Quick summary

The key numbers of losers are:

Barriers are

Take team total from 18:

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

Overcalling, loser count:


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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
You: East
Dealer: North
Vuln: N-S

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 jolly useful and quick additional method for helping you to work out how high to bid in a suit before stopping the auction, assuming you have an 8-card fit.

The method more commonly used is to start from your High Card Points (HCP), and then refine it by working out all the "shape points" (for voids, singletons, doubletons, long suits, singleton Kings, unsupported Queens...). But the Losing Trick Count (LTC) is quicker, as well as being different, and helps you make that final vital decision quickly and calmly, and with a slightly different perspective.

As with all methods of analysis, it is not perfect, and is no substitute for thoughtful bidding! There will be deals that it cannot accurately predict. But it does have some extra benefits, and when taken in conjunction with counting High Card Points and careful thought, will help you to take sensible risks, and avoid silly ones Richard.

Quick and easy

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

My partner's losers?

The number of losers 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 he has. The starting position is 7 and 9. Seven for a partner that opened at the one level, and 9 for a partner who responded by bidding a new suit at the one level.

Let's say you have 8 losers.

If you're 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 safely bid, providing you have an 8-card fit.

If you're the opener, it's the same, but you assume your partner has 9 losers if he responded at the 1 level - (so obviously in a new suit). If your partner had to respond in a new suit at the two level, then assume one less loser, namely 8. But if your responding partner supported your suit, then you have a fit, and you can assume your partner has already done the LTC - and figured out how high to bid from what he can see in his hand. So you would only raise further if you have fewer losers than the 7 losers that he will have counted on you having.

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.

And amazingly, LTC 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 length points. But definitely evaluate your LTC when you observe that the two of you have an 8-card fit.

How to count your losers

It's quick and easy. As you examine the cards dealt to you in each suit, there's 3 things to keep in mind:

  1. It's a maximum of 3 losers per suit
  2. Less one for each Ace, King, or Queen in the suit
  3. 'Droppable Honours' count as losers (i.e. singleton King, or doubleton Queen)

However, this simple method of subtracting one loser for each A, K or Q in a suit tends to overvalue unsupported queens and undervalue supported jacks.

Modifications for suits containing the Queen, & 3 or more cards

With Qxx, add ½ a loser, unless the Q is in one of the following situations:

  1. the Q is supported by the A, K, or J - don't add ½ a loser
  2. Q109 - don't add ½
  3. the Q is in the trump suit proposed by partner - don't add ½

Other modifications

  1. A known 9-card trump fit is stronger - so subtract a loser
  2. For suits with the AJ10: - again better than it looks: so only 1 loser, not 2
  3. Any ½s in the total Losing Trick Count are rounded "up" - eg. 6½ becomes a more cautious 7.
  4. Beware Ace-less or King-less hands. (Add ½ loser for a hand with NO Aces but add 1 loser for the rare hands with no Aces nor Kings).

All this is a basic guide to counting losers. In the full system, distinctions can be made between balanced and unbalanced hands - but these are for accomplished and experienced players. For a full analysis of the use of LTC in many situations, see "The Modern Losing Trick Count" by Ron Klinger.

The table below, 13c, gives a summary of how to count the LTC from your hand.

13c. Losing Trick Count - How to calculate for your hand
The quick sum you have to do:
       it's a maximum of 3 Losers per suit, less one for each A, K or Q in the suit.
       Loser count per suit
0 1 2 3
Suit length       No. of Losers in a suit with these cards:      
3 AKQ AKx Axx *
A Qx  Kxx    xxx
 KQx   Qxx (= L) *   Qxx (= L) *
2 AK Ax   Qx *
 Kx    xx
A Q (=½L) * A Q (=½L) *
1 A any (ex-A)
x                  is any card from 2, 3, 4... up to 9, 10, J
A known 9-card fit is stronger than an 8-card, so subtract one loser.
* only 1 loser (instead of 2) if xx = J & 10.
The Queen's strength (compared with A/K's) depends more on support, hence:
* 2½ Losers, or only 2 Losers if partner bids suit, or if an x= J.
* insufficient support for Q to survive 2 attacks, from A then K.
* improve by ½ Loser (from ½ to 0), if partner bids suit.
see Table 13a for the Losing Trick Count of key bids
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How to estimate your partner's LTC

Just in case you can't work it all out, all by yourself, here's a little table of Losing Trick Counts for various types of bid...

