By Marvin French
Ace, king, queen jack: four, three, two, one. How simple! How easy to remember! This is the Work count, named after Milton C. Work, the mentor and employer of Charles Goren. It was based on the McCampbell count of 1915, publicized by Work in the 20s. He actually did not like point count (PC), writing this in Auction Bridge Complete
"Many teachers and writers advocate schemes by which a bidder may determine mathematically whether his hand is strong enough to justify bidding an original No Trump. A more difficult, but much more satisfactory, method is figuring an Ace as one trick, giving to all other single honors and to all combinations of honors arbitrary values which in most cases are fractions of a trick, or one or more tricks and a fraction." Ely Culbertson later incorporated this principle in the development of Honor Count (HC).
By 1929 Work, in Contract Bridge for All
, gave in to PC's popularity and accepted it for notrump bidding only. For suit bidding he wrote:
"Contract suit bidding is so simple that only the number of 'probable' and 'high card' tricks in the hand need be noticed."
The great Ely Culbertson agreed with that in his Contract Bridge Complete
, 1936, while eschewing point count altogether. Instead he used HC for both notrump and suit bidding. No doubt he could see that PC had two serious drawbacks: (1) 4-3-2-1 is not an accurate measurement of the relative values of high cards, especially for suit bidding, and (2) honors in combination are worth more than the same honors lying in different suits.
In his book Contract Bridge in a Nutshell
(1952 edition), Goren wrote:
"The point count method for No Trump bidding as we know it today was first introduced by me in Winning Bridge Made Easy
(1936) and has for many years been standard with an overwhelming majority of the most successful players in the country. The carryover into suit bidding was accomplished in 1949 and has now been universally accepted." Notice that he gave no credit to Work (who had given no credit to McCampbell!).
He didn't say that he used HC, not PC, for suit bidding up until 1944, when he gave PC and HC equal value for both notrump and suit bidding, as in his The Standard Book of Bidding
(1944-49). "Take your pick, it doesn't matter," he seemed to say.
Then he saw a way to gain ground on his rival Culbertson by using PC for all bidding. He knew that this was an inferior approach (giving him benefit of doubt) but realized that most players wanted one simple hand evaluation method, not two, for all bidding. He started with Point Count Bidding in Contract Bridge
(1950). The book was so successful that he followed it up with many others. In his highly successful system summary, Contract Bridge in a Nutshell
, 1952 edition, he wrote:
"With the introduction of my point count method the honor trick began to fall into disfavor, and today it is all but obsolete. Even those authorities who sponsored the honor trick for twenty years have decided, after witnessing the acceptance of point count, to abandon the old table and to adopt the methods which you will find set forth in this and my other books. Such action became indispensable to survival." True, not because of PC's superiority but because of its popularity. "Authorities" had to go along or lose students and readers.
Culbertson was caught out and desperately tried to catch up, coming out with Culbertson Point Count Bidding
: "Improved and simplified 4-3-2-1 with the new rule of 3&4." But it was too late, Goren had cornered the market.
So what about this 4-3-2-1 count? The Four Aces (Oswald Jacoby, David Burnstine (later Bruce), Howard Schenken, and Michael T. Gottlieb) in their Four Aces System of Contract Bridge
, 1935, featured a 3-2-1-1/2 count. These men were very qualified to write such a book, having as a team won 11 out of 13 major team championships between 1933 and 1935, while none were won by Culbertson's team. Their very complicated book did not sell well and was soon forgotten. Actually the 3-2-1-1/2 count more nearly expresses the true relative values of honor cards for suit bidding, but not for notrump bidding, for which they should have retained the 4-3-2-1 count. The Four Aces made a mistake in having a point count that includes a fraction, and should have doubled the values yielding 6-4-2-1, which players might more readily have accepted. It entails larger sums but the arithmetic is simpler. Incidentally, Goren included the Four Aces PC in The Standard Book of Bidding
, treating it as an equal to the 4-3-2-1 PC, despite the great difference. While the 4-3-2-1 count is marginally acceptable for notrump bidding, for suit bidding it overvalues queens and jacks while undervaluing aces and kings.
