Basic Hand Evaluation (Acol)

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Length: 10 minutes

Two metrics to measure how good your hand is:

  1. Strength (the honours you hold)
  2. Shape (distribution of suits in your hand)

High-card points (HCP)

Each honour in your hand is assigned a value as follows:

  • Ace = 4
  • King = 3
  • Queen = 2
  • Jack = 1

The strength of your hand is the total number of HCP you hold in your hand.


Your hand will either be balanced (with roughly the same number of cards in each suit) or unbalanced (a mixture of very long and very short suits).

Criteria for balanced hands:

  • No void
  • No singleton
  • No more than one doubleton

Three possible balanced shapes:

  1. 4333
  2. 4432
  3. 5332

All other shapes are unbalanced.

Aims of the auction

Overall, you are trying to answer two questions:

  1. Should we have a trump suit and, if so, which?
  2. How high should we go: part-score, game or slam?

Deciding on a trump suit

You and your partner have a “fit” if you have at least 8 cards in a suit between you, as that leaves the opponents with only 5: under half of the available cards in the suit.

You should investigate which strain to play in using the following order of priority:

  1. Major fit
  2. NT
  3. Minor fit

Deciding on a level

Three types of contract according to how many points you can score at the end of the hand:

  1. Part-score (No bonus points)
  2. Game (Game bonus)
  3. Slam (Game bonus + Small/Grand Slam bonus)

In the auction, you need to work out whether you have enough strength for game.

Game contracts are at a different level depending on the strain. Add 6 on to the number of the level to give you the number of tricks you are committing to:

  • Game in NT is 3NT (bidding for 9 tricks)
  • Game in a major suit is 4♥ or 4♠ (bidding for 10 tricks)
  • Game in a minor suit is 5♣ or 5♦ (bidding for 11 tricks)

Slam contracts are not:

  • Small slam is 6 of anything (bidding for 12 tricks)
  • Grand slam is 7 of anything (bidding for 13 tricks)

Putting it all together

If you are unbalanced, you will generally prefer to have a trump suit; if you are balanced, you will prefer to play in NT.

There are 40 HCP total in the pack. This means that:

  • With 10 HCP, you have a precisely average hand
  • With 12 HCP, you have a better-than-average hand and can therefore dive in and be the first to bid (opening the bidding)
  • With 25 HCP, you and your partner have a clear majority of the strength and should bid a game
  • With 33 HCP, you cannot be missing two aces and should therefore bid a small slam
  • With 37 HCP, you cannot be missing any aces and should therefore bid a grand slam
Back to: First Steps: How to Bid in Bridge (Acol)