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Better Hand Evaluation – Bernard Magee 

Trying to work out the true strength of your hand is not easy. The 4-3-2-1 point count which we all learn as beginners will only take us so far in the evaluation process – after that there are many other factors to consider. This is especially so when dealing with unbalanced hands. Yet accurate hand evaluation is a vital part of bidding, regardless of bidding system.

In this fairly slim book, Bernard Magee tackles some of these issues. He starts by considering the opening bid on a balanced hand, and within a weak no trump structure he recommends that a rebid of 1NT after an opening bid of one of a suit should show 15-17 points rather than the standard 15-16. He also suggests that a 2NT rebid after a two-over-one suit response should show 15-19 points - and, of course, would be forcing. Both of these treatments (especially the latter) are becoming fairly common, having been explained in detail previously in books by, amongst others, Ron Klinger.

The author moves on fairly quickly to bidding hands where a suit contract is indicated. His recommended method of hand valuation here is the losing trick count. He explains clearly how to count losers and how to then use this to help you to determine how high to bid. There is a lot of useful material here, although I have to confess that I did not find the author’s suggested improvement – using his comparison method rather than standard method of subtracting the total losers from 18 – to be helpful.

The author then considers in turn minor suit auctions and game tries, with a fairly short discussion of each of these topics followed by a useful quiz section. Next is a chapter entitled “Good Hand, Bad Hand” which looks at other factors which should be taken into consideration when evaluating the strength of your hand. These include the value of good intermediate cards (10s and 9s), the shape of your hand, the value of honours combined with other honours and your holding in partner’s bid suit. All of the material here is quite valid and explained very clearly, although I have seen it discussed thoroughly in earlier books by Kambites and Klinger (How Good Is Your Hand?) and Brian Senior (Hand Evaluation in Bridge), as well as many others.

For a rather different slant on hand evaluation, I recommend the “Points, Schmoints” and “More Points, Schmoints” books by Marty Bergen. Although these are primarily written for an American style of bidding (five-card majors, strong no trump) they contain so much useful material that they should be essential reading for any improving player. Also, I really like Marty Bergen’s enthusiastic and humorous approach, although I realise that this is a matter of taste.

Bernard Magee finishes with a good chapter on Hand Evaluation in Slams. He looks at Splinter bids and how to appreciate when a shortage is of value before returning to the use of the losing trick count when a slam seems to be possible. He also recommends Key Card Blackwood rather than Roman Key Card Blackwood, which is becoming fairly standard with regular partnerships.

So, in summary, this book, whilst covering material with which the reader may already be familiar, will appeal to all those who like Bernard Magee’s clear and direct style.

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