Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hand Evaluation – Visualization ( Patterns )

            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.

  4441  2.993219
  4432  21.551176
  4333  10.536130

  5530   0.895203
  5521   3.173900
  5440   1.243337
  5431  12.930705
  5422  10.579668
  5332  15.516846
6610       0.072340
6520       0.651056
6511       0.705311
6430       1.326226
6421       4.702075
6331       3.448188
6322       5.642490
7600       0.005565
7510       0.108509
7420       0.361698
7411       0.391840
7330       0.265245
7321       1.880830
7222       0.512954

            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 !

 Bob Crosby


  1. Over the years in my coaching & mentoring days I have written 1500 articles like the above. People I am mentoring are subjected to one of these a day. For the EBC members , I plan to post one article a week. I will keep the "off the wall" or advanced articles to myself

    Bob Crosby

  2. If only it were as easy as Bob makes it sound. Articles like these make me want to quit bridge because they trivialize the challenge of counting and visualization. After 25+ years I still can't do it. :(