How often you pick up 15-17 HCP balanced hands
© boco_san, 2012/August
Once an opening 1NT bid used to mean balanced hands with
(B) 16 -18 HCP
Meanwhile, perhaps in 1980's, the HCP range has changed to
(A) 15 -17 HCP
It is obvious that the choice (A) will bring more chance of 1NT opening, and
will allow easier bidding sequence that will follow.
Surely often, but, how often ? Often to what extent ? In other words,
how more often will you pick up 15 -17 balanced hands than 16 -18 ones ?
I know no answers in Bridge books nor in any WEB sites.
So, I have tried for myself to evaluate probabilities of the (A) and (B) hands
with balanced distributions, , , or . This distinction of
balanced hands is so essential, because we never open 1NT on hands with a singleton or
I'll start with the conclusion
and then explain outline
of the calculation.
Details are given in the appendix
For the sake of hasty Bridge players, I will give first the conclusion.
When we compare the relative frequency of the two kind of hands,
(A) 15 -17 HCP balanced hands,
(B) 16 -18 HCP balanced hands,
the former will appear 1.371 times
more frequently than the latter.
It is as well possible to do this comparison for
(a) 15 -17 HCP balanced as well as unbalanced hands,
(b) 16 -18 HCP balanced as well as unbalanced hands.
Although this comparison is totally meaningless, relative frequency of (a) to (b) turns out
to be 1.387.
This result is known in the WEB
So, I learned that the restriction to balanced hands was not important.
If you are interested in details, read more. Actually, it was a hard task for me.
The problem here is to evaluate exactly the probabilities of picking up
(A) 15 -17 and (B) 16 -18 HCP balanced hands.
When a player is dealt 13 cards, the number of card combinations amounts to
= 635,013,559,600 (about 635 billions).
One can classify these deals according to HCP in the range 0 up to maximum 37.
This doesn't solve our problem, however.
1NT opening requires balanced distributions in the four suits.
Actually, only the three kinds of balanced distributions ,  and  will occupy
47.6% out of the 635 billion deals (which is somewhat astonishing in view of the
possible 39 kinds of distributions).
So, we encounter balanced hands almost once in two deals, which implies importance of
how to bid on balanced hands (with only 3 kinds of distribution).
For the purpose mentioned above, we now classify the 635 billion deals according
to both distributions
The result is given in the following two big tables:
(1) Number of Hands
(in units of ‰ = 1/1000)
Click either table to see.
Both tables consist of 38 rows (for 0-37 HCP) ×
39 columns (distributions) = 1,482 cells.
Table (1) gives the number of deals for specified HCPs AND distributions.
They will sum up in total to 635 billion, as shown in the right bottom cell.
By simply dividing these numbers by 635 billion, we get the probabilities as shown in
Table (2). Here, blanks mean that the corresponding probability is absolutely zero
(and hence they never occur), while “0” means non-vanishing probability smaller than 0.001%.
Because of the very small probabilities owing to the fine division into 1,482 cells, the probability values
are shown in units of ‰
rather than %, and hence their total becomes 1000, again shown in the
right bottom cell.
|HCP || || ||  ||Total||%
|15 ||0.469|| 0.958|| 0.688||2.115 || (A) 15 -17 |
|16 ||0.355|| 0.723|| 0.182||1.596
|17 ||0.259|| 0.523|| 0.373||1.155 || (B) 16 -18 |
|18 ||0.180|| 0.363|| 0.256||0.799
Now, we extract the blue sections of Table (2) corresponding to
balanced hands and 15 -18 HCP, to obtain the table shown on the right.
Here, we restored the units %.
This extracted table tells us that (A) and (B) will occur with absolute probabilities
4.87% and 3.55%, respectively, and hence we find
the ratio of frequency 4.866 / 3.550 = 1.371.
To conclude, (A) will allow 37.1% more often 1NT opening than (B).
Plainly speaking, while players (A) calls 4 times 1NT, players (B) will call
only 3 times 1NT.
This marked difference arises owing to the difference of probabilities
of 15 and 18 HCP hands.
The situation may be understood clearly from the figure on the right.
The curves (circles) stand for probabilities against HCP taken in the
As mentioned above, the black circles (all hands, both balanced and unbalanced) show
almost twice as large probabilities as the blue ones (balanced hands only).
