High card points ("HCP") are the cornerstone of hand evaluation. They represent numeric values for each honor card:
Ace = 4 points
King = 3 points
Queen = 2 points
Jack = 1 points
Thus, each suit contains a total of 10 HCP, and every deal (52 cards) contains a total of 40 HCP. The maximum for a single hand is 37 HCP, e.g.
Opening the Bidding
First and foremost, HCP are used to decide if a hand is strong enough to open the bidding. The general rule is that you need at least 12 HCP to open the bidding at the 1-level. Example:
This hand contains 12 HCP and is strong enough to open 1
In contrast, this hand only has 11 HCP and is not strong enough to open 1
is a partnership agreement about the specific meaning of a natural bid. Examples of treatments in Standard American opening bids:
- 1 / = 3+ clubs / diamonds
- 1 / = 5+ hearts / spades (i.e. 5-card majors)
- 1NT = 15-17 HCP with "balanced" distribution (i.e. no singleton/void, and no more than one doubleton)
The following hand contains 16 HCP and therefore warrants a 1NT opening bid:
Side note: in the old days, a 1NT opening bid promised 16-18 HCP. This is why bridge newspaper columns typically show 1NT bids containing exactly 16-17 HCP - to keep all readers happy.
High card points are also used to determine the appropriate response to an opening bid. 6 HCP are generally considered the minimum for responding to a natural 1
is a partnership agreement about the meaning of an uncommon or artificial bid. High card points are frequently used to define conventional agreements. Examples of conventions in Standard American opening bids:
- 2 = Artificial, showing 22+ HCP or 9+ tricks
- 2 / / = A weak two bid, showing 5-10 HCP and a 6-card suit
Adjustments to HCP
High card points were popularized by American bridge icon Charles Goren
in the first half of the 20th century. Goren, in turn, borrowed from Milton Work's original 4-3-2-1 method of counting points in auction bridge during the Roaring Twenties. High card points remain one of the most basic and essential guidelines today.