One of the easier ways to lose a game contract is to have something like Jxx opposite Txx, and lose the first three tricks with a "long" and weak suit. That spells automatic defeat at a minor suit contract, even with the remaining 31 points (29 is ordinarily needed to make game), one trick to go at a major suit contract, and two tricks to go at no trump.

I believe that there are some authorities who will deduct a point for say, a 4-3-3-3 distribution. Does that get one to the same place in a roundabout way? Or am I right to be specifically concerned about the three "little ones" in a hand like A952 AT64 863 AK?

  • Here's a tip: stop evaluating your hand with HCP once a fit is found. Methods like cover cards or losers are much more reliable.
    – petqwe
    Sep 29, 2016 at 11:11
  • 2
    A stronger tip: stop evaluating your hand with HCP, or any other mechanical method, after at most the second round of bidding. Instead, picture the range of possible hands your partner can have given the bids they've made, and think about how good or bad your hand is within the range of possible hands for the bids you've made. Then decide how to elicit information from partner about which hand in their range they have, and also try to figure out what information partner is trying to elicit from you. Sep 29, 2016 at 22:24
  • True. Against this is that Jxx opposite xxx is sometimes a "stopper" in a no trump game, because the opponents may be unable to run more than four tricks in this suit due to a 43 split. If you have enough tricks in the other three suits (obviously you need all the three remaining aces) and enough overall strength, then you often have at least some play for 3NT. Sep 30, 2016 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


Losing trick count is a form of hand evaluation where you count the number of losers in each suit, to a maximum of 3 per suit. So

  • A, AK, AKQ, AKQxxx, and -void- are all 0-loser suits.
  • x, K, Ax AKx, AQx are all 1-loser suits.
  • Qx, xx, QJx, Kxx are all 2-loser suits
  • Jxx, xxxx, xxxxx, are all 3-loser suits.

Note that 3 little in a suit is the worst possible holding -- it counts for 3 losers without covering any losers in another suit.

Losing trick count is a bit controversial -- note that Qxx xxxxx Qxx xx evaluates to 9 losers, as does AJT AJxx xx Jxxx, where the second is a far stronger hand. However, losing trick count is probably more accurate than high card points when evaluating a distributional hand that has a fit with partner.

The scale of evaluation is based on the assumption that when you add your losers to partner's and subtract that number from 24, you'll make that many tricks. So a 7-loser hand is a minimum opener / game force. An 8-loser hand is invitational and a 6-loser hand accepts. A 9-loser hand is a typical responding hand.

Most players I know only use losing trick count to make decisions when they know that they have a known 9-card fit or double fit with partner (or possibly a 4-4).

On the other hand, I wouldn't worry overmuch about 3 small in a suit. Often partner will have an honor or shortness to make the suit less hopeless. Another way you can avoid bad games with 3 small is to be on the lookout for wastage; when you have cramped honors in a suit (e.g. KQ tight, AQJ, etc) and partner shows a stopper in that suit, that's bad news -- it means that you're double-counting the honors in that suit.


Point count is a rough measure, and no good player relies on it exclusively. Good players do know that xxx in a suit is generally a bad holding, more so in some situations than others.

Some partnerships play a form of help-suit game tries which basically ask partner to bid game unless they have a weak tripleton. In other words, after 1S-2S, a bid of 3X asks partner to bid 3S with a weak tripleton in X (or sometimes also a doubleton and only 3 trump) and 4S otherwise. This seems awfully specific but turns out quite useful, particularly if the 2S bid promises at least a good 7 points (with worse raises going through a forcing 1N response). (You might make this 3X bid not only with xxx in the suit but also with something like AJxx.)

(Personally, I don't like help suit tries or constructive raises, but not to the extent that I refuse to play them with a partner who really wants to.)

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