Look out for minus points

Bep Vriend ( Netherlands )


BEP VRIEND, a bridge teacher, has the best record of any Dutch woman player. She has won gold medals in the European Pairs in 1993, the European Mixed Teams in 1994 and the World Pairs, also in 1994. Then there were silver medals in one Venice Cup and two European Championships as well as bronze medals in two European Championships, one European Mixed Championship, a Teams Olympiad and another World Pairs. She has also competed successfully in Dutch Open bridge, usually in partnership with her husband, Anton Maas. She has won the Dutch Open Pairs twice.


THE minus points in the title of this article refer to the well-known Milton Work point count. Bridge novices learn on page three of Bridge for Beginners the valuation of four points for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen and one for a jack to determine the strength of a bridge hand. Later on they find out that:





has much more playing power than:





The authors solve this problem by introducing the concept of plus points for long suits and ruffing values, and minus points for a blank honour. It's remarkable that bridge literature pays very little attention to similar illustrative examples for advanced players.

In this article I will discuss two situations in which the vast majority of players go wrong.

Rule 1: Be aware of minus points in competitive bidding if your side has a fit. In this situation minus points are dangerous, particularly:

·                at favourable vulnerability

·                if you have a spade fit

For example, take a look at a hand that was

Played in a team-of-four match                                 

  Dealer South ª 6 5 4 3    


E/W Vul.


Q J 9 2






 Q 7






 J 10 5









ª Q 10 7     ª  J


 A K 8 6 3


W                         E


 10 7 5






 A 10 9 3 2


 A 7 6 2




 K 9 8 3










 A K 9 8 2












 K J 8 5 4






 Q 4




















The defence was accurate: West ruffed two diamonds and -500 had to be accepted. But the fact that East-West wouldn't have made more than nine tricks in their Four Heart contract was very annoying. No doubt North wasn't very surprised about this when he tabled the dummy. Of course, a more friendly break in spades and diamonds would have resulted in only -100, but, in that case, North-South would score three vulnerable undertricks against Four Hearts.

So, not a great result for North-South. What went wrong?

South's decision to save in Four Spades can't be criticized; he has a rather weak, distributional hand. That puts North in the spotlight. Well, he has the standard 6-9 points and three or more spades, so no problem with North. Wrong!

North is a point-count addict. Of course, he has six high-card points but he also has a lot of minus points.

(1)             honours in hearts and no points in his side's suit (spades)

(2)             with secondary values outside spades the hand is better suited to defence

(3)             this vulnerability will inspire his partner to make a phantom sacrifice

Deduct these minus points and North has a clear pass. If South has length in hearts North is delighted to defend; if South has shortage in hearts he will re-open with a double and then North can bid Two Spades. Compare this North hand with:


© XX

¨ XX



With this 'clean' hand you bid Two Spades without any hesitation, because you welcome partner's sacrifice.


In the next example we will see that sometimes it isn't enough to deduct points, it might also be necessary to give some honours a negative value.

Rule 2: Be aware of minus points if your overcall is a close one

Let's compare two hands. It is Love All, partner is a passed hand and your right-hand opponent opens One Heart:


(1)     x x                    (2)          Qxx

  xx           Qx

  xxxx          KJx

 AKJ10x     AJxxx



The second hand is five high-card points stronger and at first sight qualifies as a Two Club overcall. However, taking into account the minus points, a totally different view arises.

With a passed partner a game is most unlikely. You make your overcall:

(1)             to compete the partscore

(2)             to get a good lead


Although Hand (2) has a slightly better chance of winning a partscore fight, Hand (1) scores much better in terms of attracting the lead.

Taking the dangers of an overcall into account I would say that making an overcall with the 'stronger' hand is more risky because of the presence of minor points. If an opponent doubles Two Clubs, then with Hand (2) the punishment might be very severe, lacking so many club honours and intermediates. What's more, your major-suit queens might even prevent opponents making a game. Do not count these as two points each — no, in evaluating your hand you should give them a negative value (minus points). It makes a lot more sense and it's less dangerous to bid with the first hand, a 'clean' hand.

My BOLS bridge tip is:

Bid more with a “clean hand" Don’t get busy if you have Minus Points.