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Bidding Conventions
Alternative Hand Valuations

  1. Introduction
  2. Losing Trick Count - Own hand (LTC)
  3. Losing Trick Count - Partner's hand (LTC)
  4. Trick value Shortage Points (TSP)
  5. The Banzai Point Count (BPC)
  6. Long Suit Trial bid
  7. Deals 89 to 92
  8. Quiz - Answers - Review
    Recent developments

    Bidding Guide : advBG-17 - advBG-20
                            advBG-21 - advBG-22

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BR 24.1 - Introduction

Consider Hand 1 below. Your Partner opens with 1S.
What is your standard response ? 4S of course showing 6-10 (Bidding Guide p.4). You have less than 9 HCPs, 4 card trump support and an unbalanced hand.


Counting the the total points of the hand it does not quite add up : 8 HCP + 3 SP = 11 points.
Obviously the combined effect of side suit shortage and an abundance of trumping power makes the hand stronger than the points indicate.

Now look at Hand 2 below.
After Partner's opening bid of 1S you obviously have sufficient points together for a Game contract. But you have two useless 3 card suits in your hand. If Partner has the same in one of these suits, and not much protection in the other, a Game contract may be doomed from the start.


These type of common examples show up the inadequacies of assessing the distributional values of a hand by means of the 5-3-1 shortage points system only.

In recent years an additional new valuation system has been introduced that, in combination with the point count system, is used by many players. It assesses the trick taking potential of the combined hands for trump contracts only. It is called the Losing Trick Count (LTC).

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BR 24.2 - Losing Trick Count - Own Hand

The Losing Trick Count (LTC) is a valuation method for trump contracts only. You can use it after a trump fit has been found.

Count your losers in the top three cards in each suit. Cards beyond these are considered winners.

  1. Ace = 1 winner

  2. King = 1 winner

  3. Queen = half a winner, or a whole winner when supported by a second Honour

  4. Void = no loser (therefore represents 3 winners)

  5. Singleton = 1 loser (therefore represents 2 winners)

  6. Doubleton = 2 losers (therefore represents 1 winners)
Combining above Honour and shortage counts : an A x or K x doubleton counts for 1 loser. A K doubleton is no loser at all, so does a singleton Ace. K Q doubleton is 1 loser as is K Q x, and so on.

The maximum number of losers you can hold in your hand is 4 x 3 losers = 12 losers. The same applies to the hand of your Partner, therefore :

24 - (your losers + Partner's losers) = the likely number of tricks you will make

This means that if you and Partner have 14 losers in the combined hand you are likely to have 10 winning trick, enough for a Game contract in a Major suit. With 12 losers a Slam is a very good proposition.

Let us have a look at how the two hands from the previous chapter are valued using this method.

Hand 1 is valued at 7 losers. This is the same as the strength of an average minimum opening hand.
No wonder then that a Game contract with this supporting hand is going to be a good prospect.


Hand 2 in comparison, despite its much higher point count contains 8 losers, a full loser more than the average opening hand.


If for arguments sake we take away the Club Queen in Hand 1, reducing its strength to 6 HCPs only, it is still equal in loser count (now 8) to Hand 2, which now has more than twice the number of HCPs.

The above comparison makes it very clear that the distribution pattern of a hand has a huge influence on its trick taking potential, much more than expressed by the 1-3-5 shortage point valuation.
It is essential to always remember that you must have a good trump fit, as much of the trick taking potential is based on being able to take advantage (by ruffing) of the shortages in a hand.

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BR 24.3 - Losing Trick Count - Partner's Hand

Valuating your own hand with the LTC method is easy, but how about assessing Partner's hand ?
Here you need to rely on his bidding.
Approximate valuations for standard opening bids and responses are :

  •   6-10 pts : Single raise or 1NT Response = 8-9 losers

  • 6-9 HCP : Game raise to Partner's 1H or 1S = 7-8 losers

  • 11+ pts : New suit at the 2 level Response = 8 losers or less

  • 13+ pts : Jump raise = 7 losers or less

  • 13-15 pts : Minimum Opening bid or 2NT Response = 7 losers

  • 16-18 pts : Strong Opening bid or 3NT Response = 6 losers

  • 19-21 pts : Maximum 1 Opening bid = 5 losers

  • 22+ pts : Strong 2C, 2NT Opening bid = 4 losers or less

Various other bids are :
  • 9-15 pts : Overcall at the 1 level = 8 losers or less

  • 11-15 pts : Overcall at the 2 level = 7 losers or less

  • 12+ pts : Takeout Double = 7 losers or less

  • 6-10 HCP : Weak 2 Opening, Weak Jump overcall = 7-8 losers

  • 6-10 HCP : Preemptive 3 Opening bid = 7 losers (not vulnerable) or 6 losers (vulnerable)

  • 6-10 HCP : Preemptive 4 Opening bid = 6 losers (not vulnerable) or 5 losers (vulnerable)

  • 8-12 HCP : Michaels Cue bid, Unusual 2NT = 5-7 losers

The key totals you need to remember are 14 losers or less required for a Game contract, while 12 losers or less are required for a Slam.
Most importantly however remember that all LTC calculations are only valid when you have a good (8 card or better) trump fit. The best approach is then to use both the LTC and the point count system side by side in your overall assessment of the game.
For a good understanding and effective use of the LTC I recommend Ron Klinger's excellent book on the subject "The Modern Losing Trick Count".

