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After I read about honors in bridge, I quickly started wondering why they were added to the scoring system. Its obviously a privilege to be holding the cards required, so I can see why the scoring might want to reward that. But isn't holding the honors and having the power of playing them enough? Why was it necessary to add an additional bonus just for having them?

It feels like the rule is just adding luck to game that was designed to be about skill, in the sense of getting points for just getting the right cards, and not having to know anything about the strategy of how to play them. If you do hold the honors, you're almost definitely going to get more points because they allow you to take more tricks, which are the whole basis of how to get points anyway. Being automatically given points for receiving good cards that will help you win points during the actual game-play seems kind of paradoxical, almost like getting an extra $5000 every time you have a great idea that will let you make a lot more than that if you are able to develop it skillfully.

  • Does the rule do any more than just give you points for what you should be able to use to get points anyway?

  • When does it actually influence your decisions in the game?

  • How would bridge be different if it didn't have this rule?

(I'm a very novice bridge player, and I'm sure that my reasoning is incorrect, but I've been unable to prove these assumptions wrong on my own, and thought you guys would be able to help a noob like me understand. :)

Honours                 Points
All 4 aces in NT        150
5 top trumps (AKQJT)    150
4 out of 5 top trumps   100
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Upvoted because I never really understood the point of honors either: it just felt like insult upon injury when the opponents crushed me with their amazing cards, and then claimed an honors bonus on top of that! –  thesunneversets Jun 18 '11 at 17:56
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The rule of honors applies to any side. So if you are defending hearts holding AKQJ of hearts, you get the requisite number of points.

It really does not matter that there is a bonus for this. In the long run, the luck factor will even out.

As to why this is there: Most of initial bridge (i.e. auction bridge) terms and rules (like rubber is two games etc) and initial scoring were derived from Whist.

Giving points for honors is no different. Doing a bit of research turns up this book on Whist: The Bridgewater treatise on Whist which details out when the honor sequences can be used to add points to your score.

In fact, I suppose some of the auction bridge rule makers felt like you did and made a rule for adding points for chicane: when you have a void in the trump suit. This seems to have been dropped from the current contract rubber bridge scoring though.

As to that making a difference, here is a story from the autobiography of Howard Schenken(Education of a Bridge Player).

Howard Schenken was playing auction bridge and held a hand with four Aces and a Queen, when he heard his RHO bid 1NT. Without thinking, he bid 2NT and was doubled. He went down 2. So he lost 200 and gained 100 (for the honors) for a net loss of 100. He later realized that if he had just passed, he would give 10 for 1NT (remember auction bridge scoring) but gained 100 for honors for a net gain of 90!

I also remember there was a hand (possibly in Zia's autobiography Bridge My Way) where he was given a hand (as a wager) and asked "Play or Defend". After going through all the possibilities, Zia decided to defend, getting the contract down 1. At which point the puzzle giver claimed money from Zia, because declarer has hundred honors!

In contract rubber bridge, since the honor points go above the line, they ideally should not (drastically) change the way the game is played. Though, there will definitely be a difference, I suppose.

For instance, holding xxx,AKQJT, Kxx, xx you could potentially gamble a 3H bid over opponents 2S, get doubled, going down 1 but yet come out ahead as compared to letting them play 2S, because of the honor points.

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Upvote for pointing out that honors can be scored by defense as well. –  Tom Au Jun 18 '11 at 18:04
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I know honors can be scored by defense as well, but how often does the side with 4-5 honors actually lose? If defense has 4 of the top trumps, they have substantially improved odds of defeating the contract, so it still seems like its just more points for the winner. I don't have enough experience to know how often the side with honors loses, can someone shed some light on that? :D thanks for the answer! –  Gordon Gustafson Jun 18 '11 at 21:05
    
@Crazy: It will be hard to quantify that. But the point is, that is irrelevant, as the luck will even out. Given that the bonus is tiny and scored above the line, it should not matter that much. –  Aryabhata Jun 20 '11 at 4:23
    
Okay, so the affect of the rule is that it encourages you to bid a suit that you have honors in, even if you might loose points by not fulfilling the contract as you're sure to get the honors bonus. The last part really confirmed my suspicions, thanks! :D –  Gordon Gustafson Jun 20 '11 at 22:39
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Very simply put, your reasoning is basically right, and you are not alone thinking like this.

Does the rule still exist?

American Contract Bridge League pages confirm my own personal experience that rubber bridge players often, I'd say always, choose to ignore the rule today (and why):

As there is no skill in scoring for honors, players often agree to play without the honor bonuses.

In duplicate bridge, which is the nearly exclusive form of bridge seen in tournaments and clubs, this scoring rule is non-existent. Note also that in duplicate bridge, scoring rules purely based on hands dealt as opposed to player actions, would have no effect on the ultimate outcome. They would just cancel out.

Where did the rule come from?

The game you know as (contract) bridge is based on older forms of bridge, and those on a group of card games known as whist. Notice especially the 17th century variant of whist aptly called Ruff and Honours. As you can see from the references, the spirit of this rule is several times older than that of contract bridge, a 20th century invention with marked emphasis on gradual elimination of chance from the rules.

The process of removal of the honours scoring rule was also gradual, and the range of situations where the bonus can be awarded has been considerably reduced between auction bridge and your version of contract bridge rules.

How the game is affected if you do use the rule?

Strictly speaking, honors scoring is not purely based on hands dealt and a modest degree of skill is probably still necessary to cash in the extra points. While you do NOT need to be the declarer to obtain this bonus, you always need to control the suit of the contract. The rule could therefore bring about some bidding challenges, for example when all the honours in a suit occur in one hand, and when that hand is otherwise fairly weak and misfit to the partner's hand.

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Its not entirely true that they would cancel out in duplicate. They only cancel out if trump ends up being the same. A different bidding sequence could lead to not scoring the honors. –  bwarner Nov 27 '12 at 18:00
    
@bwarner - You and I are basically saying that the honours scoring rule is not purely based on hands dealt. –  Jirka Hanika Nov 28 '12 at 7:40
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In games like bridge and mahjong, there are what I call "simple" wins (barely meeting the requirements) and "compound" wins (meeting the requirements with something extra to spare). The extra honors pretty much fall in the "compound" wins category, because cards in sequence are worth more than they are individually. That is, AKQJ is really worth MORE than ten honor points.

Paradoxically, it could alter the game by encouraging someone with AKQJ (or T) to bid game with an otherwise weak hand. That is, s/he wouldn't have bid game without the 100 or 150 honors.

USUALLY, that's not the case, however. Most of the time, I don't think it really alters the game. But it does represent an extra bonus for "getting lucky."

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