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Points Schmoints - CHAPTER 1

© Marty Bergen


Order Points Schmoints here   Other Bergen books
Index   TOC

“Points, Schmoints!” — Use the Rule of 20                                              1

The Not-So-Short Club                                                                               5

Bond Knows All the Tricks                                                                         6

Dear Marty: What Suit Should I Open?                                                    8

Always Open 1NT — Even With a Five-Card Major                                9

The Spades Have It — The Rule of 15                                                     11

“Points, Schmoints!” — Use the Rule of 20

Players who count points and don't take note of distribution are a menace.”


Terence Reese, legendary bridge player and writer

After teaching bridge for over 20 years, I thought I had seen it all. However, I had the following experience in the winter of 1994, and it made a lasting impression on me. My class consisted of 28 experienced players, and I will never forget that first hand. The dealer held:

“Points, Schmoints!” — Use the Rule of 20

Players who count points and don't take note of distribution are a menace.”


Terence Reese, legendary bridge player and writer

After teaching bridge for over 20 years, I thought I had seen it all. However, I had the following experience in the winter of 1994, and it made a lasting impression on me. My class consisted of 28 experienced players, and I will never forget that first hand. The dealer held:


I was amazed as player after player passed this hand. Only one person opened 1. What was going on?

I immediately stopped their nonbidding and asked: “Do you open with 13 points?” Everyone answered yes. (Whew!) I now asked the $64,000 question. “How do you count your points when you pick up your cards?”

Seventeen students answered that they simply counted their high card points (HCP) and added points for distribution only if they found a fit!

Ten students answered that they added points for length to their HCP:  one point for a five‑card suit, two points for a six-card suit, etc. I am familiar with this technique, but I cannot agree with any method of evaluation that calls for passing hands like this one.

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© Marty Bergen

The one student who opened said that she had added “short-suit points” to her HCP. One point for a doubleton, two for a singleton, and three for a void. With 12 HCP plus two points for the singleton, she was happy to open. This was the technique I learned when I took up bridge.

How did I resolve the confusion?  I taught them The Rule of 20.

In first and second seat, add the length of your two longest suits to your HCP. When the total is 20 or more, open the bidding. With less, do not open at the one level.

Here is how it works. It is a matter of simple addition:

+     # cards in longest suit

+     # cards in second longest suit


This is all you must know to determine whether you should open the bidding in first or second position (i.e., when partner has not had a chance to pass). If there is a tie for longest or second-longest, you can select either; I always use a major suit for my computation. Try some examples. The first is the hand that only one player opened in class.

1.    KQ54              12 HCP
       A873                  4 spades
       6                         4 hearts
K1064             _____________
                                    20 — Open 1

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© Marty Bergen

2.    AQJ865           10 HCP
       —                      6 spades
       972                    4 clubs
       K754               ____________
                                    20 — Open 1

3.    KJ5                  12 HCP
       A875                 4 hearts
       Q75                   3 spades
       Q64                 ____________
                                    19 — Pass.

 4.    87                    11 HCP
        Q54                   7 diamonds
        AKQ9764         3 hearts
        9                      ____________
                                     21 — Open 1

The purpose of counting points is to evaluate your trick-taking potential to bid to the correct contract. However, you cannot accurately assess your values if you count only HCP.

The reality of bridge life is that hands with long suits and short suits have far more potential than their balanced counterparts. Give The Rule of 20 a chance.

There is no question that The Rule of 20 will increase your chances of having an opening bid. Is this desirable?  Here are my thoughts.

1.   You bid more accurately after your side opens.

2.    It is much easier to open than to overcall.

3.    It must be right to get in the first punch. I hate to guess after my opponents have bid, particularly if they have preempted.

4.    It is more fun to bid — absolutely, positively. If passing all afternoon is your idea of a good time, I suggest you check your pulse.

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© Marty Bergen

         Not convinced?  Try this problem:


LHO          Partner       RHO          Dealer
—              —              —              P*
             P              2            ???

* A point-counter. I hope you would know better.

What now?  To bid or not to bid, that is the question. If you decide to act, which suit do you bid?  Wow, this is annoying.

What would I do?  I would have opened 1 — based on The Rule of 20. Either you open at the one level or you guess later.

Perhaps the following will help. Distributional hands have stories that they would like to tell. For example:

Q9842             11 HCP
7                       5 spades
AKQ8              4 diamonds
1094                ____________

                             20 — Open 1

You                                    Partner
(“5 spades                    2
and enough to open”)
(“4 diamonds”)             2
3 (“3 clubs”)

Now partner knows it all. You are short in hearts. (5+4+3 leaves room for only one heart.) Well done! Don't you feel like taking a bow?

