Throughout the bidding process the players are communicating, via a coded language, information about the strength and shape of their hands. The goal is to exchange enough information to be able to find a good, if not perfect, contract.

## The strength of a hand

To categorise the strength of a hand it is traditional to use a point count system.

### High Card Points

**High Card Points (HCPs) **are calculated for the most powerful cards in a hand:

- 4 for an Ace
- 3 for a King
- 2 for a Queen
- 1 for a Jack

A deck of cards contains 40 HCPs and an average hand contains 10 HCPs.

It therefore seems logical that to make a contract of 1 NT you would expect a partnership to need at least 21 HCPs, and experience has shown that to make 3 NT requires about 25 HCPs.

### Distribution and Total Points

To play in a suit contract a partnership should have a majority of the cards in the suit. A bare majority (7 cards) is insufficient since the other 6 cards are likely to be distributed 4-2 between the other two players. Therefore to play in a suit contract a partnership is looking to find a suit with at least 8 cards.

A suit where a partnership has at least 8 cards is called a **Golden Fit**. It is easier to make a contract where you have a Golden Fit in the trump suit an a contract at the same level in NT. For this reason you can count extra points called **distribution points (DPs)** for long suits, on the basis that long suits are useful for finding a Golden Fit. Count 1 point for each 5 card suit, 2 for each 6 card suit, 3 for each 7 card suit, and so forth.

The **Total Points (TPs)** for a hand is simply the sum of the HCPs and the DPs.

Because it is so advantageous to play in a suit contract (with a Golden Fit, of course) it is possible to make a part score with only 18 TPs. Experience has shown that to make game in a major suit (4♥︎ or 4♠︎) requires about 25 TPs whereas to make game in a minor suit (5♣︎ or 5♦︎) requires 28-29 TPs.

### Hand Strength and contract levels

Let’s put all of this into a table to which we’ll refer frequently in future.

Bidding Level | No Trumps | Major Suit | Minor Suit |
---|---|---|---|

Game | 3 NT 25-26 HCP | 4♥︎ or 4♠︎ 25 TP | 5♣︎ or 5♦︎ 28 TP |

Part Score | 1 NT 21 HCP | 1♥︎ or 1♠︎ 18 TP | 1♣︎ or 1♦︎ 18 TP |

## The shape of a hand

Whilst bidding the players are not only communicating information about the strength of their hands but also about the **shape** – or distribution of cards – within their hands.

The language of bidding is very limited and this restricts what can be communicated. Ideally a player would like to tell partner something like “I have 4♣︎ 3♦︎ 2♥︎ 4♠︎” but this just isn’t possible. So the bidding messages encode just one of two options: that a hand is either balanced or unbalanced.

- A
**balanced hand**has no six card suits, no singleton suits, no voids and at most one doubleton. There are three balanced hand types:- 5-3-3-2: A five card suit, two 3 card suits and one 2 card suit.
- 4-3-3-3: A four card suit and three 3 card suits.
- 4-4-3-2: Two four card suits, one 3 card suit and one two card suit.

- An
**unbalanced**is a hand with any other distribution. Examples of unbalanced hand types are:- 4-4-4-1: The only unbalanced hand type without a five card suit.
- 5-5-2-1, 5-4-2-2, etc.
- 6-3-3-1, 6-3-3-2, etc.

Imagine, for one moment, that you learn that your partner holds a balanced hand and recall that to play in a suit contract you need a Golden Fit:

- If you hold 6 cards in a suit then a Golden Fit is certain, since your partner has at least 2 cards.
- If you hold 5 cards in a suit then a Golden Fit is probable.
- If you hold 4 cards in a suit then a Golden Fit is unlikely.

Now imagine that you learn that your partner has an unbalanced hand. Then you also know that they either have two 4+ card suits or at least one 6+ card suit.

Simply knowing if a partner’s hand is balanced or unbalanced conveys a lot more information than you might at first imagine.