BIL Session 1: “Introduction to Counting Part 1”


Ellen Caitlin Pomer


From Thursday September 18th, 16:15 ET, BILlies Retreat
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Ellen Caitlin Pomer has been teaching online for nearly 17 years. She is a co-author of the acclaimed ‘Standard Bidding with SAYC’ and founder of Bridge Forum ( She returns to bridge teaching in the BIL, where she has taught many topics and is delighted to be back teaching ‘Introduction to Counting’. She is also available for private sessions. She can be reached at Please advise others that if they wish to receive these notes, that they should email me with their full name and BBO I.D. Enjoy!

Please note that due to the holy Jewish holidays, there will be no session on Thursday, September 25th and will resume Thursday, October 2rd at 4:15 pm Eastern. To all Jewish members who celebrate these holidays, I wish you and yours a Happy, Healthy Jewish New Year.

We will look at a variety of issues which are involved with counting.

Bridge is a game of counting so let’s break it down as to when you count.

a) When declarer does not have what we call a ‘cold’ contract (i.e. more losers than s/he can afford to make the contract), counting may help. We will see examples where this is true.

b) Defenders count declarer’s hand. If, for example West opens 1NT and the contract becomes 3NT, and declarer has shown 17 HCPs (High Card Points) and declarer must have the missing ?A, as partner has signalled s/he doesn’t like hearts, (to be discussed below) South now knows that partner must have the ?K (as declarer can’t have the ?A and the missing ?K). When in, North should feel free to lay down his? A from AQJ as a partner should have the Club King, and in doing so, you can defeat the contract if you get your tricks in time.

c) Defenders give a count to one another, but when? When on defense, and your partner leads, you give attitude. Thus partner leads the 2 and you hold the JT63, play the Ten (lower of two equally ranking cards) to say you like the suit. But when declarer plays a suit, give a count, thus traditionally high-low with an even number of cards (8652) and low-high with an odd number of cards (J32).

What if the suit has been played one round? Now we are giving remainder count. Thus with 852 remaining in the above example, we now play low-high, thus the 2; and with J3 left from the above J32, we play the Jack if it makes sense to do so.

Remember it is very important to give your partner count on defense but you must be the judge. If giving count or attitude in a specific situation only helps declarer, LIE!

More Tips for Counting

a) The bidding at the table gives enormous help. For example, if an opponent, say East, opens a weak two 2?, and North-South land up in 4? declarer already starts with a good count on the opponent’s cards, knowing one opponent has six in a suit.

b) The lead is also a key for declarer. Say you are in 4 ? and your opponent, who passed in the first seat, leads the .?AK. Later s/he shows up with the Club King. There is no way s/he can have the missing? K or s/he would have opened the bidding.

Mike Lawrence, a member of BBO, wrote: ‘How to Read Your Opponents’Cards’ many years ago and has two CDs on counting: ‘Counting at Bridge’ and ‘Counting at Bridge 2’. I highly recommend you consider purchasing Lawrence’s first CD, with software by BBO’s founder, Fred Gitelman, from the BBO ‘Online Store’.

Below you will find the four hands we counted for your review, while hand 4 is ‘homework; which we will discuss at our next session.

Reading the Opponents’ Cards: Counting Shape



The bidding could be better! The 5? bid, as we will see, with 4NT as RKC Blackwood shows 2 controls — the, two Aces and the Queen of hearts.. Even though South is heading toward notrump, you respond to 4NT based on the last suit bid unless thus 5? showing two Aces and theQ.

West leads the?T. What is your plan?

Here is the full deal:


You cash your winners outside of clubs — 3 spades, 3 hearts, 3 diamonds — so you need to win 4 clubs. As you cash your winners, we count one opponent’s hand, says West, here. We find out that West follows to one spade, two hearts, and East follows to only two diamonds: We know that West’s shape is 1-2-6-4. While West has four clubs and East only two, it is twice as likely that West has the ?J and he does. It is not a done deal that West has the club Jack, but this is an informed decision. With a club finesse to the Ten, declarer has 13 tricks. 



