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H. Anthony Medley is an Attorney, an MPAA-accredited film critic, and author of Learn to Play Bridge Like A Boss,Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, and UCLA Basketball: The Real Story. He is a Silver Life Master and an ACBL-accredited Director and the author of a bridge column for a Los Angeles newspaper.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The losing Trick Count

Here’s your hand which was played recently in a club game:

♠ 9843                        
♥ A7                           
♦ A4                                       
♣ T9652

South               West                North               East
                                                P                      1D!
1H                    P*                    2D**                 4D***
P                      ?

*    West should make a negative double here, showing at least six HCP and four spades
**   Limit raise (10-12 HCP) or better (but since north is a passed hand it is clearly not more than 12 HCP). North stretched here but with 4 card support and a doubleton, this is a reasonable limit raise.
*** Extra values (16+ HCP) and at least a six card suit, probably longer.

High Card Points aren't the be all and end all in hand evaluation. Another aid in evaluating hands is called "The Losing Trick Count" (LTC). There have been entire books written on it, but I believe in keeping the game simple and this explanation is really simple.

First you count your "losers." For this method, there is a maximum of three losers in every suit. They are offset by high honors. So if you have a heart suit consisting of the 9,7,5,3, and deuce, you have three losers, the maximum. But if the suit is Ace, 7, 5, and 3, you only have two losers because the Ace is a winner. With AQ753, you only count one loser because you have two of the top three honors. Q532 would be two losers because the queen is not a loser. But Q5 would be two losers because a doubleton queen is a loser. Q53 is counted as ½ loser. AKJ would be one loser. AKJ432 would still be only one loser. Get the picture? I hope so because that ends the explanation.

After you determine how many losers are in your hand, you listen to partner's bid. If she gives you a one over one raise, she should have 8-10 losers. A typical opening hand has 6-7 losers. A limit raise has eight losers, no more. Any bid that shows extra values, like an invitational jump, or a jump shift, should be evaluated as five losers or less.

After you hear partner's response, you add her losers to your losers and subtract the total from 24 and that's the number of tricks you should take. So if you open with a seven loser hand and she raises your suit, she has at least eight losers, maybe more. That's 15 losers between you. Subtract that from 24 and the difference is nine. That's the maximum number of tricks you should take and not enough for game. If, however, you open a major suit with six losers and she gives you a limit raise, that promises not more than eight losers. 8+6=14. 24-14=10 tricks, so you should bid game.

There is a big caveat here, however. The losing trick count should only be used after you have found a trump fit. If you don’t have at least 8 trumps between you, you should not evaluate your hand using LTC.

Here’s the entire hand where using LTC would have found the game:

                        ♠ Q652
                        ♥ 8542
                        ♦ 83
                        ♣ AQJ

West                                        East
♠ 9843                                     ♠ AK
♥ A7                                        ♥ 3
♦ A4                                        ♦ KQJT9765
♣ T9652                                  ♣ 87

                        ♠ JT7
                        ♥ KQJT96
                        ♦ 2
                        ♣ KT83

Using LTC, west should count her losers, three spade losers, one heart loser, one diamond loser, three club losers for a total of eight losers, and realize that with her two diamonds she and partner have a trump fit. Due to East’s strong jump, she should place no more than five losers in east’s hand (actually it’s a 4 loser hand). 8+5=13. 24-13=11, the number of tricks east should be able to take, so west should easily bid 5D. As it was, west passed and EW missed a cold game.

As to the bidding, however, East could open this hand 2C because she has 9 sure tricks, seven diamonds and two spades, which qualifies for a strong 2C opening bid.

I’ll have more on LTC in future columns.

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