Jeff Lehman

Culbertson’s Rule of Hand Evaluation

Many methods of hand evaluation abound: Law of Total Tricks (LOTT), the counter to LOTT in Lawrence-Wirgren book, Losing Trick Count (LTC), and, of course, point count.

I think all of those methods pale in comparison to Culbertson’s Rule, which I had read many, many years ago in Jeff Rubens’ great book The Secrets of Winning Bridge.  Rubens defines the Rule as “your hand is worth an invitation to game (or slam) if a perfect minimum holding from partner will make it a laydown”.

What makes Culbertson’s Rule better, IMHO, than alternatives is that it gets the bidder to be thinking about integrating the play into the bidding: what cards do I need from partner (that are consistent with the auction as a whole) to make the contract I am aiming for laydown?  The “perfect minimum” aspect of the Rule keeps a player from getting too ambitious: if you are counting on partner to have a perfect maximum, you will frequently be disappointed; and if are counting on partner to have a hugely imperfect minimum, you are going to miss too many good games or slams.

What brings this discussion to the blog is this hand: A  AJ9632  J9  KJ83.  You open 1 and partner raises to 2.  Are you worth a game try?  Culbertson’s Rule thinking might follow the lines of well, if partner holds Kxxx and Q, game should be pretty close to laydown, right?  Your methods will determine how you try for game, but since a perfect minimum of 5 HCP might produce a near-laydown game, surely some sort of game try is in order.

Another example (slightly adjusted, for author license) from the same club game as the hand above.  Let’s say that you are playing weak notrumps, which causes you to open 1 holding KQ84 K2 AJ5 KJ54.  LHO doubles and partner raises to 2.  RHO passes.  Do you bid more on your balanced 17 count?  Well, applying Culbertson’s rule, you “give” partner ATxxx and Q, fitting nicely with your two diamond honors.  You expect a heart lead, and you can quickly see that 3NT is far from laydown.  Ergo, you pass.  Sure, partner might have enough for game because his auction is not inconsistent with his owning the same hand as shown above but with the A instead of the Q.  But that hand is not a perfect minimum and so you should not bid on.


Bill CubleyMarch 22nd, 2011 at 3:37 am

Discussing with partner what a minimum balanced opening hand is fundamental to the further bidding of games and slams.

I ask partners to hold AK in one suit and Ace in another with 4-3-3-3 openers and we understand the 12 and 13 count hands may actually be worse openers than the balanced AK,A hands.

Many hope partner has a maximum for her bids. I always hope for the minimum which comes up more often.

Other things such as 1 Diamond is 4+ with the only exception of 4=4=3=2 also clarify a lot of things for further auctions.

Helped me get a 30 year slam bididng reputation.

Jeff LehmanMarch 29th, 2011 at 5:03 pm


I agree with your suggestions that it is good to have partnership agreements about how minimum can be an opening bid. Even if I might quarrel with your particular proposed agreement, having an agreement is more important usually than the substance of the agreement.

One related issue on minimum balanced hands that continues to confound me is the difference between what a hand might be worth if our side declares in a suit fit (where quick tricks might count heavily) and what a hand might be worth if playing notrump (where tens, nines, and eights might count heavily).

Thanks for taking the time and effort to comment.

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