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© Marty Bergen

The Not-So-Short Club

To me, the ‘short club’ is more of a bludgeon than a club, and one whose lethal effect is usually directed at one's self or one's partner.”


Helen Sobel Smith, greatest woman bridge player of all time

Many players believe that an opening 1 bid is frequently based on a three-card suit. Others go even further and open 1 with only two cards in the suit when they have no attractive alternative. This is not my cup of tea. It is time to tell it like it is: A player opening 1 almost certainly holds four or more clubs.

The following statistics regarding opening bids of 1 will give you a basis in fact. Four-card suits occur most often. Five-card suits occur second most. Six-card suits have the next highest frequency. Three-card suits?  They do occur more often than seven-card suits.

In short, when a player opens 1, assume a four-card club suit.

“An opening 1 bid is usually based on a three-card suit” is only one of many popular misconceptions. In addition, there are others that apply to rebids and responses after a 1 opening.

1.    “Opener should rebid a five-card club suit to inform partner that he has a real suit.” no, No, NO. If opener opens 1 and rebids 2 after partner's 1 response, he deserves to languish in his 5-1 non-fit when responder holds:

A754  J8543  J65  6

2.    “You need five cards to raise opener's minor.” Balderdash! Partner opens 1 and RHO overcalls 1. You are missing the boat if you would not raise to 2 with:

J74  Q8764  KQ106

3.    “Respond up the line to a 1 opening.” That is just fine when you have four hearts and four spades. I cannot see the slightest merit in responding 1 instead of showing your major with a hand like:

QJ76  QJ76  Q854


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© Marty Bergen

Bond Knows All the Tricks

Counting HCP alone is accurate only when bidding notrump with a balanced hand.

All beginners are taught to count their points, and they quickly become proficient at it. Unfortunately, they inevitably become slaves to their HCP. However¼

The truth is that much more is involved in evaluating a hand than simply counting HCP.

Regrettably, old habits die hard. Many players are already deeply infected with “point countitis.” The following entertaining hand cures some of them:



7  Rdbl

J  Lead

East (Drax)
  South (James Bond)


Here is the incredible auction:

West          North         East            South
—              —              —              7
P                P                Dbl             Rdbl
All Pass

I first encountered this remarkable hand as a teenager while reading Ian Fleming's Moonraker, a James Bond novel. Bond is hot on the trail of the evil Hugo Drax who, along with more serious vices, enjoys cheating at bridge. While the two are spending a lively evening at the bridge table, needling and jousting, Bond sets up this infamous hand. It is renowned in bridge lore as “The Duke of Cumberland hand.”

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© Marty Bergen

Drax is given the imposing East cards, a point counter's dream come true. At this juncture in the evening, the betting between adversaries has become fierce, “one hundred fifty pounds a hundred, fifteen hundred pounds on the rubber, and a hundred pounds a trick on the side.” Bond has pretended to be intoxicated in order to justify his 7 opening! Note: If West had guessed to take out the double, Bond might have become known as .007 — seven of either major is makable.

As you can see, dummy did not have much, but it was “exactly what the spy ordered.” The J lead was ruffed in dummy. However, no other lead would have affected the outcome. At trick two, Bond led a trump from dummy and covered East's nine with his ten. He ruffed another diamond, removing East's last honor. Another trump finesse followed, and all that remained was to pull East's trump king. Bond then led the Q, capturing West's 10. All of Drax's honors were totally useless in the face of declarer's minor-suit winners!

The moral of the story is: Point count is only one factor in hand evaluation. Do not allow yourself to become dependent on it. No matter how many points you hold, high cards can always be neutralized by trumps and distribution. You can either accept this now, or you can join the “Draxes” of the world who learn the hard, expensive way.

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© Marty Bergen

Dear Marty: What Suit Should I Open?

Many players get confused when they are unable to open in a major. Which minor suit should they open?  The stronger?  The higher-ranking?  The following guidelines answer these questions.

With three cards in each minor always open 1. Bidding a three-card suit is a lesser of evils. If you must, do so as cheaply as possible.

Deciding what to open with four cards in each minor is one of the most overrated of bridge players' concerns. With a balanced hand, open the stronger suit. If you have a singleton in one of the majors, open 1 unless your diamonds are very weak.

With two five-card suits, there is an important guideline: Always open the higher ranking first. However, even experts disagree about which suit to open with five spades and five clubs. The correct, easy solution is to open 1, so that partner will immediately know that you have five cards in your major suit.

It is time to test yourself. Cover the answers on the right and decide what to open with each of the following:

1.    AK5  Q864  A84  J32                            1

2.    AQ43  A54  KQ9  KJ3                          1

3.      K8  Q95  K743  AQ108                        1

4.      9743  KQ87  AK83                           1

5.      A852  8653  AQJ9                            1

6.    AJ765  86  AKJ54                              1

7.    K4  A8652  KQJ97                            1

Now you are ready for the next question. What do you open when you hold a balanced hand with 16–18 or 15–17 HCP and a five-card major?

