High card points ("HCP") are the cornerstone of hand evaluation. They represent numeric values for each honor card:

Ace = 4 points
King = 3 points
Queen = 2 points
Jack = 1 points

Thus, each suit contains a total of 10 HCP, and every deal (52 cards) contains a total of 40 HCP. The maximum for a single hand is 37 HCP, e.g.

S AKQJ
H AKQ
D AKQ
C AKQ


Opening the Bidding

First and foremost, HCP are used to decide if a hand is strong enough to open the bidding. The general rule is that you need at least 12 HCP to open the bidding at the 1-level. Example:

S JT98
H T2
D A9
C AK865

This hand contains 12 HCP and is strong enough to open 1C.

S QJ987
H A42
D A92
C 76

In contrast, this hand only has 11 HCP and is not strong enough to open 1S.


Treatments

A treatment is a partnership agreement about the specific meaning of a natural bid. Examples of treatments in Standard American opening bids:

  • 1 / = 3+ clubs / diamonds
  • 1 / = 5+ hearts / spades (i.e. 5-card majors)
  • 1NT = 15-17 HCP with "balanced" distribution (i.e. no singleton/void, and no more than one doubleton)

The following hand contains 16 HCP and therefore warrants a 1NT opening bid:

S AK3
H A98
D AJ92
C T76

Side note: in the old days, a 1NT opening bid promised 16-18 HCP. This is why bridge newspaper columns typically show 1NT bids containing exactly 16-17 HCP - to keep all readers happy.

High card points are also used to determine the appropriate response to an opening bid. 6 HCP are generally considered the minimum for responding to a natural 1C/D/H/S opening bid.


Conventions

A convention is a partnership agreement about the meaning of an uncommon or artificial bid. High card points are frequently used to define conventional agreements. Examples of conventions in Standard American opening bids:

  • 2 = Artificial, showing 22+ HCP or 9+ tricks
  • 2 / / = A weak two bid, showing 5-10 HCP and a 6-card suit


Adjustments to HCP

  • All four aces. Many players add a point when holding all four aces. The rationale is that aces are slightly undervalued in the 4-3-2-1 HCP system.

  • Queens and jacks. Pretty much everyone agrees that queens and jacks are worth a bit less than 2 HCP and 1 HCP, respectively. Therefore, a hand with "soft values" that contains 12 HCP is commonly passed, e.g.:

    S QJ3
    H QT987
    D KJ4
    C QJ

  • Singleton and doubleton honors. Hands containing singleton and doubleton honors are often worth less than their HCP indicate. For example, a queen-jack doubleton is technically 3 HCP, but may provide little or no value if the opponents hold the ace-king of the suit. (The queen and jack simply get squashed when the opponents play their ace and king.)

  • Suit texture. The HCP system does not assign values to "interior" cards like tens and nines, but they are definitely worth some fractional value. For instance, would you rather hold H KJT98 or H KJ432?

  • Contextual auction considerations. Honor cards can increase or decrease in value, depending on the auction. For example, say you open 1H with:

    S KJ3
    H AQT98
    D A94
    C 32

    Now your left-hand opponent overcalls 1S. Your S KJ3 has just lost some value because of the increased probability of your opponent holding S AQxxx.


Related Topics

The following bidding guidelines are closely related to HCP:


Origins

High card points were popularized by American bridge icon Charles Goren in the first half of the 20th century. They remain one of the most basic and essential guidelines today.

See also

  • Distribution Points
    A hand evaluation method for counting suit length or shortness.

  • The Law of Total Tricks
    A hand evaluation strategy for competitive auctions.

  • Losing Trick Count
    A hand evaluation method used once a trump fit is located.

  • Pearson Points
    A hand evaluation method for deciding whether or not to open the bidding in 4th seat.

  • Rule of 20
    A guideline for opening the bidding which counts high card points + the length of your two longest suits.

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