West leads the ?T.

Here is the full deal:


Thus far East has shown 6 hearts and 2 spades and by playing on diamonds, declarer knows West’s shape: 2-6-3-2. (How does declarer know that East has only 3 diamonds? Note that on the run of extra spades to get more information (a common technique), East played a diamond. Counting the hand we know East has two clubs and one must be the? K as East needs the king for his opening bid given East has the A. So the issue is not which hand holds the? K — that we have come to know — but how many clubs does East hold? Now we know to lead a club to the Queen, cashing the? A, dropping the? K.


West cashes? AK and follows with the3. East ruffs and exits with a club.

Here is the full deal:

You win, cash trump and two more clubs. When East discards on the third round, you know that West started with 2-5-1-5 shape, so you can lead to dummyK and finesse theJ with certainty


West cashes? AK. You ruff and…

Here is the full deal:

… knocks out the? A. East does best to return a club. To count the hand, playAK and ruff theJ. Now you know West started with two hearts and two clubs. Presumably, he had six spades for his opening bid so he must have three diamonds. This means that West has only one diamond. Play the? K in case the singleton is theQ and when it does not finesse the? J.



West leads8 and East cashesAK. West plays2 on East’s second heart. East leads a third heart and South trumps with the? Q while West discards a small club. Declarer now leads trump with West holding one trump and East, the remainder. What line of play do you now take to give yourself the best chance of making this contract given you already have 3 losers?

BIL Session 2: “Introduction to Counting Part 2”


                                             Ellen Caitlin Pomer

Introduction to Counting: Lesson 2

Reading the Opponents’ Cards: Shape

                          From Thursday, October 2nd, BILlies Retreat

                                                                          Download PDF


As we continue to work on counting, we continue to count SHAPE. As we eventually move to counting High Card Points (HCPs), opponents counting declarer’s hand, opponents counting each other’s hands, the key to all, is PLANNING!. Note that typically in suit contacts we count losers and if our losers are say, one more, than we can afford, we determine if there is a way to collapse that loser. Counting can be key to this process.

At notrump, we typically count sure winners. We are in 3NT and can count 8 sure tricks. West is on lead and s/he plays the ?5. As declarer we hold the spade ?Axx.and there are two spades in dummy On the ?5, East plays the ?K, which we duck, and then East returns the ?T, which we also duck, then the ?2 is played by East, which we win.

How many spades do you think East has? If East knows how to give correct count, once he has played the King, s/he is left with the T2. Remainder count says you play high-low, just as you would if starting with two cards and giving count. By assuming East has three spades, declarer has 3 spades, 2 small spades in dummy, giving West five spades. We have a two way finesse in clubs to possibly pick up our ninth trick. With two losers already, take the finesse into East who we presume is out of spades. We may or may not make our contract, but if we finesse into West, and the finesse loses, we definitely lose the two spades from the lead, the club and two more spades which West holds on to. This is one of many examples how being aware of an opponent’s play can potentially give us the best chance.



West leads a heart and East cashes the ?AK then leads the ?Q.
Note that over two hearts, 3? shows five spades (with six spades South would likely make a Texas Transfer bid of  4?)  and is forcing. For more information on Texas Transfers. See .

Here is the full deal:

You start with two sure heart losers, West leading the ?8 which East wins with the heart King and returns the heart Ace while West plays the heart two. West’s high-low and East’s bid of 2?, certainly allows us to place six hearts with East. We start with two heart losers, and a potential trump and diamond loser. After winning the club King, you play a spade and lose to the ?K. You draw the rest of trumps, noting that West has only one trump, leaving East with three. After pulling trump, it is best to ruff a heart and a club, discovering that East started with three spades, six hearts and at least three clubs. S/he has at most a singleton diamond so you cash ?K and finesse ?J.



