Hand 2 is much stronger than Hand 1. If partner opened 1NT, I’d bet that you would pass the first hand, but make 100 percent sure to get to 4 with the second one. That is a big difference. And once you agree that Hand 2 is much stronger, then you must also agree that it is logical to add to its 7 HCP to reflect its superiority. There are two groups of players who correctly add points immediately.
Group L adds points for long suits:

1 for each five-card suit,

2 for each six-card suit,

3 for a seven-card suit, etc.

Group S adds points for short suits: 3 for a void, 2 for a singleton, 1 for a doubleton.

How many points are these hands worth?

1  A-10-6  8 K-J-8-7-5  K-Q-7-5 Group L: 13 HCP + 1 point (five-card suit) = 14 points Group S: 13 HCP + 2 points (singleton) = 15 points

2  A-10-6  8-6-2 K-J-8-7  K-Q-5 Both groups: 13 HCP. Neither group adds anything.

3  A-10-6  8 K-J-8-7-5-3   K-Q-5 Group L: 13 HCP + 2 points (six-card suit) = 15 points Group S: 13 HCP + 2 points (singleton) = 15 points

Note the very similar answers. The majority of players count ini-tially for long suits, so that’s what I will do. Of course, if we do succeed in finding a fit, I’ll add points for short suits at that time.