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© Marty Bergen

Always Open 1NT — Even With a Five-Card Major

Whenever you have a balanced hand and the appropriate point count, open 1NT. Do not be distracted by a five-card major. There are absolutely no exceptions. Life will be much easier when you open 1NT with a five-card major and a balanced hand. You will not have a rebid problem, and your partner will immediately know about your strength and balanced distribution. If you open your five-card major, partner will not know about your strength now, and there will be no way to tell him later! Bridge can be a very unforgiving game: Either you open 1NT, or you forget about showing your 16–18 (or 15–17) HCP.

Although many regard the above as heresy, please read on. What would you open with this hand?


If you open 1, your partner will often respond 1. The opponents are silent. It is time for your rebid; decide before continuing.

Let’s round up the usual suspects, oops, I mean rebids:

1.    Can you pass?  Absolutely not! Partner's 1 response did not deny a good hand. It promised 6–16 points and was 100% forcing.

2.    Can you rebid 1NT?  No, this shows a balanced minimum; less than a 1NT opening. Obviously, a 1NT rebid misrepresents your strength.

3.    Can you rebid 2?  No. A 2 bid would promise a four-card suit. You are asking for trouble if you lie about your distribution.

4.    Can you raise to 2?  No. This shows a minimum hand with good spade support. Partner's response promises only a four-card suit.

5.    Can you rebid 2NT?  No. This shows more points than an opening 1NT bid. You would need about 19 points to make this bid.

Give up?  You certainly do not need this aggravation — life is too short. Ignore your major and open 1NT.

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© Marty Bergen


It is true that partner will not know that you have a five-card major when you open 1NT with hands like these. That is not, however, the end of the world. [1]

It will be beneficial for you to declare a notrump contract. You would prefer to play last at trick one so that the lead does not come through your honors.


Here is a recap:

1.    Should you still open 1NT if the major is strong?  yes, Yes, YES.

2.    Is this true regardless of which major is involved?  yes, Yes, YES.

3.    Should you open 1NT with all balanced hands that include a five-card major and have the appropriate strength?  yes, Yes, YES.

Do I practice what I preach by always opening 1NT with five-card majors?  Absolutely, positively, YES.

I’ll conclude with two related examples.

What would you do as dealer with this hand?

  KJ765  AJ10  AQ  KQJ                   Open 2NT.

Your right-hand opponent (RHO) opens 1. What do you bid?

  KQ9  AJ765  AQ  875                     Overcall 1NT.

Congratulations — you are on your way to becoming a practical, nonstubborn bridge player.

1. A convention called Puppet Stayman alows responder to discover if opener holds a five-card major after opening 1NT.

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© Marty Bergen

The Spades Have It — The Rule of 15

After three passes, you are looking at a borderline hand. Should you open, or pass hoping that your next hand will be better?

The answer is to use The Rule of 15:

Fourth hand should open if your HCP plus  number of spades totals 15 or more.

Remember, this applies only to borderline hands; you know what to do with good ones.

Why are spades crucial here?  You have limited strength and no one opened in front of you. You will therefore be waging a part-score battle in which you will want to outbid the opponents without getting too high. If you own spades, the opponents cannot buy the hand at the two-level.

Without spades, you might need to compete to the three level. The same is true for the opponents. If they want to compete over your 2 bid, their two passed hands do not rate to make a nine-trick contract. The more spades you have, the safer it is to open.

What suit should you choose for your opening bid?  No problem! Open the bidding in the same suit you would have with a good hand.

Try the following examples to see how easy this is. Remember, add your HCP to the number of spades in your hand.

The auction has begun with three passes and you hold:


Open 1.  11 HCP + 4 spades = 15.


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© Marty Bergen



Open 1. Use the Rule of 15. You have 10 HCP and five spades — a total of 15. You hope to make a low-level part score.





Pass. With 11 HCP and two spades you should not open, even though this hand contains more HCP than the one above. You are concerned that the opponents hold spades, the dominant suit. Being able to make 2 is worthless if they can bid and make 2.




Pass. Your 12 HCP plus one spade total 13. Try your luck with some new cards.





Open 1. Only use The Rule of 15 when in doubt. With this lovely hand, you have no doubts.



Whether you are playing for masterpoints or simply for the satisfaction of beating your friends, you prefer plus scores to minus scores. The Rule of 15 is a simple yet reliable tool to decide whether or not to open up what might prove to be a can of worms. You need not feel squeamish when armed with spades.

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© Marty Bergen

NOW WHAT?                                                                                            13


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