Both curves have a peak around HCP=10, since 40 HCPs are
distributed among four players. Because the range 15 -18 is situated at
the (right-hand) foot of this peak, the probability will increase considerably when
one discards 18 HCP and takes 15 HCP.
Appendix: How to Evaluate the Probabilities
As mentioned above, we have 635 billion different ways in giving 13 cards to
a player out of 52 cards.
What we have to do here is to classify those 635 billion deals according to
combinations of HCP and distributions. Once such a classification is attained and the
number of deals belonging to them are obtained, the relevant probabilities are
readily obtained by simply dividing them with 635 billion.
« Table of Multiplicity »
|All Different||  ||4! = 24
|2 equals||  || 4! / 2! 2! = 6
|3 equals||  ||4
As for the card distributions, we have , , … [13 000], which
amount to 39 in total. We then multiply the multiplicity as given in the
table on the right, which will take care for exchanging the cards among the 4 suits.
The classification has to be done further on HCP.
Under a single constraint (either on the distribution, or HCP) the
work goes simple. However, the simultaneous TWO constraints
complicates the work. Frankly, I was quite at
a loss for a long time how to attack the problem. I'll give below
the answer which I have eventually found, but someone may find a cleverer solution.
|4 || AKQJ||10
|3|| AKQ || 9
|3|| AKJ || 8
|3|| AQJ || 7
|3|| KQJ || 6
|2|| AK || 7
|2|| AQ || 6
|2|| AJ || 5
|2|| KQ || 5
|2|| KJ || 4
|2|| QJ || 3
|1|| A || 4
|1|| K || 3
|1|| Q || 2
|1|| J || 1
|0 ||none || 0
OK, here we go.
As an example, let us take the distribution , which occurs most frequently (21.6%).
Then we have 4 spades, 4 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs.
Similar distributions like , etc. are covered by multiplying the
multiplicity given above (6 in the present distribution).
For this distribution, let us enumerate the hands that have, say, 15 HCP.
Well, each suit will have one of the 16 honor holdings shown in the right table,
where 4 down to 0 honors and corresponding HCPs are given in 16 ways.
So, we give the honors to the four suits according to this table in turn.
The first possibility to consider with 15 HCP is
where we gave AKQJ (10 HCP) to spades, AJ (5 HCP) to hearts. The other seven cards
should be spot cards (2 to 10) with 0 HCP. While the honors
have been specified uniquely, the spot cards have a lot of ways to be dealt.
To be more specific, the spot cards are dealt in the following way:
0 spade spot cards out of 9 spade spot cards,
2 heart spot cards out of 9 heart spot cards,
3 diamond spot cards out of 9 diamond spot cards,
2 club spot cards out of 9 club spot cards.
The corresponding combination of ways in dealing is given by
9C0 × 9C2 × 9C3 × 9C2
= 1 × 36 × 84 × 36 = 108,864.
Going this way, we will obtain
|| = 1 × 36 × 84 × 36
|| = 1 × 36 × 36 × 36
|| = 1 × 36 × 36 × 36
||= 1 × 36 × 36 × 9
Summing up these counts and multiplying with the above-mentioned
multiplicity 6, we obtain 2,976,568,236 for the
number of ways to deal 13 cards of  distribution with 15 HCP.
The essence in the logic above is to multiply the combinations 9
for the number N
of spot cards to be dealt, which I didn't take notice
for so long, because I have so much concentrated on honor cards.
The result has been verified by comparison of the totals for every columns and every
rows, which may be evaluated the other way. As a matter of fact,
the grand sum agrees with 635,013,559,600.
The HTML files for the above 2 tables (as well as the figure) were generated directly by means of the
VB program to avoid errors in transcription.
When Has the Transition Occurred
I looked up some of my Bridge books and softwares to see when the transition
from (B) to (A) has occurred, in particular, in USA:
- (A) Ned Dowley & Ellen Pomer: Standard Bidding with SAYC (2005).
- (A) Fred Gitelman: Learn to Play Bridge (2003).
- (A) Audrey Grant: ACBL Spade Series (2000).
- (A) Barbara Seagram & Marc Smith: 25 Bridge Conventions You Should Know, (1999).
- (A) William S. Root: The ABCs of Bridge (1998).
- (A) Mike Lawrence: Conventions (1996).
- (B) Audrey Grant: ACBL Club Series (1987).
- (A) William Root & Richard Pavlicek: Modern Bridge Conventions, (1981)
- (B) Charles H. Goren: Goren's New Bridge Complete, (1985)