Contract bridge probabilities

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In the game of bridge mathematical probabilities play a significant role. Different declarer play strategies lead to success depending on the distribution of opponent's cards. To decide which strategy has highest likelihood of success, the declarer needs to have at least an elementary knowledge of probabilities.

The tables below specify the various prior probabilities, i.e. the probabilities in the absence of any further information. During bidding and play, more information about the hands becomes available, allowing players to improve their probability estimates.

Probability of suit distributions in two hidden hands[edit]

This table[1] represents the different ways that two to eight particular cards may be distributed, or may lie or split, between two unknown 13-card hands (before the bidding and play, or a priori).

The table also shows the number of combinations of particular cards that match any numerical split and the probabilities for each combination.

These probabilities follow directly from the law of Vacant Places.

Number
of Cards
Distribution Probability Combinations Individual
Probability
2 1 - 1 0.52 2 0.26
2 - 0 0.48 2 0.24
3 2 - 1 0.78 6 0.13
3 - 0 0.22 2 0.11
4 2 - 2 0.41 6 0.0678~
3 - 1 0.50 8 0.0622~
4 - 0 0.10 2 0.0478~
5 3 - 2 0.68 20 0.0339~
4 - 1 0.28 10 0.02826~
5 - 0 0.04 2 0.01956~
6 3 - 3 0.36 20 0.01776~
4 - 2 0.48 30 0.01615~
5 - 1 0.15 12 0.01211~
6 - 0 0.01 2 0.00745~
7 4 - 3 0.62 70 0.00888~
5 - 2 0.31 42 0.00727~
6 - 1 0.07 14 0.00484~
7 - 0 0.01 2 0.00261~
8 4 - 4 0.33 70 0.00467~
5 - 3 0.47 112 0.00421~
6 - 2 0.17 56 0.00306~
7 - 1 0.03 16 0.00178~
8 - 0 0.00 2 0.00082~

Calculation of probabilities[edit]

Let be the probability of an East player with unknown cards holding cards in a given suit and a West player with unknown cards holding cards in the given suit. The total number of arrangements of cards in the suit in spaces is i.e. the number of permutations of objects of which cards in the suit are indistinguishable and cards not in the suit are indistinguishable. The number of arrangements of which correspond to East having cards in the suit and West cards in the suit is given by . Therefore

If the direction of the split is unimportant (it is only required that the split be -, not that East is specifically required to hold cards), then the overall probability is given by
where the Kronecker delta ensures that the situation where East and West have the same number of cards in the suit is not counted twice.

The above probabilities assume and that the direction of the split is unimportant, and so are given by

The more general formula can be used to calculate the probability of a suit breaking if a player is known to have cards in another suit from e.g. the bidding. Suppose East is known to have 7 spades from the bidding and after seeing dummy you deduce West to hold 2 spades; then if your two lines of play are to hope either for diamonds 5-3 or clubs 4-2, the a priori probabilities are 47% and 48% respectively but and so now the club line is significantly better than the diamond line.

Probability of HCP distribution[edit]

High card points (HCP) are usually counted using the Milton Work scale of 4/3/2/1 points for each Ace/King/Queen/Jack respectively. The a priori probabilities that a given hand contains no more than a specified number of HCP is given in the table below.[1] To find the likelihood of a certain point range, one simply subtracts the two relevant cumulative probabilities. So, the likelihood of being dealt a 12-19 HCP hand (ranges inclusive) is the probability of having at most 19 HCP minus the probability of having at most 11 HCP, or: 0.9855 − 0.6518 = 0.3337.[2]

HCP Probability HCP Probability HCP Probability HCP Probability HCP Probability
0 0.003639 8 0.374768 16 0.935520 24 0.999542 32 1.000000
1 0.011523 9 0.468331 17 0.959137 25 0.999806 33 1.000000
2 0.025085 10 0.562382 18 0.975187 26 0.999923 34 1.000000
3 0.049708 11 0.651828 19 0.985549 27 0.999972 35 1.000000
4 0.088163 12 0.732097 20 0.991985 28 0.999990 36 1.000000
5 0.140025 13 0.801240 21 0.995763 29 0.999997 37 1.000000
6 0.205565 14 0.858174 22 0.997864 30 0.999999
7 0.285846 15 0.902410 23 0.998983 31 1.000000