The valuation of your hand (and of the potential of your and Partner's combined holdings) should never be based on just one assessment method alone.

  1. Always use the LTC in combination with the Point count system and your own judgement and creative insight of your hand.

  2. And always assess your hand in the context of what you know about your Partner's hand.

A frequently heard lament at the bridge table of less experienced players is "But Partner, I could not support you, I had too many losers", or "Partner, I just did not have the point to go on." These are clear signs that the player concerned was looking at his (or her) hand in isolation and not in the context of Partner's holdings.

Be aware that using the LTC on its own can produce a too conservative assessment. For (although this is not stated in any of the textbooks I have come across) the LTC is based on a 12-card hand.

The fact that the 13th card is not counted as a loser does not mean (as many appear to believe) that it is a winner. The 13th card in both your and Partner's hand are simply disregarded altogether.

The 13th card can be
a loser in one hand and a winner in the other
a loser in both hands
or a winner in both hands

A simple analysis of say 100 deals (as I have done for the deals in this course) bears this out.
For about one third of the Deals the LTC is spot on (or in a few cases over overvalued), while in the remaining two thirds of the Deals the actual tricks made were 1 or 2 tricks more than the LTC assessment.

I therefore suggest that, whenever your hand contains "extra value" (such as a few 10s and 9s, or a strong long suit), you subtract the total assess loser in the combined hands from 25 rather than the prescribed 24.   I have included this alternative in the Bidding Guide, BG-15.

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BR 24.4 - Trick Value Shortage Points

Shortage in one suit has several effects on the trick taking value of the whole hand.

Take a perfectly balanced hand with distribution of 4-3-3-3 and convert this into a hand containing a void. To do this we remove the three cards from one suit. But as the whole hand must consist of 13 cards, three cards must be added to one or more of the other 3 suits, increasing their lengths. Therefore the least unbalanced hand we can create this way has a distribution of 5-4-4-0. In practical terms this means that the chance of making extra tricks with the small cards from a long suit has increased.

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Having a void in a suit effectively cuts out all 10 High Card Points in that suit.
Partner may hold some of these points, but the overall effect would be negative for the Opponents.
With a singleton, only the Ace will win a trick, but probably none of the other Honours in the suit (eliminating 6 HCPs). With a doubleton only 3 HCPs are eliminated.

The shortage enables Declarer to control the suit with his trumps, and when the shortage occurs in the hand with the lesser number of trumps it can provide extra tricks by ruffing.
Extra ruffing tricks are also created in both hands in a cross ruff or a dummy reversal play.

In view of the above considerations the Losing Trick Count valuation of voids, singletons and doubletons appears well justified.

Let us now consider the point count system.
To make a Game trump contract in a major suit requires 26 points. This means that each of the 10 winning tricks requires on average 2.6 points.
Therefore, combining the point count system with the the losing trick count :

  • If a void is valued at no loser and in consequence represents 3 winning tricks, its true point count value must be 3 x 2.6 = 7.8 points

  • Likewise, if a singleton is valued at one loser and in consequence represents 2 winning tricks, its true point count value must be 2 x 2.6 = 5.2 points

  • And if a doubleton is valued at two losers and in consequence represents 1 winning trick, its true point count value must be 1 x 2.6 = 2.6 points

This is a very simple approach which I use myself to get a better point count value for all unbalanced hands and appears to be much more realistic in its results than the traditional shortage point valuation.
I call it the Trick Value Shortage Points valuation method (TSP).

The only variation to the above valuation concerns the doubleton
The 2.6 points valuation for a doubleton is fair enough. However before you can effectively consummate this single winner it is necessary to first lose 2 tricks to the opposition. In a Game contract this represents at least 65% of your permissible loss.
Two useless doubletons in a hand are potentially what I call the kiss of death. You may well be down one trick already before you have managed to gain the lead.
Count the doubleton therefore always for 1 point only, unless the doubleton includes the Ace. If so count it for 2 points.


With an abundance of trumps (9 or more in the combined hands) you may add one additional TSP to the singleton and void.

With a 5-3 trump fit and shortage in the long trump suited hand (usually Declarer's hand) it is wise to deduct one TSP of the singleton or void TSP value.

Assessing Hand 1 (after Partner has opened 1S) in terms of TSPs one reaches a more realistic valuation of 8 HCP + 6 TSP = 14 points total. The extra 1 TSP being awarded for the 9 card trump fit.


In general be cautious when you hold a balanced or semibalanced hand with one or two useless doubletons, or worse, a useless 3 card suit.

With an unbalanced hand be aggressive in your approach.
I have included an alternative page 1 for the Intermediate and Advanced Bidding Guides which includes the TSP count. You can use this one instead of the Basic page if you wish.

