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Spade Article - Counting Losers Part 2

Counting Losers – Part 2 The concept of setting up one hand

When it comes to counting losers, the single most confusing aspect is the idea of “setting up” one of the hands and not the other. Since this is the concept that throws most students, this entire article will be devoted to it.

Consider the following hand:

If we counted losers like we counted winners (just looking at each suit and assessing), when we looked at this hand, we would count twenty-six losers: six in diamonds, seven in spades, nine in clubs and four in hearts.

Is it possible to lose twenty-six tricks? No, because there are only thirteen tricks available on any given hand! The most we could ever lose would be thirteen.

How can we have twenty-six low cards and only lose thirteen tricks? Because our cards play together. When we lead one of dummy’s diamonds, we will have to play one of our clubs or hearts from our hand.

Thus, if we were to look at the losers from both hands, we would be doing twice as much work as we should be doing. If we picked one hand and worked on that hand until all of the cards in it were good, we would be spending exactly the right amount of effort on the hand.

We only need to worry about the losers from one of the two hands because once we make that hand good, the cards from the other hand will play on our good cards.

There are two aspects that determine the strength or weakness that a hand has: high cards and shape.

As we discussed in the first installment of counting losers, shape is of vital importance because when we run out of a suit, we assume that we won’t lose any more cards in that suit because we can trump.

If I don’t have any high cards, however many little cards I have determines how many losers I have. The moment I’m out of a suit, I don’t have any more losers.

If we go back to the extreme example I gave you:

Dummy doesn’t have any hearts or clubs and our hand doesn’t have any diamonds or spades. Does that mean we don’t have any losers at all? Well, the assumption that we won’t have losers when we are out of suit is based on our having trump in that hand. So the first thing we would have to do is name one of these suits trump. Since we have nine clubs, let’s name clubs trump. We aren’t going to lose any diamonds or spades because the hand that has the trump is out of diamonds and spades. If a diamond or spade is led, we will simply play a club. But it wouldn’t be reasonable to say we don’t have any heart losers because we don’t have any hearts in dummy, because there isn’t any trump in dummy.

If we named spades trump, the reverse would be true. We would now have no club losers and no heart losers (because if one is led, we will not lose the trick, we will trump), but we do have six diamond losers.

That gives you a little sense of the importance of shape, let’s talk about high cards.

In both hands, we have three diamonds. If we are looking at dummy, we would say that we had only one loser because we only have one little diamond. If we are looking at our hand, we have three little diamonds. Is it reasonable to say that we are going to lose three tricks because we have three little diamonds? No. Because we aren’t going to lose three tricks. We have the ace and the king! Only our third diamond is a loser.

When we look at a suit to determine losers, we must look at two things: How many cards we have in the hand we are setting up and the suit as a whole.

And this is where it gets really confusing. I’ve told you to look at the losers from only one hand, but now I’m telling you to look at the suit as a whole. So, which is it?

We look at the shape of the suit in the hand we are setting up, but we look at the entire suit so see how many of the cards we have in the hand we are counting that we are actually going to lose. This means that when we are counting losers, we are looking at the high cards from both hands.

When I tell you to “look at one hand”, I’m not telling you to ignore the other one. Picking one hand means working with the losers that that hand has. It doesn’t mean completely ignoring the other hand!

The high cards we have affect the suit regardless of which hand they are in. The difference between the two hands (if there is one) is the shape.

Start by counting many cards you have in the suit in the hand you are counting. Next, look and see how many tricks you can reasonably lose in that suit.

If we are counting dummy, we would see that we have three clubs. If we asked ourselves: out of these three club tricks, how many might I lose? The answer would be none. On each of our three clubs, we will be playing a high card that will win the trick (as long as it’s not trumped).

But if we count our hand, instead of dummy, the question becomes: Out of four club tricks, how many might I lose? The answer would be one. We can take the first three club tricks with our high clubs. But that fourth club trick we are likely going to lose.

If we were counting losers in dummy, we wouldn’t count any, because dummy has three clubs and we should win all three of those club tricks. If we are counting our hand, we have four clubs and still can only win three, making the fourth a loser.

If we were working with dummy, we wouldn’t worry about a club loser, because we don’t have one. If we were working with our hand, we would have to worry about a club loser.

Remember, we always look at the suit as a whole, but remember that the number of cards we have in the suit in the hand we are setting up can directly affect the number of losers we have.

I find asking yourself the right questions is the best way to get the right answers. When it comes to losers, the way I frame the question is: I have this many cards in this suit in the hand I am counting, of those, how many am I likely to lose?