Hand pattern probabilities[edit]

A hand pattern denotes the distribution of the thirteen cards in a hand over the four suits. In total 39 hand patterns are possible, but only 13 of them have an a priori probability exceeding 1%. The most likely pattern is the 4-4-3-2 pattern consisting of two four-card suits, a three-card suit and a doubleton.

Note that the hand pattern leaves unspecified which particular suits contain the indicated lengths. For a 4-4-3-2 pattern, one needs to specify which suit contains the three-card and which suit contains the doubleton in order to identify the length in each of the four suits. There are four possibilities to first identify the three-card suit and three possibilities to next identify the doubleton. Hence, the number of suit permutations of the 4-4-3-2 pattern is twelve. Or, stated differently, in total there are twelve ways a 4-4-3-2 pattern can be mapped onto the four suits.

Below table lists all 39 possible hand patterns, their probability of occurrence, as well as the number of suit permutations for each pattern. The list is ordered according to likelihood of occurrence of the hand patterns.[3]

Pattern Probability #
4-4-3-2 0.21551 12
5-3-3-2 0.15517 12
5-4-3-1 0.12931 24
5-4-2-2 0.10580 12
4-3-3-3 0.10536 4
6-3-2-2 0.05642 12
6-4-2-1 0.04702 24
6-3-3-1 0.03448 12
5-5-2-1 0.03174 12
4-4-4-1 0.02993 4
7-3-2-1 0.01881 24
6-4-3-0 0.01326 24
5-4-4-0 0.01243 12
Pattern Probability #
5-5-3-0 0.00895 12
6-5-1-1 0.00705 12
6-5-2-0 0.00651 24
7-2-2-2 0.00513 4
7-4-1-1 0.00392 12
7-4-2-0 0.00362 24
7-3-3-0 0.00265 12
8-2-2-1 0.00192 12
8-3-1-1 0.00118 12
7-5-1-0 0.00109 24
8-3-2-0 0.00109 24
6-6-1-0 0.00072 12
8-4-1-0 0.00045 24
Pattern Probability #
9-2-1-1 0.00018 12
9-3-1-0 0.00010 24
9-2-2-0 0.000082 12
7-6-0-0 0.000056 12
8-5-0-0 0.000031 12
10-2-1-0 0.000011 24
9-4-0-0 0.0000097 12
10-1-1-1 0.0000040 4
10-3-0-0 0.0000015 12
11-1-1-0 0.00000025 12
11-2-0-0 0.00000011 12
12-1-0-0 0.0000000032 12
13-0-0-0 0.0000000000063 4

The 39 hand patterns can by classified into four hand types: balanced hands, three-suiters, two suiters and single suiters. Below table gives the a priori likelihoods of being dealt a certain hand-type.

Hand type Patterns Probability
Balanced 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 5-3-3-2 0.4761
Two-suiter 5-4-2-2, 5-4-3-1, 5-5-2-1, 5-5-3-0, 6-5-1-1, 6-5-2-0, 6-6-1-0, 7-6-0-0 0.2902
Single-suiter 6-3-2-2, 6-3-3-1, 6-4-2-1, 6-4-3-0, 7-2-2-2, 7-3-2-1, 7-3-3-0, 7-4-1-1, 7-4-2-0, 7-5-1-0, 8-2-2-1, 8-3-1-1, 8-3-2-0, 8-4-1-0, 8-5-0-0, 9-2-1-1, 9-2-2-0, 9-3-1-0, 9-4-0-0, 10-1-1-1, 10-2-1-0, 10-3-0-0, 11-1-1-0, 11-2-0-0, 12-1-0-0, 13-0-0-0 0.1915
Three-suiter 4-4-4-1, 5-4-4-0 0.0423

Alternative grouping of the 39 hand patterns can be made either by longest suit or by shortest suit. Below tables gives the a priori chance of being dealt a hand with a longest or a shortest suit of given length.