In the September 2001 Bridge World
, Doug Bennion defines a more accurate PC, Little Jack Points
(LJP), as A = 6-1/2, K = 4-1/2, Q = 2-1/2 and J = 1, which Bennion's research confirms as being superior to 4-3-2-1 provided an adjustment is made for honor synergy:: add 1/2 point for each face card that is accompanied by a higher honor in its suit. Danny Kleinman improved this method by doubling the values, producing A = 13, K = 9, Q=5, J = 2, with whole point adjustments instead of halves. He also added further adjustments to reflect the value of 10s when accompanied by 9s or higher honors, subtracting two points for a 4-3-3-3 hand, reducing values for singleton honors, and devaluing a hand with an unstopped suit.
The result is a much more accurate count that has a valid strength relationship among the honors and recognizes the increased value of accompanied honors (as honor count does!). Bennion researched only the value of high cards when balanced hand faces balanced hand
. In other words, this is a notrump count, not a count for suit bidding, which would assign more value to aces and kings vs queens and jacks.
It is very sad to see the Work-Goren PC taught to beginners as the ultimate hand evaluation method, not the temporary rough tool it should be called, and to see it used faithfully by experienced players. "Faithfully" is the right word, because adherence to it is like a religious belief, blind to reason.
Now, what about HC? It has been defined in slightly different ways, but let's use Ely Culbertson's version with very slight modifications. After all, he was the one responsible for the name and for making it extremely popular for 20 years, as Goren said. Here are the honor valuations:
AK = 2
AKQJ, AKQ, and AKJ = 2-plus
AQ and AJ10 = 1-1/2
AQJ = 1-1/2-plus
A, KQ, and KJ10 = 1
AJx and KQJ = 1-plus
Kx and QJx = 1/2
KJx = 1/2-plus
Qx, J10x, and two isolated jacks = a "plus"
Two plus values = 1/2, so a plus is really 1/4
The value for AJ10 is thanks to Danny Kleinman, not Culbertson.
Somewhat arbitrarily, the same evaluations are applicable to both notrump and suit bidding. As with PC, it is too much to expect players to learn two different tables. It may seem strange that AKQ, AKQJ, and AKJ are treated as equals, but that is related (1) to their value in a suit contract, when a third-round winner is less likely especially when defending, and (2) in a notrump contract when a concentration of honors in one suit implies possibly extreme weakness elsewhere. (1) is less applicable for a declaring side in a suit contract, when winners are more important than defensive values. (2) is less applicable in a notrump contract when the other suits have strength or when partner has shown a valuable hand for notrump (when he may have the other suits well-covered). When (1) and (2) are less applicable, the HC for these holdings can be increased slightly.
Here are two hands with different PC values (11 and 13) but identical HC values (2-1/2)
AQJx KJx xx xxxx
AQxx Kxx Qx Qxxx
Despite the different point counts, 11 and 13, these hands are of approximately equal value according to HC (2-1/2 each). The principle involved is that honors in combination are worth more than separate honors. PC adherents will say it doesn't matter in the long run, evaluation errors will even out. No they won't. PC is seldom if ever superior to HC, so its inferiority is a generally constant companion. Expert players use PC as a starting point
in the evaluation of their hand, and make adjustments based on hand shape, location of honors, fit with partner, intermediate cards, opposing bidding, control cards, unguarded honors, and information on partner's suit length and suit strength as it becomes available during the bidding. The starting point is a poor one, unfortunately.
The trick-taking ability of the first hand is 2-1/2 + 1 = 3-1/2. For the second, 2 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/2 = 3. While HC doesn't reflect this difference, treating them as equals, PC greatly overstates the value of the second hand.
For another illustration, consider a hand with Kxx and Qxx in different suits. The hand opposite has Qxx and Kxx in the same suits. What is the total trick-taking potential? The isolated honors in one suit will take one trick for sure and possibly
two (when one is not captured by the ace). Let's say the total is a probable 2-1/2 tricks.
Now consider a hand with KQx in one suit, the hand opposite having KQx in another suit. The trick-taking ability for each KQx is at least one but two half the time, depending on where the ace is. Let's say 1-1/2 for each, a total of three tricks.
In either situation the total PC is 10, making the holdings supposedly equal in value. However, the HC is 1-1/2 for the first case and 2 HC for the second. HC is more accurate than PC.