Phrased this way, you can see that the shape (how many you have in the hand you’ve chosen) is a big determining factor and that it would be silly to ignore the high cards in the other hand, because we wouldn’t reasonably lose those tricks.

Next time we will talk about deciding which hand to set up. For now, practice counting losers in dummy first and then your hand. For all of these hands, the contract is 4 spades. Do not worry about spade losers (for these exercises there will not be spade losers).

1.

2.

3.

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5.

1. Dummy (the top hand) has 4 losers:

-Out of three hearts, she can win one (with the ace) and the other two will be losers.

-Out of two clubs, she can win both (she has the ace and the king) and so neither is a loser.

-Out of four diamonds, she can win two (the ace and the king), so the other two are losers.

Declarer’s hand (the bottom hand) has 4 losers:

-Out of two hearts, she has the ace and so will lose only one.

-Out of five clubs, she has the ace and king and so is in danger of losing only three.

-Out of two diamonds, she has the ace and the king and so will not lose either.

Did you have trouble with that? Remember that we are looking at the shape of the hand we are counting (how many cards we have in the suit in that hand), but the suit as a whole (the high cards and length in both hands).

2. Dummy has 4 losers:

-Out of four diamond tricks, we are only in danger of losing one, to the ace. Our 3 will play on our J and our 2 will play on our T, which means the only card that can beat any of our four diamonds is the ace.

-Out of two clubs, neither is a loser, because we can take one with the ace and the other with the king.

-Out of three hearts, all three are losers. Even though we have the K in the other hand, remember that when we are missing high cards we assume those high cards will play on our high cards when we count losers. Don’t get distracted by the notion that we might be able to trump one of dummy’s hearts. Trumping a loser is a way of getting rid of it, it is still a loser for the purposes of counting (whether we have a way to get rid of it at the beginning or not).

Declarer’s hand has 5 losers:

-Out of three diamonds, we will lose only one, to the ace. Our 4 will play on our K or Q and the only card that can beat ours on those three diamond tricks is the ace.

-Out of four clubs, two are losers because we can only win the ace and the king. Again, whether we can trump the clubs or not, they are still losers as we count them. If we decide to trump them, that is a way to get rid of a loser, something that will only be a part of our plan if we count them in the first place.

-Out of two hearts, they are both losers. We assume the ace will take our king for the purposes of counting losers.

3. Dummy has 4 losers:

-Out our three hearts, we are only in danger of losing one trick, to the king.

-Out of our two clubs, we should only lose one trick, to the ace. We don’t count two losers, because our 5 will play on the king and the 7 on the queen, thus we will only lose to the ace.

-Out of four diamonds, we can take two tricks, the other two are losers.

Declarer’s hand has 3 losers:

-Out of our four hearts, we are only in danger of losing one trick, to the king. The 5 and 4 will play on the Q, J, or T, leaving us only vulnerable to the K.

-Out of three clubs, we are in danger of losing two. Remember that we assume missing high cards will play on our high cards. If the ace takes the king or queen, we will lose that trick and then will also lose when it comes time to play our 3.

-Out of two diamond tricks, we have zero losers, because we have the ace and the king.

4. Dummy has 6 losers:

-Out of one diamond, we have the ace and so it is not a loser.

-Out of five clubs, the only card that can take a trick is the ace, the other four are losers.

-Out of three hearts, we will only lose to the ace and the king (they are the only two cards that can beat the Q, J, or T. Our 5 will play on the Q and our 4 on the T).

Declarer’s hand has 6 losers:

-Out of five diamonds, we can take three tricks, the other two are losers.

-Out of two clubs, one will take a trick, so the other one is a loser.

-Out of two hearts, they both are losers. Whether you figure the losers as the ace and king or just by virtue of the fact that you have two hearts doesn’t matter, comes out the same.

5. Dummy has 5 losers:

-Out of 2 hearts, we won’t lose any, because we have the ace and the king.

-Out of four clubs, we are in danger of losing 2. Imagine that the 5 will play on the J. The ace will win one trick. The king will play on the Q or the J and the other honor will take a second trick. Thus, out of four clubs, we can win two and lose the other two.

-Out of three diamonds, all three are losers. Remember, assume missing high cards will play on your high cards. So we can’t be certain to take a trick with the king and therefore might lose all three tricks.

Declarer’s hand has 4 losers:

-Out of four hearts, we are only in danger of losing to the queen.

-Out of three clubs, we are only in danger of losing to the king. Your two will play on your ace and your three on your queen. This means the only card you can lose to is the king.

-Out of two diamonds, both are losers. Again, assume the ace will play on the king for the purposes of counting losers.


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