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How to Count Points

By Ralph Welton

High card points

There are many ways to evaluate the strength of a bridge hand. The most common is to assign point values to honor cards:

ace = 4
king = 3
queen = 2
and jack = 1

Then you simply add up all your points, and you get a number for the strength of your hand – its "high card points." The assumption is that hands with more points are likely to take more tricks.

AQ852  KJ4  Q8  KQT    How many points?

17 high card points (hcp)

K52  A83  AKQ8  T98    How many points?

16 high card points (hcp)

9  KQJ63  KJ7  AT52    How many points?

14 high card points (hcp)

J63  AJT9  KQJT  Q4    How many points?

14 high card points (hcp)

AKQJT8763  7   –  Q52    How many points?

12 high card points (hcp)

Counting high card points is simple, and good enough to get you started with evaluating the strength of your hand. However, there are adjustments to the count that improve the accuracy. So let's talk about the best and easiest to learn adjustments.

High card points don't tell the whole story

We count 3 points for a king, but that doesn't mean that all kings are equally valuable on each and every hand.

  • Sometimes a king takes a trick, and sometimes it doesn't.
  • Sometimes a king helps you establish skaters in a long suit, and sometimes it doesn't.
  • Sometimes a king helps establish other honors as trick takers, and sometimes it doesn't.

To say that a king is worth 3 points implies that it's always worth the same amount. But that's simply not true.

Can we predict when a king should be counted at full value, and when it shouldn't?

Yes! Take a look at these two kings:

T932  K  K742  8765

Count the full 3 points for your K. But your K is worth less because you have no choice about when to play it. If your opponents play the A, you won't be able to play a spot card on the trick. You will have to play your singleton king under the ace. So sad.

What do we do about this?

We adjust our counting by subtracting a point for honors without a lower card in the suit. This modest adjustment corrects for the disadvantages of honors in short suits.

(If you skipped the Bridge Bears pages on How To Win Tricks, especially blocked suits and skaters, now would be a good time to read them.)

How do we evaluate a doubleton KQ?

T932  KQ  KQ42  765

Follow the same procedure. Count your high card points, then subtract 1 point for not having a smaller card in the heart suit.

Even AKQ loses a point for not having a lower card in the suit.

KQ  AJT83   QJ6  AQ8    How many points?

19 hcp - 1 (spades have no spot card) = 18

You didn't click this button to see the answer before counting the hand yourself, did you? There'll be no honey for Bears who won't count!

A  KQJT   QJT  KJ964    How many points?

17 hcp - 1 (spades have no spot card) = 16

KQT98  AQJ   832  AQ    How many points?

18 hcp - 2 = 16
(hearts and clubs have no spot cards)

I hope you had no trouble with those, because I'm ready to move on to another adjustment.

Subtract a point for hands with 4-3-3-3 distribution.

A hand with only one 4 card suit provides almost no chance of developing skaters. And you have no short suit where you might trump partner's losers, either.

Let's try counting some hands where I've mixed in both 4-3-3-3 distribution and honors without spot cards.

K532  QJT  AT9  KQJ    How many points?

16 hcp - 2 = 14 points
(4333, and no club spot card)

QJ9752  A  K876  QJ    How many points?

13 hcp - 2 = 11 points
(no heart or club spot cards)

KQ6  AKQ  T876  A64    How many points?

18 hcp - 2 = 16 points
(4333, and no heart spot card)

K2  JT7  AQT93  KT6    How many points?

13 hcp (no deductions)

Additions to the point total

We've covered when to subtract from our high card points. Are you wondering if we ever add points? Yes we do.

If you have enough trumps in the dummy, you may be able to trump one or two of declarer's losers. This wins tricks just as surely as winning with honor cards.

So we can assign a point value to the ability to trump.

We do this in two ways:

  • Add a point for each EXTRA trump in support of partner's suit. How many is extra? Well, that depends on how many trumps you need for an 8 card fit. If partner has shown a 5 card suit, you can raise with 3 trumps. So a fourth trump is one extra (count 1 extra point), and 5 trumps is two extra (count 2 extra points).
  • After you've found a fit, you can also count points for shortness in side suits. The sooner you run out of cards in a side suit, the sooner you can start trumping. The extra points are called dummy points.
    • count 2 dummy points for a singleton
    • count 5 dummy points for a void

Let's look at a few examples of adding extra points. You'll need to know how many trumps partner has, so you can figure out if you have any extra trumps.

Partner opens the bidding with 1 (5+ suit).
You hold: K972  7  KJ32  A642
Your hand is worth 11 + 3 dummy points = 14 total points.
The extra points are +2 for the singleton, and +1 for an extra trump.

Partner opens the bidding with 1 (5+ suit).
You hold: A54  QT8  K9852  76
Your hand is worth 9 (0 dummy points).

Partner opens the bidding with 1 (5+ suit).
You hold: K542  AT752   –  QJ86
Your hand is worth 10 + 7 = 17 points.
The extra points are +5 for a diamond void, and +2 for extra trumps.

I've made the next three hands as tricky as I can. Count carefully. And no peeking before you count!

Partner opens the bidding with 1 (5+ suit), and you hold:
QJ82  JT7  KQJ  KT6   How many points?

13 hcp +1 -2 = 12
+1 for an extra trump
-2 for 4333, and no diamond spot card

Partner opens the bidding with 1 (5+ suit), and you hold:
AQT82  4  KT7652  6    How many points?

9 hcp +2 +2 +2 = 15
+2 for extra trump
+2 for a singleton heart, and +2 for a singleton club

Partner opens the bidding with 1 (5+ suit), and you hold:
9  KQ  KQT86  AJ986    How many points?

15 hcp -1 = 14
-1 for hearts with no spot card
Do not count +2 for the singleton spade because you do not have a trump fit.
plush toy bear

Little Bear asks, "Aren't there other times when we should add or subtract points? What about when I have a really good long suit?"

Yes, Little Bear. There are many other adjustments that experienced players make when counting their points.

But let's not try to learn too much all at once. Remember, high card points all by themselves are a good start. After that, make the adjustments that you remember.

When to count dummy points

Dummy points are only counted when supporting partner's trump suit. Do not count dummy points when you are bidding your own suit. (Only the dummy counts dummy points – Duh!). Do not count dummy points for no trump, even if you have support for a suit partner has previously bid.

If partner has bid a major suit, count dummy points whenever you have a fit. Declaring in the major suit is preferred to declaring in no trump.

But if partner has bid a minor suit, do not count dummy points when you raise because many hands with a minor suit fit wind up played in NT. Partner needs to know when the points you promise with your raise will contribute to taking tricks in a NT contract. Dummy points do not.

If partner has avoided NT and has bid his minor a second time, count full dummy points when deciding if you should raise to a minor suit game.


Count 4-3-2-1 points for honor cards.

Subtract points for honors without a spot card, and for 4-3-3-3 distribution.

Add 1 point for each extra trump.

Add dummy points for short suits, after you've found a fit...

  • singleton = 2 points
  • void = 5 points

plush toy bearGo to the next topic:

Opening Bids

Ralph Welton with BuffyBridge Bears is run by a retired teacher and ACBL life master who has 35 years teaching experience and who's been playing bridge for over 50 years. I don't claim to be one of the top players, but I do understand how slowly beginners need to go when they are trying to learn how to play bridge.