The Point Count Prison by August Boehm

Augie Boehm
Augie Boehm

Source: ACBL

As a teacher, one challenge is to liberate the advancing player from point count prison. Point count has its place – every student needs guidelines and structure; some responses show 6-9, etc.

The problem arises when a student ignores distribution, and, especially, the location of high-cards points when evaluating a hand. Some high cards are more valuable than others. Would you rather hold a jack that helps take a trick, or a king that proves worthless?

Practice your hand evaluation with this exercise. On the auction below, you hold two hands:

1. Q63 742 105 87642,
2 . Q632 742 5 87642.

What’s your call with each on this bidding:
West North East   South
            1       Pass  Pass
Dbl     2       2    ?

If you count 2 HCP and call it a day, you are missing one of the game’s pleasures. Struggle to maintain focus when holding a weak hand – you never know when you might find yourself in the spotlight.

North’s 2 shows extra values, competing into the teeth of your original pass. Visualize North with:

KJ1064 9 QJ842 AK

perhaps stronger, but hardly weaker. On hand No. 1, you are clearly worth 2 . The diamond holding doesn’t count as a point but it helps generate a trick. Your side should be safe in 2; partner rates to lose one spade, one heart, and three diamonds, or two diamonds and an extra trump trick. East-West can easily make at least a heart partial.

On hand No. 2, you should jump to 3 . Your fourth trump, combined with diamond shortness, is very powerful
opposite partner’s two-suiter. Declaring spades, North leads diamonds before trumps. Barring terrible splits, the likely losers are one spade, one heart, and one or two diamonds. East-West have even greater offensive potential because of their spade shortness, and jumping to 3 puts North in position to continue to game, either for a profitable sacrifice or a make. Hand No. 2 has become The Little Engine That Could.

Here’s a personal favorite from about 40 years ago. Playing with my father in a New York tournament, as two passed bands, we bid and made a small slam.

North Dealer
K J 8 4 2
A J 9 4 3

7 6 4
A 7 6 5 3
K Q 2
9 8 6 5

Both vulnerable, after three passes West opened 1, North bid 2 to show the majors, East raised to 3 and South jumped to 4 . West, who held:

10 85 AQ732 AK1082,

continued to 5 and North competed to 5 appreciating his diamond void, East passed, and South had no trouble
visualizing partner’s void, based on the vigorous diamond bidding by E/West and two probably solid major suits. Looking at one club loser, he bid the slam.

With trumps 2-1, there was nothing to the play. West was left to regret that he could have passed the deal out instead of finishing minus 1660-he doubled the final contract. I found it striking how effortless our auction was, provided that the players think about tricks and location of high-cards points on distributional deals.