Monday, July 13, 2009

Advanced Losing Trick Count

See Friday's post for a quick brush-up on the Losing Trick Count.

The LTC is certainly not infallible, especially in its simplest form that I’ve given you here. It tends to work quite a bit better when you introduce the concept of “cover cards”, which I’ll illustrate quickly with hand (C) from earlier:

(C) ♠AQ7632 ♥AT762 ♦5 ♣6

Let’s say responder has one of these two hands:

(C1) ♠K98 ♥KQ5 ♦98432 ♣A2

(C2) ♠984 ♥Q53 ♦KQJ42 ♣KJ

Opposite hand (C1), 6S looks great—on normal splits, we’ll lose only the ace of diamonds.

Opposite (C2), we’ll probably lose a spade, a heart, a diamond, and a club and go down in game!

What’s the difference here? Both hands have the same shape, the same HCP, and the same number of losers! What’s going on?

Well, hand (C1) has four cover cards, and (C2) has only one! Cover cards are defined as cards we know will cover (take care of) one of partner’s losers. Hand (C1)’s cover cards are the king of spades, the king of hearts, the queen of hearts, and the ace of clubs. Hand (C2)’s only cover card is the queen of hearts. So, opposite a major two-suiter, we’d much, much rather hold (C1) than (C2).

How do we know what’s a cover card? Listen to the auction! The auction on Hand (C) would start (opposite either hand) with

1S – 2D – 2H – ?

Hand (C1) is an amazing hand opposite the major two-suiter. Responder should jump to 3S, forcing to game and starting a cuebidding sequence:

1S – 2D – 2H – 3S – 4C – 4H – 4NT – 5D [Blackwood] or 5H [Keycard] – 6S

Hand (C2) is an awful hand opposite the major two-suiter. Responder should attempt to sign off as soon as possible!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Losing Trick Count

The Losing Trick Count (LTC) is an old, old method of evaluating your hand. It was first published in 1935 under the miserably long title of “The Losing Trick Count, as used by the leading contract bridge tournament players, with examples of expert bidding and expert play.” This book didn’t make much of a splash, but Ron Klinger’s fabulous 2001 book Modern Losing Trick Count took the bridge world by storm. Here’s the basic idea behind the LTC:

When you have a good fit (8+ cards in one suit between the two hands) with your partner, you can evaluate your “losers” to see how powerful the fit is.

Count one loser for every missing ace, king, or queen in your hand. Only count one loser for a singleton, and two for a doubleton. Never count the fourth (or higher) card in a suit as a loser. Here are a few example hands:

(A) ♠AQT94 ♥A853 ♦Q2 ♣75

This hand has seven losers: one in the spade suit (missing K), two in the heart suit (missing KQ), two in the diamond suit (missing AK), and two in the club suit (missing AK). 1+2+2+2 = 7. Your average minimum opening hand (and minimum game-forcing hand over partner’s opener) will have seven losers.

(B) ♠KQ652 ♥AK32 ♦52 ♣83

This hand has the same shape and same HCPs, but only six losers: one in spades (missing A), one in hearts (missing Q), and two in each minor suit (AK in each). 1+1+2+2 = 6. The LTC says that hand B is one trick stronger than hand A.

(C) ♠AQ7632 ♥AT762 ♦5 ♣6

This is a great hand with only five losers: one in spades (missing K), two in hearts (missing KQ) and one in each minor (A in each). This has fewer HCP than hands A and B, of course, but much more playing strength.

(D) ♠Q632 ♥KJ62 ♦76 ♣A52

How many losers does this hand contain?

REMEMBER: Only use the LTC when there’s a known trump fit!

A good rule of thumb: Take your number of losers, add the number of partner’s losers (let’s say I have 7 losers, and partner’s opened the bidding and shown a minimum: assume 7 losers, therefore 14 total) and subtract that number from 18. This figure tells you the contract you’ll make most of the time. In this example, you have 14 – subtract from 18. That leaves you with 4—you’ll be able to make four of your suit on most layouts of the cards. Bid game!

When you’ve opened the bidding with a 5-loser hand and partner’s given a single raise (9 losers), you have 14 total again. Bid game!

When you’ve opened the bidding with a 6-loser hand and partner’s forced to game (7 or fewer losers), you have at most 13 total losers, quite possibly less. Time to make a slam try!

Tune in Monday for a more advanced use of the LTC.