Bridge: Settling Who Plays the Hand

If your partnership buys the final contract, the bidding determines who plays the hand (the declarer) and who kicks back and watches the action (the dummy). For example, if the final contract ends in some number of hearts, whoever bid hearts first becomes the declarer, and his partner is the dummy.

Take a look at this sample bidding sequence:

The contract ends in 4♥, which is the final bid because it’s followed by three passes. Both you and your partner bid hearts during the bidding. However, you bid hearts first, which makes you the declarer.

The player to the left of the declarer (in this case, West) makes the opening lead, and the partner of the declarer (North) is the dummy. After the opening lead, the dummy puts down her cards face-up in four vertical columns, one for each suit: the trump suit, hearts, to her right and bows out of the action.

Valuing the Strength of Your Hand

During the bidding, try to work out the strength and distribution of your partner’s hand, at the same time trying to tell your partner the strength and distribution of your hand. The point of this communication is to determine the best trump suit, including notrump, and then finally to decide how many tricks to contract for. Consider two elements when valuing the strength of your hand:

Your high-card points (see the following section for a definition)

The distribution of your cards (how your cards are divided in the various suits)

In the following sections, we give you an idea of what you need in terms of strength (high-card points) and distribution (the number of cards you have in each suit) to enter the bidding.

Adding up your high-card points

Your honor cards (the ace, king, queen, jack, and ten in each suit) contribute to the strength of your hand. When you pick up your hand, assign the following points to each of your honor cards:

Aces: For every ace, count 4 points (A = 4 points). Kings: For every king, count 3 points (K = 3 points). Queens: For every queen, count 2 points (Q = 2 points). Jacks: For every jack, count 1 point (J = 1 point).

The 10 is also considered an honor card, but, alas, it doesn’t count when adding your points initially. Patience.

These points are called high-card points (HCP). Most players use this barometer to measure the initial strength of their hand.

Each suit contains 10 HCP, totaling 40 HCP in the deck. When you know from the bidding the total number of HCP your partnership has, you’ll have an easier time deciding how many tricks to contract for.

Looking for an eight-card trump fit

Why should you care about the distribution of the cards (that is, how many cards you or your partner has in any one suit)? For you and your partner to land in a safe trump-suit contract, you want to have at least eight cards in the same suit between the two hands, called an eight-card trump fit. Bidding, to a great extent, is geared toward locating such a fit, preferably in a major suit.

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