Standards for game bids have loosened in recent years. Back in the day, players thought they needed 26 high-card points in a partnership. That changed to 25 HCP. Now as few as 24 may suffice and fewer still with distributional hands.

Eric Stricoff and I were sitting North-South at the Island Bridge Club on June 8, when we played Board 23 with South dealing and both sides vulnerable:

NORTH (Stricoff)
♠ Q 10 5
♥ Q 7 4 3
♦ J 10
♣ A 9 8 4

WEST                            EAST

♠ A 9 8 7 3                     ♠ 4
♥ K 8 5                          ♥ J 10 9
♦ 3                                 ♦ K 8 7 6 5 2
♣ K J 10 2                     ♣ 7 6 5

SOUTH (Kaplan)
♠ K J 6 2
♥ A 6 2
♦ A Q 9 4
♣ Q 3

The bidding proceeded as follows:

South             West             North             East
1NT               Pass              2♣                  Pass
2♦                  Pass              3NT               All Pass

Opening lead: ♣2

After we made four, I asked Eric about his decision to rebid 3NT with nine HCP. “I’ll stretch a bid when vulnerable, and 24 HCP should be enough for game,” he said. “My hand contained some decent intermediate values, especially the jack and 10 of diamonds, the queen and 10 of spades and the ace, nine and eight of clubs, a few of which could be promoted into winning tricks.

“When I teach hand evaluation to beginning bridge students, I focus equally on tricks as well as points, as the object of the game is to take tricks; and tens, nines and eights, especially in a sequence, are often a valuable source of tricks in a NoTrump contract. The bidding sequence led me to conclude that you had a four-card minor [or longer], so either my jack-10 doubleton in diamonds, or my four clubs to the ace, nine and eight might be worth some extra value. If the spot cards were lower I would likely have bid 2NT.”

It’s true that two 12-point hands can safely bid 3NT. Not everyone will agree that a 15-9 partnership belongs in game. (We were safer at 16-9.) Marty Fleisher, whose team will represent the U.S. in the world championships this summer, says that in a match he might bid game if vulnerable, since the 500-point bonus could be the difference between winning and losing. In a club game, where each hand is a universe unto itself, he would invite by rebidding 2NT.

That said, the late Art Flathers, a Vineyard expert and teacher, always raised to 3NT with nine HCP. Flathers figured there was a decent chance partner held 16 or 17 HCP, so why not go for it? According to the website, the probability of having a given number of points in an arbitrary hand is as follows: 15 HCP: .044. 16 HCP: .033; 17 HCP: .024.  So if partner opens a 15-17 1NT, the chance that he has 16 or 17 HCP is .057.

Only four of eight North-South pairs bid game on June 8; half of them probably rebid 2NT in the North seat, giving South a tough call on game. By winning 5.5 match points of a possible eight, Eric and I finished first among North-South pairs.