Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Beginner and above

Assessing the hand

Note that the aim of this page is to guide you in the right direction at a relatively early stage.

It assumes that you are considering making an opening bid in first or second seat.

Other possibilities will be considered as you follow the links through to the appropriate pages.

Whether you are at the beginner stage or operating at a far higher level, the way in which you think about the potential of your hand and your choice of opening bid are crucial to all that follows.

There is nothing new in the content of this page but some readers will find something new in outlook.

When you first pick up your hand, and after you have counted it and sorted it to your own satisfaction, I want you to assess it in two separate ways.


The second of these is to count the number of high-card points (HCP) (four for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen and one for a jack).


First, however, I want you to note the shape - e.g. 4-4-3-2, 5-4-2-2, etc. by counting the lengths of the suits.

In particular I want you to note whether or not the hand contains a suit of six or more cards, or at least 5-4 shape in two suits.


These shapes define the hand-type.

If your hand qualifies for some type of opening bid then it will be the hand-type which will primarily affect both your assessment of the potential of the hand and also the way in which you set out to show your hand in the bidding.

Having determined the hand-type the links below will enable you to see what happens next.

Hands with a suit of at least six cards are


(For the moment I shall include hands with 6-4 shape in this category.)

Hands with at least 5-5 shape are


4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2 and 5-3-3-2 hands are classified as


(An optional alternative method for some 5-3-3-2 hands is linked from the ‘balanced’ page.)

Something of a special case is the hand with

4-4-4-1 shape

Any other hand will have

5-4 shape

Note that the classifications above are irrespective of the strength (e.g. HCP) of the hand.

If you are considering opening the hand then follow the appropriate link above according to the shape of the hand - considerations of strength will come later.


However, there is frequently much muddled and ill-informed thinking relating to the definition and bidding of strong hands.

Some basic thoughts on the matter are to be found on the page

opening strong hands

Context  -  The opening bid.

This page last revised 23rd Jun 2019