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BR 24.5 - The Banzai Point Count

Statistical analyses published by Richard Cowan in 1987 and David "Banzai" Jackson & Ron Klinger in 2010 (Better Balanced Bidding) have revealed two deficiencies of the Milton Point Count (A=4 - K=3 - Q=2 - J=1), universally used for the past 90 years.

  1. The MPC does not include the 10s in its valuation

  2. The MPC substantially overvalues Aces and Kings in balanced hands

They propose the Banzai Point Count as an accurate representation of the statistical findings, to be used by Intermediate-Advanced players.

Banzai Point Count :   A=5     K=4     Q=3     J=2     10=1

This increases the total of High Card Points in a whole pack of cards from 40 to 60.
In addition a 5-card suit in a balanced hand (5332) is valued at an additional 2 points.

A minimum Opening can be made with 18 Banzai Points (BPs) and a minimum Response with 9 BPs. The minimum strength for a Game contract is 37 BPs. For further details see advBG-21.

Obviously the Banzai Point Count is superior to Extended Milton. However it will probably take years before this new system (first published in 2010) is fully in mainstream use. For the time being Extended Milton (as now used throughout this online Jazclass Bridge Course) appears therefore the better option, especially for Beginners and most Intermediate players.

Extended Milton :   A=4     K=3     Q=2     J=1     10=½

This increases the total of High Card Points in a whole pack of cards from the original 40 to 42.

However I recommend that Intermediate players have at least a working knowledge of the Banzai Point Count, so that in borderline decisions of balanced hands it can be used as an additional valuation check.
Generally it is also useful to be aware that balanced hands containing mainly Aces and Kings are overvalued in point counts and those including several Jacks and/or 10s are undervalued.

With hand Combinations containing at least one unbalanced hand it is best to use a combination of Extended Milton, The Losing Trick Count and Quick Tricks for your valuation assessment.

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BR 24.6 - Long Suit Trial bid

Consider Hand 3 shown below.
You opened with 1S and Partner raised to 2S. He therefore has trump support and 6-10 points. You, after revaluating your hand hold 17 points or 18, when counting TSPs. What next ?


Standard procedure with your hand is to bid 3S, inviting Partner to bid 4 with a maximum (8-10 pts) and Pass with a minimum (6-7 pts).
However if Partner has maximum points, but no values in Diamonds, you will lose 3 tricks right from the start in Diamonds and may well go down one or two.

This is where the long suit trial bid (advBG-17) becomes very useful.

When a major suit is single raised to the 2 level (by either Partner) the bid of a new suit is a long suit trial bid, asking Partner for his losers in the bid suit.

To make a long suit trial bid you should have 3 or 4 cards in the suit and preferably 3 but definitely at least 2 losers. It also should hold none or at the most one of the top three Honour cards (A, K or Q).

Typical long suit trial bid suits are :     8 5 3   or   A 9 4 2   or   Q 9 3   or   K 7 6 4

Partner may not Pass but replies :

For Hand 3 the bidding would therefore go : 1S - 2S - 3D - Partner ?


Partner will bid 4S with no or 1 loser in Diamonds even with minimum points, or with 2 losers and a maximum. He will bid 3S with 2+ losers and a minimum or 3 losers and maximum points.

Here follow two typical cases :
Case A     Opener (W)
♠ - A Q 9 6 3
♥ - A 8 6 4
♦ - A 8
♣ - Q 7
  Responder (E)
♠ - K J 8 2
♥ - K 7
♦ - 7 5 3
♣ - 9 8 5 2
East has only 1 loser in the Trial suit (Hearts). He therefore bids Game in the agreed trump suit.

Bidding : (W) 1S - 2S - 3H - 4S - Pass

Case B     Opener (W)
♠ - A Q 9 6 3
♥ - A 8 6 4
♦ - A 8
♣ - Q 7
  Responder (E)
♠ - K J 8 2
♥ - 9 5 3
♦ - K 7
♣ - 9 8 5 2
The two hands are identical, except that East's Heart and Diamond holdings are reversed. East now has 3 losers in the trial suit and must therefore sign off in 3S !

Bidding : (W) 1S - 2S - 3H - 3S - Pass

The long suit trial bid can also be made by the Responder.
Partner opened the bidding with 1C, you holding Hand 4 responded with 1S and Partner raised to 2S.
What do you do next ?


Same dilemma, Game is likely, but if Partner has 3 losers in Diamonds (opposite your unprotected Queen) the Game contract may well go down. Once again the long suit trial bid can come to the rescue.

1C - 1S - 2S - 3D - Partner ?

Whatever bid Partner makes, your contract will be more secure for it.

Cue bidding the Enemy suit
A long suit trial bid can also be made after an Enemy Overcall as a Cue bid of the Enemy suit.
For example :

1S - (2D) - 2S - (Pass) - 3D

3D is still a long suit trial bid, to which Partner must respond in the normal prescribed manner.

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BR 24.7 - Deal 89 - 92

Deals 89 - 92 are examples of bidding as outlined in this lesson.

BR 24.8 - Quiz 24 - Answers - Review

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