A 2NT overcall shows at least 5-5 in the minors. Be disciplined and do not make this bid with 5-4 and for sure not 4-4 in the minors. This convention is called Unusual Notrump and see: 4NT is Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB) and here ?5 shows two Aces and the spade Queen. For more information on RKCB see: Note that I turn to the online site, ‘Bridge Guys’: it is convenient; has a huge library of terms and conventions; and, gives interesting variations used by many bridge players. Thus when I want quick information on a convention, say RKCB, I use ‘Bing’ and type in Bridge Guys Roman Key Card Blackwood’. (Yes, I prefer Bing over Google and feel free to ask me during our next class : )

Here is the full deal:

Given West is most likely to have 5-5 in the minors, albeit s/he could be 6-5, we start with a lot of great information regarding West’s shape and it therefore makes most sense to count the West hand. When West leads the K, you win with the diamond Ace, draw trump. West therefore started with a doubleton in spades, and at most a singleton heart. Lead to dummy’s ?Q and finesse the ?9.



Here 3NT shows a strong balanced hand with hearts stopped. A 2NT bid over a weak two bid shows the equivalent of a 1NT opener, with a strong 15 to 18 (unlike the regular 15-17), balanced HCPs with the prior weak two bid suit covered. Here 3NT should show a 2NT opener (20-21 HCPs) or hearts stopped and a long running suit such, typically a minor, such as AKQJTxx. Or AKQJxxxx. A version of the Rule of Seven says that your partner is likely to have 7 HCPs over a pre-empt and your values, hopefully filling in a stopper(s) where you may lack with the latter example of a 3NT bid.

Why not double? The South hand has a notrump shape of 3-3-4-3. West leads a heart. East wins ?A and plays the ?Q.

Here is the full deal:

You have to decide if your clues thus far lead you to assume that RHO has 6 hearts. The weak 2 bid, and the high-low by LHO would lead one to believe that RHO started with 6 hearts. Always be cautious on this as some pre-empt with five. We know the count in spades and we play our diamonds, with East showing three.. If RHO started with 6 hearts, then he must therefore be exactly 2632. When you cash the KQ of clubs, RHO can’t have any more clubs so it’s a certainty that the finesse will work.


West leads ?Q. The ?3 bid should show a pre-emptive 7 spades.

Here is the full deal:

At notrump you count sure winners and plan how to develop more tricks. Here you must find a 12th trick and to start, diamonds are most promising. So you start with 2 sure spade winners; 2 hearts; 3 diamonds if you finesse and lose to the ?K; and, 3 clubs for a total of 10 sure tricks.

If the diamond finesse is on, we are up to 11 tricks and if clubs come home we have 12. There is no choice how we have to play diamonds so we play that suit first. Good news, the finesse works and we are up to 11 tricks. We take the first three diamonds, finding West with 2 small diamonds,

Let’s assume West has seven spades based on the bidding and count signal; therefore, we assume seven spades and know of two diamonds. If clubs are 2 with West and 3 with East, we can cash out. But such is not the case. With West having one club, we need to double finesse East against the JT84. But is there a way to tell? How do we get a count on hearts to know how to play clubs? Think!

The answer is to duck a heart! This lets us play three rounds of hearts before committing to clubs. If West follows to two hearts, clubs are breaking. But what if West follows to 3 rounds of hearts? Then West has 7-3-2-1 shape. So West should have a singleton club. How do we play clubs? Think!

If you start with an honour in your hand, then play low to dummy, you will pick up the singleton Jack or Ten when you do not know the count. Such is the correct way to play the suit when you do not know the count. But we do know the count so it’s right to start with the ?Q in dummy. This allows us to pick up the same singleton Jack or Ten, and also allows you double finesse East when West’s singleton is a small card.

Why did we only cash three diamonds earlier? Think! Look at what happens if we cashed all four. When we play the ?Q and then a low club, East can split his/her honours from JTxx and we don’t have a way to get back to dummy to repeat the finesse. By saving one high diamond, we have a re-entry to dummy when we need it.


West leads ?6. East takes ?AQ then switches to a heart. You win the heart and play the ?AK and East shows only one diamond. How do you make 3NT?

