The most important concept by far in Bridge is “thinking in patterns” . Patterns are the DNA of Bridge. Bidding , opening leads , defense & declarer play evolve from patterns. What do I mean by that ? Years ago when I was teaching my wife how to improve her game, I told her Bridge players must be obsessed with the number 13 . Counting is too boring & tiring in Bridge so we just apply memorized patterns instead. When counting a suit you have the pattern partially filled in as you are looking at the dummy & your hand. You only have a few patterns out of 39 that exist with that constraint. There are only 39 combinations of 4 suits that add up to 13. Also , there are only 39 combinations of one suit distributed over 4 Bridge hands that add up to 13. I made up a series of flash cards to memorize the more common patterns that add up to 13. These were a fill in the blanks tool . Each card had a Bridge distribution on it with one suit missing . I had every possible common suit distribution on those cards ( there are not that many in reality ) One card would have 5-4-1 and she would have to say 3 to fill in the pattern . No subtraction or addition to 13 allowed . Just rote memory. Another card would be 4-4-3 and she would have to say 2 . All distributions should be so deeply implanted in a good Bridge player that it is even beyond second nature . You think in patterns on defense , on bidding , opening leads & play of the hands . Good defenders are always reviewing the bidding in their minds to get a theoretical pattern on which to base their defense. When the opponents have opened a spade , rebid hearts the pattern is 5-4-2-2 , 5-4-3-1 or remotely 5-4-4-0 . Expert players go one step further and throw in the HCP’s also .
With partners showing proper count & reviewing the bidding , experts should never be caught on a pseudo squeeze or in any defensive error. The pattern is determined at an early stage so declarer is just wasting everybodys time by running her tricks . When you do not think in patterns , you would have to have a prodigious memory to keep track of things ! You might even hang onto the 13th heart in a pseudo squeeze situation or otherwise bungle the defense !
These are the most common patterns with their probabilities of occurrence ( table below ) . Not that many really . The 4 , 5 & 6 card patterns are the most frequently used & that is only 16 patterns . 60 % of all patterns are the 4 & 5 card suit variety. Memorize them ! This is a must have skill to be an expert player .There are only 3 patterns where a 4 card suit is the longest. There are only 6 patterns where a 5 card suit is the longest & only 7 patterns where a 6 card suit is the longest. There are no patterns in the 3 series as 3+3+3+3 =12 & we would have to call the director that a card is missing. 4 is obviously the minimum suit length when adding 4 suits or hands up to 13. Memorize these patterns backwards , forwards & then some !!!
Note the frequency of occurrence of these hand distributions from the table below. If you memorize 4432 (21.5 %) , 4333 (10.5 % ) , 5431 ( 12.9 %) 5422 (10.5% ) 5332 ( 15.5%) 6421 (4.7%) , 6331 (3.4%) , 6322 ( 5.6%) , 5521 (3.1%) & 4441( 2.9 %) you have 90 % of all possible hands covered !! These are only 10 patterns to memorize to cover 90 % of all possible hands ( 39 hand patterns ) . Get with it !
Note how the table below is organized. The patterns are categorized , by the longest suit in the hand pattern. There is a reason for this . Pre-empts at the 3 level bring in the 7 series of patterns as the starting point of a tentative count. Weak two’s or overcalls bring in the 6 series of patterns as a starting point. Playing 5 card majors brings in the 5 series as a start to the tentative count. Balanced hands may only have the 4 series of hand patterns. Organize your thought process like the table below. Work out the patterns of 8 card or longer suits at the Bridge table.
After you have memorized the patterns , train you self to recognize the triggers in order actually apply them at the table. The 1st trigger is whenever somebody shows out of a suit. This is a show stopper so stop & apply a pattern ! When you are on lead , translate the bidding into a pattern . When you lead , partner must translate your spot card into a pattern . Count signals are another trigger to apply a pattern. When somebody pre-empts or overcalls or opens the bidding, that gives you some information about their length , apply a pattern. It may take you years to perfect the habit , but believe me your game will jump at least one level.
I learned to “think in patterns” back in the early 1970’s so its 2nd nature to me now. I can tell if partner does not apply patterns in their defense as they are “lost” while defending & have no plan. They defend by instinct & experience which is usually OK but in the crunch , they will not defend properly. I played with a keen beginner the other night & this hand came up as the dummy. ♠xx ♥xxxx ♦Kxx ♣Qxxx . We were defending 3NT , declarer cashed the A & K of clubs with everyone following & then led the diamond queen . My partner eyed the queen suspiciously & considered ducking it with her Ace. She thought a bit but decided to take the trick. Disaster ! as declarer now made 3NT. She had 5 clubs & did not know to count 5 plus 4 from the dummy equals 9 , so both partner & declarer having two equals thirteen. This type of counting is tiring & not much fun . It is so simple when you have 5-4-2-2 memorized & you “think in patterns” . You duck the diamond automatically as you know declarer cannot get to the club queen for the 9th trick.
“Counting out a hand “ is a Bridge term to describe the application of hand patterns. Here is a hand in the world championship when a declarer did not “count out a hand” so butchered the declarer play.
♠ Axxx ♥ xxx ♦ x ♣ Q109xx
♠ KQx ♥ AQx ♦ AJx ♣ Axxx
LHO overcalled a heart & the final contract was 3NT. The diamond King was lead so declarer ducked. The diamond queen was continued , declarer won the diamond Ace. How do you continue ? A DNA analysis is required. Determine the building blocks of the opponents hand at the “cell level” . LHO bid hearts so give her 5 or 6 hearts . She led the diamond king & continued with queen so give her at least 3 diamonds. 6-3 or 5-3 in the reds ? Using our microscope let’s get the exact DNA structure of LHO’s hand. We cash the K & Q of spades & over to the Ace with LHO following to 3 of them ! 6-3-3-1 or possibly 6-4-3-0 ? Either one club or no clubs isn’t that interesting ? You are on the board with the spade Ace so you lead the club 10 & let it ride. RHO had KJx of clubs so you take 4 spades , 4 clubs , 2 diamonds & a heart for +660. Our declarer went 3 down vul when RHO had 6 diamonds & she played the clubs wrong starting with the Ace giving her time to establish the diamonds. Just a 14 IMP swing at the world championship level for not counting out a hand before attacking a key suit !