13a. Losing Trick Count (LTC)
LTC Bid type e.g. bid Typical points
opening bids
3 game-forcing 2club, or 2diamond (Benji) 23+
4 strong 2-level, not quite game-forcing 2club (Benji) 20-22
5 strong 1-level 1heart 18-19
6 good 1-level 1heart 15-17
7 minimum 1-level 1heart 12-14
responding bids
5 jump-shift (1heart) 2spade 16+
7 game values (1heart) 4heart 12+
8 2-level new suit, lower ranking suit (1heart) 2club 10+
8 3-level suit support (1heart) 3heart 10-11 limited
9 1-level new suit (1heart) 1spade 6+
9 single raise suit support (1heart) 2heart 6-9 limited
opener's re-bids
5 jump-shift, after 1-level new suit (1heart, 1spade) 3club 19+
6 jump-shift, after 2-level new suit (1heart, 2club) 3diamond 16+
6 barrier-breaking rebid (reverse) (1heart, 2club) 2spade 16+
7 non-jump shift (non-reverse) (1heart, 1spade/2club) 2diamond 12+
See Table 100
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Don't worry if you don't remember this table. If you know partner's bid (which hopefully you do!) or his probable point count, you can estimate/calculate partner's Losing Trick Count, by starting from 7 for a minimum opening hand, and deducting approx. one loser for each extra 3 points you think he's got.

When you have a suit fit, LTC automatically allows for both length and shortage (for voids, singletons, doubletons, long suits, singleton Kings, unsupported Queens...) as well as strength, and is therefore more useful than HCP. But...

  1. ...it's not a substitute for thoughtful bidding, and
  2. don't be tempted to always bid a Slam if each of you have 6-loser hand. The enemy might have 2 Aces.


Take a typical opening-strength hand of 13HCP, e.g.

Hand 1
S A K x x
H A x x x x
D Q x
C x x

Hand 1 has 7 losers (1+2+2+2=7). To calculate how high to bid, as soon as you realise that you and partner have an 8-card fit, you and your partner will start adding the number of losers in your hand to the assumed number in partner's hand. The total number of losers arrived at by this sum is subtracted from 18. The answer is the LTC perspective of the highest makeable bid level available to your partnership, and in many cases this might be the next bid you make.

Let's say you're dealer with hand 1 shown above. It's got 7 losers, so you make an opening bid of 1heart. Let's also say that your partner has 4 Hearts in his hand.

  • Partner, if he has a weak 10-loser hand, but with a fit with your heart suit, says "no bid". (10+7=17, which deducted from 18 suggests 1 only trick is makeable).
  • If he has a 9-loser hand, and a fit with your heart suit, he bids 2heart. (9+7=16, which deducted from 18 suggests 2 tricks are makeable).
  • With 8 losers in hand and a fit, partner bids 3heart (8+7=15 which deducted from 18 = 3 tricks). This invites you to raise to 4heart if your hand was stronger than the minimum 7 losers you'd promised with your opening bid. In this case it's not - Hand 1 only has the 7 losers you've already revealed, so you'd leave it at 3heart But is that wise? Cleverer bidders might have noticed those 5 Hearts in Hand 1, and realising that a 9-card fit is typically better than an 8-card fit by one trick/one loser, and raised the bid to 4heart
  • Partner, with 7 losers, and a fit with your heart suit, could jump to game: because 7 + 7 = 14, then subtract from 18 makes 4. So a bid of 4.
      (He might not always want to do this though, because your team could miss out on a slam if you'd had a stronger hand than the minimum you guaranteed - see Jacoby 2NT. Given that the Jacoby 2NT bid is available to say "you have a game-going Heart fit", a bid of straight to 4 is used by many partnerships as a weak pre-emptive game call, sometimes sacrificial, and used to annoy the potentially strong enemy and block out their communications. The bid is called a weak-freak, and might only have 7 points, but at least 5 trumps).
  • With a super strong hand, having only 5 losers and a fit, "a slam is on the cards" thinks partner. So he might bid straight to 6heart if he's a risk-taking type. Or your team could take a slower, more examining approach, asking each other about enemy key-cards for example...

In each case, you the opener will re-evaluate your position, based on partner's bid. You might have fewer than 7 losers...

Overcalls and the LTC

You can use the LTC with overalls too. Let's suppose your partner overcalled the dealer to your left. If you're vulnerable, you should assume that your overcalling partner has 7 losers (and a 5-card suit, of course, Alex!). But if you're not vulnerable, overcaller might have a weaker hand with 8 losers.

In the event of a non-competitive auction, the LTC will enable you and your overcalling partner to assess how high to bid - and still win the contract. (On the other hand, you might deliberately be making sacrificial bids in a competitive auction, possibly aiming to shut out the opposition's bidding space by "bidding to the limit of the fit").

Table 100 on page 100 which gives Losing Trick Counts for overcalling bids.

Jump overcalls and the LTC

With a jump overcall, overcaller will always have a 6-card suit.

For people who are using the "intermediate" method for jump overcalls, it's quite a strong bid, promising a Losing Trick Count of 6 (hence "two 6's").

But an increasing number of people don't. Like me, they prefer "weak" jump overcalls, because a weaker hand 6-card suit crops up in overcall situations much more frequently. And like a weak two, it's wonderfully pre-emptive - and of course it tends to interfere more significantly with the opponents' conversations... all good stuff. For a weak jump overcall, assume an LTC of 8 (or 7 if vulnerable). These are the same assumptions as for a 5-card conventional overcall.

With shorter suit length than 6, you shouldn't be jump-overcalling. And if you're strong with a 5 or 6-card suit, you should go via the double for takeout route.

LTC and slam bids (in suits)

The Losing Trick Count can be 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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