Notes from the Bridge World

a)Marty Bergen’s website is at A 10-time national champion, Marty has produced 36 booklets and 17 audio visual lessons as part of his “Secrets To Winning Bridge” series. You can check out his website at They all contain great information that you will find nowhere else and are written in an entertaining and easy to read style. For more information, go to

b)Visit one of my favourite websites, Larry Cohen’s at There are so many articles you will find enjoyable and educational. Larry is an acclaimed player and writer who retired from competitive bridge to write, teach and offer fantastic cruises. Among many accomplishments, Marty and Larry are responsible for bringing the Law of Total Tricks to the bridge world.

c)As founder of Bridge Forum, (, I am having the website completely revamped. Do you have ideas you would like to see on the site? A bookstore attached? A bidding panel for intermediates? All my notes from volunteer teaching? Guest stars’ articles? Quizzes? You tell me and email me at

Bridge Stories from the Classroom

Eddie Kantar

I have a lady in my class who loves voids. Once she had only 12 cards including a spade void. I come over to the table and find the ♠A under the table and give it to her. “Now you’ve gone and ruined my whole hand”, she tells me.


Giving a class on how to get rid of losers, I prepare a lesson hand and then ask this lady how she plans to get rid of her losers. She says, “I am going to lose them right away so I don’t have to worry about them any more.”



I give a lesson on Stayman. Next week a student overcalls a 1 opening bid with 2♣ holding: A10xx KQxx xxx xx. I ask him what he is doing. He answers, ” I was making a Stayman.”



Lady picks up 7 diamond and 6 clubs and doesn’t know how to bid the hand. She solves the problem by putting one suit in one hand and the other in the other; a new way to show 7-6.


For more classroom tales visit my website

Kantar’s Quotes

Eddie Kantar

I have a lady in my class who loves voids. Once she had only 12 cards including a spade void. I come over to the table and find the ♠A under the table and give it to her. “Now you’ve gone and ruined my whole hand”, she tells me.


Giving a class on how to get rid of losers, I prepare a lesson hand and then ask this lady how she plans to get rid of her losers. She says, “I am going to lose them right away so I don’t have to worry about them anymore.”



I give a lesson on Stayman. Next week a student overcalls a 1 opening bid with 2♣ holding: A10xx KQxx xxx xx. I ask him what he is doing. He answers, ” I was making a Stayman.”



Lady picks up 7 diamond and 6 clubs and doesn’t know how to bid the hand. She solves the problem by putting one suit in one hand and the other in the other; a new way to show 7-6.



Teaching with Beginning Bridge


Beginning Bridge is meant for students who have never played bridge or a similar card game. By the end of the book students should be able to enjoy playing bridge with their friends.

There are eleven chapters in the book. Each chapter includes:

  • a section on bidding
  • a section on play
  • exercises to illustrate new concepts
  • four practice deals

We believe that it is important to teach bidding and play together since each aspect of the game reinforces the other. Students will better understand bidding if they can recognize what is needed to make a contract, the value of long suits, the value of ruffing in dummy and the special requirements of notrump contracts.

Suggested Lessons

Each chapter was designed to be a complete 2 1/2-hour lesson: 1 hour for instruction, and 1 1/2 hours for practice.

Practice deals allow each student (seated four to a bridge table) a chance to be dummy, declarer and defender in each lesson. The deals illustrate the bidding rules that have been taught up to that point and the themes described in the play section of the chapter.


Visit our teacher resource section to download student handouts of chapter summaries, points to remember and bridge definitions.

Practice Deals

We recognize that every teacher deals cards in their own way, whether they chose to use duplicate boards, call out cards, or use NSEW hand out sheets. With this in mind, we pulled together all 42 deals from Beginning Bridge for easy download.

We have also created custom cards that match the Beginning Bridge deals which will be available for purchase later this fall.

Alternate Course Ideas

Two-hour Lessons

Allow only 1 hour for practice, and assign remaining deals as homework, or use as part of a supervised play session between lessons.

Six-week Courses

Use chapters 1-6 for a constructive bidding course and chapters 7-11 for a special bids course — preempts, takeout doubles, overcalls and defensive bidding.

Play Courses

Focus only on the play section and the practice deals in each chapter. Click here for additional deals.