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What qualifies a hand as a "good 14"?

Some partnerships who start off playing an opening NT range of 15 to 17 HCPs (high card points) agree to open some 14 counts 1NT and then change their range announcement to “a good 14 to 17.” A recent poll revealed that the favorite NT range of 30% of the respondents was 15 to 17 HCP. Another 8% favored 14-17. The poll offered many options, but not a “good 14” to 17.

The following poll is intended to elicit the essential characteristics of a “good” 14 from those players who distinguish a good from a bad 14. If your NT opening explicitly includes a “good” 14, how would you answer an opponent who asks, “what do you mean by ‘good 14?’”  Would you say, "I just know it when I see it"?

I’ll isolate four different features of a hand to see if any one or some combination is necessary or sufficient to meet your definition of a “good 14.” Let’s start with a prototypical hand -- AT9 K98 AT64 K85 -- that I hope passes everyone’s test for a good 14.  It has (1) prime honor cards (2) that are evenly distributed (3) in the most balanced possible shape (4) with pusher tens (Ts) and 9s. Which, if any, of these features is critical to your definition of a good 14?

Prime cards

Of course, a good 14 must add up to 14 HCP, but some high cards are bossier than others. Do two Queens (Qs) equal an Ace (A)? Are an unconnected Q and Jack (J) the equivalent of a King (K)? Is a subprime hand like QJ7 QJ6 QJ54 KQ3 as good as the prototype above? In short, do you call a hand “good” only if the majority of the high cards are prime As and Ks?

Balanced Strength

With experience, some players become liberated from the notion that a strong NT opener promises a stopper in every suit. But does strengh distribution remain a requirement for your good 14? Is AK9 865 AK74 743 a good 14 though two suits are unstopped? What about a more extreme case of honors compressed in the shorter suits, such as 9754 AK T763 AK8?

Balanced Shape

Let’s agree that flat hands include the shapes 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, and even 5-3-3-2, while other hands with nine cards in two suits, 5-4-2-2 or 6-3-2-2, are more lopsided than flat in terms of shape. If a hand is lopsided but the values are distributed across all the suits, does having two doubletons disqualify the hand as a good 14?


Some HCP counting systems have attached a numerical value to Ts. We will stick with the familiar Work point count, but Ts, particularly when connected to Js or 9s, lend support to the trick taking value. If we add pushers to the subprime hand above -- QJT QJT QJ94 KQ9 -- do the pushers transform a bad 14 into a good 14?


I’ll try to provide enough options to allow you to identify the essential features of a good 14 without listing 15 different combinations of these features. The six ways to group two features get short shrift in option 10.

1. (Feature 1) A good 14 depends solely on most of my values being in prime As and Ks.
2. (Feature 2) A good 14 depends solely on having honors in at least 3 suits.
3. (Feature 3) A good 14 depends solely on having no more than one doubleton.
4. (Feature 4) A good 14 depends solely on holding Ts or 9s as pushers.
5. Every feature but #1 is essential to a good 14.
6. Every feature but #2 is essential to a good 14.
7. Every feature but #3 is essential to a good 14.
8. Every feature but #4 is essential to a good 14.
9. All four features are essential to a good 14.
10. A good 14 has at least two of these four features.
11. None of these features is essential to a good 14. I just know it when I see it.
12. You've overlooked an essential feature of a good 14. (Please explain.)

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