Hand evaluation

Hand evaluation is the most important skill of every bridge player. It starts with the basics as counting HCP and evaluating distribution, but a deeper understanding of honor strength and advanced evaluation methods can improve all aspects of your game.

We offer a complete guide of hand evaluation

Every hand (13 cards) has a different strength. The strength of the same hand might differ from the contract we are playing in and the card distribution in the other 3 player's hands. We should constantly reevaluate our hand based on the information we are receiving during the bidding.

Hand evaluation methods used by MMBA

  • High Card Points (HCP) – a must for everyone, start with HCP as a beginner (FREE)
  • Distribution Points (DP) – useful for club players, not necessary for competitive players ((FREE upon registration)
  • Hand types (Patterns) – a must for everyone, the sooner the better (FREE upon registration)
  • Playing Tricks (PT) or Quick Tricks (QT) – a must for competitive players, useful for club players (FREE upon registration)
  • Theoretical Losers (TL) & Useful honors (UH) – the best method for competitive players, substitutes DP method (FREE upon registration) 

4321 High Card Point method

High card point method tries to evaluate the hand from the QUALITY perspective. In simple words – how good is our hand considering only high cards – honors.

Counting HCP is the basic method used to evaluate our hand. This method is primarily used by beginners. Advanced players and experts use additional methods which help evaluate the hand more precisely.

The advantage of 4321 HCP evaluation is the simplicity. There are 40 HCP altogether, 10 HCP in each suit so counting and deducting HCP in other players hands is relatively easy.

The disadvantage of 4321 HCP method is the misbalance of honors value. An ace is better than 4 jacks, 2 kings are usually better than 3 queens, etc. It is important to realize which honors we have and how useful they are. Simple add up of HCP is just the first indicator of strength. Further on, you should distinguish between honors in long or short suits, partner or opponent suit, consider positioning and then reevaluate the hand during the bidding based on this knowledge.

With semi-balanced hands, we need to adjust the strength using the distribution points method.

We divide honors into two groups – primary and secondary values:

  1. Primary values are Aces and Kings – they get tricks within first 2 rounds of play of the suit (they stop the opponents suit quickly)
  2. Secondary values are Qs and Js – they get tricks only in combination with A or K or if the opponents are playing the suit. They are more useful in defense.

High card points are more useful if they are in long suits. Honor in a long suit helps to promote the smaller cards and to establish length tricks. Honors in short suits can make tricks on their own only.

Honors are more valuable if they are concentrated in the same suit. In case we have all 4 honors in one suit, we have 4 sure tricks. If honors are split among the suits, they have lower trick potential. Honor concentration also offers an advantage in setting  up lower cards for extra tricks using card play methods like finessing.

The middle cards – 10 and 9 can also improve the hand (sometimes also the 8 and 7 is useful. They support the honors in finessing situations and are much easier to establish as length tricks.

HCP game balance

You get the HCP game balance by adding our HCP and our partner's HCP.

We can also figure out the HCP game balance from the opponent's bidding and therefore we can estimate our partner's HCP strength using the following formula:
40 - Opponents maximum - our HCP = partner's minimum.

50/50 HCP balance = 18-22 HCP – both pairs fight for the contract, the best contracts to play: 1NT, 2♥/♠, 3♣/♦. About 40 % of deals have this HCP distribution.

Contract advantage = 23-24 HCP – the game belongs to us if there are standard distributions, either we should play a partscore/game or we double opponents on 3rd and higher level. About 25 % of deals have this HCP distribution.

Game advantage = 25-31 HCP – we play in a game: 3NT, 4♥/♠, 5♣/♦ or we double opponents if they overbid. About 33 % of deals have this HCP distribution.

Slam advantage = 32+ HCP – we should try a slam if we do not miss 2 key cards (A, K, Q of trumps). Only 1,3 % of deals have this HCP distribution.

You can find the other hand evaluation methods, and more,
in the Member section.