Quick summary

The key numbers of losers are:

Barriers are

Take your total from 18.

Overcalling: loser count:

Isolated Queen=Extra half loser (unless supported by partner or a Jack)


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Bridge Venue

Example Deal
spade 9 6 4
heart J 8 6
diamond 8 6
club A Q 10 8 4
Example Deal
Dealer: North
Vuln: NS

Opening 1 of a suit with limit responses in NT
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7-9-18 Losing Trick Count

How high to bid ?

This is a massively useful method for working out how high to bid in a suit before stopping the auction, assuming you have an 8-card fit. HCP & Distribution points are a useful starter, but LTC helps you make that final vital decision.

First count the losers in your own hand, then make an assumption of how many losers your partner has. Adding these two numbers together and subtracting from 18 gives you an indication of how high you can bid.

The numbers you should assume for your partner can be derived from how your partner has bid. . . the higher he bid, the lower the number of losers. The starting position is 7 and 9. Seven for an opener at the one level, and 9 for a responder at the one level.

Say you have 8 losers. If you are the responder, then you should assume your partner who opened the bidding has 7, so you have 15 between you altogether. Subtract that from 18, leaving 3… which is an indication of how high you can bid.

If you are opener, it's the same, but you assume your partner (who responded at the 1 level) has 9 losers. If your partner was able to respond at the two level, then assume one less loser, namely 8.

The easiest way to improve your bidding

The Losing Trick Count (LTC) solves a bidding problem that often arises. You and your partner already have a fit: you've worked out which suit you should be in, say heart. Partner has just bid 2heart let's say. Unfortunately, based on your HCP point count, and your distribution, and based on your partner's bids, carefully noting any reverses and so on, you can see that you only have the strength to go to 3heart, not the 4heartneeded for game. You and partner might have 23 total points for example.

But you've noticed that the shape of your hand is quite special, surely you've got enough to risk 4heart, and go for the 420 points ? On the other hand you're vulnerable, so if the opposition double you, and you only make 2, you'll go down 500 points.

LTC is a method for working out how high to bid in a suit after you've found a fit, before stopping the auction. And amazingly, it really works in many situations. That's because it takes account of all three factors: strength, length and shortage. Try to make a habit of evaluating your LTC when you first look at your hand for balance, HCP and shape points.

If you are opener, it's the same, but you assume your partner (who responded at the 1 level) has 9 losers. If your partner was able to respond at the two level, then assume one less loser, namely 8.

Overcalls and the LTC

Let's assume that even though you've overcalled, you are not in a sacrificial auction. So there's no need to try to rapidly shut out the opposition's bidding space by using the technique known as "bidding to the limit of the fit". You can relax and calculate.

LTC will enable you both to assess how high to go and still win the contract.

Responder should assume that opener has 7 losers - and a 5-card suit, of course. (Slacken the test to 8 losers if not vulnerable. So, up to one more loser than a standard opening.)

Jump overcalls - "Two 6's"

With a jump overcall, assuming you and your partner are using the "intermediate" method for jump overcalls (which some people do not), assume 6 cards and 6 losers from the opener (6+6=12).

With shorter length than 6, you should not be jumping. You could consider doubling for takeout instead.

How to count your losers

The method assumes that an ace will never be a loser, nor will a king in a 2+ card suit, nor a queen in a 3+ card suit:

  • a void = 0 losing tricks
  • a singleton other than an A = 1 losing trick
  • a doubleton. AK = 0, A-Q= half a loser, Ax, Kx or KQ = 1, xx = 2 losing tricks
  • a three card suit AKQ = 0, AKx, AQx or KQx = 1, Axx, Kxx or QJx = 2, Q9x=2.5 losers (unless supported by partner), xxx = 3 losing tricks
  • suits longer than three cards are judged according to the three highest cards since no suit has more than 3 losing tricks.

This method above tends to overvalue unsupported queens and undervalue supported jacks. Refinement :

  • AQ doubleton = 0.5 loser (instead of 1)
  • AJ10 = 1 loser (instead of 2)
  • Qxx = 3 losers, or possibly 2.5 (instead of 2). Unless trumps (if trumps, partner will have other honours)
  • Subtract a loser if there is a known 9-card trump fit

See "The Modern Losing Trick Count" by Ron Klinger.

How to estimate your partner's LTC

If you know partner's points, you can estimate partner's losers. Given that there are 40HCP in a pack and 13 tricks to be made, then each trick corresponds to about 3HCP. So, add or subtract one loser for each 3 HCP outside the average opening hand of 13-15 points.

7-9 = 9, 10-12 = 8, 13-15 = 7, 16-18 = 6, 19-21 = 5, 22-24 = 6.

Do the same for each average 1-level responding hand (9 losers), and each 2-level responding hand (8 losers).


A typical opening hand of 13HCP, e.g. spadeAKxxx heartAxxx diamondQx clubxx, has 7 losers (1+2+2+2=7). To calculate how high to bid, responder adds the number of losers in his hand to the assumed number in opener's hand (7). The total number of losers arrived at by this sum is subtracted from 18. The answer is deemed to be the bid level available to the partnership and this should be the next bid by responder.

Following an opening bid of 1heart:

  • partner could jump to game with 7 losers in hand and a fit with partner's heart suit (3 if playing 5-card majors) . . . 7 + 7 = 14 subtract from 18 = bid of 4. (You might not want to do this though, because you could be missing out in slam if opener has a strong hand).
  • With 8 losers in hand and a fit, responder bids 3heart(8+7=15 which deducted from 18 = 3 tricks).
  • With 9 losers and a fit, responder bids 2heart.
  • With only 5 losers and a fit, a slam is likely so responder may bid straight to 6heartif preemptive bidding seems appropriate. Or you could take a slower forcing approach.

After responder's bid, opener can then re-evaluate his position, based on your bid. He might have fewer than 7 losers.

LTC and slam bids (in suits)

The Losing Trick Count is also useful for bidding suit slams.

Losing Trick Count in Action

Deal 1

spade K 9 8 7 2
heart 3
diamond A 9 4 3 2
club 5 4
  - Pass 1spade Pass

After East's opening bid of 1spade, what should reply as West?


<---- Click the "+" for the Answer

Deal 2

spade 8 6 2
heart Q J 7 4
diamond A 4
club A J 5 2
  - Pass 1club Pass

After East's opening bid of 1club, what should reply as West?


<---- Click the "+" for the Answer

Now try the quiz

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(You can try quizzes for any other subjects too while you're there. Look out for the thin red line).


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