To determine the strength of your hand at Bridge you look , initially, at two things ; a) Hand Pattern / Shape and b) the number of High Card Points (HCP) in the hand.
The pattern of the hand you are dealt is the number of cards you have in each suit. As you are always dealt 13 cards the hand patterns must therefore add up to 13.
So a 5-4-2-2 shape has one suit with five cards , one with four and then two doubletons. A shape of 6-4-2-1 , is a hand with six cards in one suit , four in another , and a doubleton and a singleton.
There are three hand shape types that you will need to understand: balanced , semi-balanced and unbalanced.
A Balanced hand has a 4-3-3-3 , 4-4-3-2 , or 5-3-3-2 pattern and it contains no void , singleton, and at most one doubleton.
A Semi-Balanced hand has a 5-4-2-2 , 6-3-2-2 or 7-2-2-2 pattern. It has no void or singleton but will have two or three doubletons.
An Unbalanced hand could have 4-4-4-1 or 5-4-3-1 shapes and all other shapes containing voids or singletons.
How the Hand Shape influences bidding
Balanced hands are best played in No Trumps contracts. Since there is no void or singleton “easy ruffing” isn’t available and you “MUST follow suit” a trump contract holds little attraction. An early indication of NT is advisable.
UnBalanced hands should be played in a suit contract. If you hold a void or singleton then there is great opportunity for ruffing. If possible offer your partner two suits to play in , if you can. Only play in NT if your partner has coverage of your short suits.
Semi-Balanced hands can be played in either NT or in a suit. It largely depends upon what your partner has in their hand. Don’t bid NT to start with but consider towards the end of the bidding cycle.
How Many Suits can I Bid
In Basic ACOL we play 4 card majors, which means to open the bidding in any suit we must have at least 4 of the cards in that suit. So any hand that has multiples of 4 cards in other suits we can then bid or “SHOW” those other suits.
Suits with multiples are called “2 Suiters” there is one hand shape where you can have the choice of a “3 Suiter” and that is the 4-4-4-1 shape.
All other combinations are called “1 suiters” and are the most common.