My last article introduced the notion of Short Suit Total (abbreviated as SST), and explained why SST drives the number of high cards needed to make tricks in a trump contract. This article explains more about using SST as a hand evaluation tool and discusses how SST analysis can be applied after a forcing raise of a major.
SST and High Card Requirements for Suit Contracts
When you have an 8+ card trump fit, SST provides an easy way to estimate the number of working high cards needed to take tricks.
Your SST is 4. How many working HCP are required to make a major-suit game?
Your SST is 3. How many working HCP are required for slam?
More about Working HCP
The notion of working HCP is fundamental to bidding whenever there is a trump suit. When two hands are balanced and will play in NT, any HCP is a working HCP. That random ♥J is one HCP the opponents do not hold and even if if does not score a trick it may contribute to a stopper. Even if it doesn't contribute to a stopper (say, ♥Jx opposite ♥xxx), it still lessens the chance opponents will lead your weak suit and thereby increases the chance you can steal your contract. When both hands are balanced, the simple 4-3-2-1 point count provides a reasonably accurate evaluation for NT bidding and distribution is a minor factor.
In a trump contract, some of your high cards may be ruffed. If either you or an opponent can ruff that ♥J it has no more value than the ♥2. Even if the ♥J is developed into a trick, if it does not provide a useful discard and could have been trumped for a trick, it is still worth no more than a spot card.
When you open, you count for all your high cards because they are all potentially useful. As the auction develops, you can often identify which ones are useful working cards and which should be discounted as wasted values. A fully-working 12 HCP is a stronger hand than 15 HCP where 5 are wasted. The 15 count looked better when you opened the bidding, but it is now worth almost a trick less than the fully-working 12 count. Discounting wasted high cards is particularly relevant to slam bidding where there is little room for error.
When you have limited your hand and partner has invited game or slam in a suit contract, the raw number of HCP you hold is mostly irrelevant. The number of working HCP makes the difference between a good and a bad hand. So cooperate with working HCP, and sign off with significant wasted HCP, regardless of whether you are max or min for your range.
SST Evaluation and Splinter Raises
When responder has made a splinter raise SST will normally be between 2 and 4. How many working high cards will be needed for slam?
SST = 4
Base = 9 tricks
Slam = Base + 3 tricks
Working HCP = 20 + (3 x 3) or 29 (+/-1) HCP
SST = 3
Base = 10 tricks
Slam = Base + 2 tricks
Working HCP = 20 + (2 x 3) or 26 (+/-1) HCP
SST = 2
Base = 11 tricks
Slam = Base + 1 trick
Working HCP = 20 + 3 or 23 (+/-1) HCP
The partnership may need anywhere from about 22-30 HCP for slam--a wide range. We need the actual SST to narrow that range. In the examples below, what is the SST?
SST = 3 (doubleton heart in opener's hand + singleton in Responder's hand. SST: 2+1 = 3)
SST = 2 (the two singletons.) Slam is a lively possibility with an SST of 2.
SST = 2.5
The SST is 3, 1 for the singleton club and 2 more for diamonds. The doubleton heart also reduces the HCP needed to make slam which is why I have made the SST 2.5. Slam is possible on 23-24 working HCP.
SST = 3
Opener's club doubleton is wasted, but his heart doubleton is not. SST is 3: 1 for the club singleton and 2 for the heart doubleton.
SST = 1.5
Slam with an SST lower than 2, slam could make on 20 working HCP or less. With shape like this, even extreme club wastage may be irrelevant.
Splinter bids can easily drive aggressive players to imagine 22 HCP slams and sometimes opener gets overexcited. This usually occurs when he forgets the warning sign of wasted shortness.
SST = 4 (Do not count singleton in same suit twice! SST: 3 + singleton = 4)
SST = 4
On both hands, despite opener's nice distribution opposite a 4-card raise, slam is going to require additional high cards because the SST is high.
After responder's splinter in clubs, slam is virtually cold opposite this dull 5-3-3-2 pattern. Why? In the first case, you had 6 tricks in the black suits, counting six trumps in your hand and no ruffs. In the second, you have 7 tricks in the blacks suits counting five trumps in your hand and two ruffs in dummy. As a result, you need a trick less and consequently fewer high cards in the reds.
Hand 1: ♠QJxxxx, ♥Axx, ♦AKx, ♣x
Hand 2: ♠QJxxx, ♥Axx, ♦AK, ♣xxx
As this example points out, the value of your pattern depends on how well it meshes with the pattern partner holds. Hand 1 is a far better opener than hand 2 and normally would produce 1-2 more tricks. However, after partner's ♣ splinter, the second pattern is the better of the two. Plastic valuation (re-evaluation) applies to shape as well as high cards. Splinter bids are so useful because they allow opener to re-evaluate his shape as well as his high cards.
SST Analysis emphasizes analysis of fitting pattern and working HCP. Evaluating how well two patterns fit can be as important as counting points, as points are only useful when they are working. SST Analysis teaches you to adjust expected high card requirements based on how well two patterns fit (lower SST = better fit) and then to value working cards within both hands to determine how high to bid.
SST Analysis explains why the splinter bid is such an essential call for slam purposes: a splinter bid allows partner to accurately picture both the SST and how many of his own high cards will be working. With those two pieces of knowledge, he can calculate how much the partner will need to make slam and how much he can contribute to that total. SST Analysis also shows why it is important for a splinter bid to show a specific range. If the splinter bidder shows a 3-point range such as 9-11 or 12-14, then opener has all the information he needs to determine his next action (sign off, invite, or force) accurately. If the splinter is unlimited, opener can not always tell whether the partnership has the HCP for slam and so bidding will be less reliable.
Even if you choose not to use SST at the table, the process teaches important lessons that will improve your hand evaluation skills. Next time we will look at SST analysis and Jacoby 2NT and some 2/1 sequences.
Plus... it's free!