Longest suit Patterns Probability
4 card 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 4-4-4-1 0.3508
5 card 5-3-3-2, 5-4-2-2, 5-4-3-1, 5-5-2-1, 5-4-4-0, 5-5-3-0 0.4434
6 card 6-3-2-2, 6-3-3-1, 6-4-2-1, 6-4-3-0, 6-5-1-1, 6-5-2-0, 6-6-1-0 0.1655
7 card 7-2-2-2, 7-3-2-1, 7-3-3-0, 7-4-1-1, 7-4-2-0, 7-5-1-0, 7-6-0-0 0.0353
8 card 8-2-2-1, 8-3-1-1, 8-3-2-0, 8-4-1-0, 8-5-0-0 0.0047
9 card 9-2-1-1, 9-2-2-0, 9-3-1-0, 9-4-0-0 0.00037
10 card 10-1-1-1, 10-2-1-0, 10-3-0-0 0.000017
11 card 11-1-1-0, 11-2-0-0 0.0000003
12 card 12-1-0-0 0.000000003
13 card 13-0-0-0 0.000000000006
Shortest suit Patterns Probability
Three card 4-3-3-3 0.1054
Doubleton 4-4-3-2, 5-3-3-2, 5-4-2-2, 6-3-2-2, 7-2-2-2 0.5380
Singleton 4-4-4-1, 5-4-3-1, 5-5-2-1, 6-3-3-1, 6-4-2-1, 6-5-1-1, 7-3-2-1, 7-4-1-1, 8-2-2-1, 8-3-1-1, 9-2-1-1, 10-1-1-1 0.3055
Void 5-4-4-0, 5-5-3-0, 6-4-3-0, 6-5-2-0, 6-6-1-0, 7-3-3-0, 7-4-2-0, 7-5-1-0, 7-6-0-0, 8-3-2-0, 8-4-1-0, 8-5-0-0, 9-2-2-0, 9-3-1-0, 9-4-0-0, 10-2-1-0, 10-3-0-0, 11-1-1-0, 11-2-0-0, 12-1-0-0, 13-0-0-0 0.0512

Number of possible deals[edit]

In total there are 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000 (5.36 x 1028) different deals possible, which is equal to . The immenseness of this number can be understood by answering the question "How large an area would you need to spread all possible bridge deals if each deal would occupy only one square millimeter?". The answer is: an area more than a hundred million times the surface area of Earth.

Obviously, the deals that are identical except for swapping—say—the 2 and the 3 would be unlikely to give a different result. To make the irrelevance of small cards explicit (which is not always the case though), in bridge such small cards are generally denoted by an 'x'. Thus, the "number of possible deals" in this sense depends of how many non-honour cards (2, 3, .. 9) are considered 'indistinguishable'. For example, if 'x' notation is applied to all cards smaller than ten, then the suit distributions A987-K106-Q54-J32 and A432-K105-Q76-J98 would be considered identical.

The table below [4] gives the number of deals when various numbers of small cards are considered indistinguishable.

Suit composition Number of deals
AKQJT9876543x 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000
AKQJT987654xx 7,811,544,503,918,790,990,995,915,520
AKQJT98765xxx 445,905,120,201,773,774,566,940,160
AKQJT9876xxxx 14,369,217,850,047,151,709,620,800
AKQJT987xxxxx 314,174,475,847,313,213,527,680
AKQJT98xxxxxx 5,197,480,921,767,366,548,160
AKQJT9xxxxxxx 69,848,690,581,204,198,656
AKQJTxxxxxxxx 800,827,437,699,287,808
AKQJxxxxxxxxx 8,110,864,720,503,360
AKQxxxxxxxxxx 74,424,657,938,928
AKxxxxxxxxxxx 630,343,600,320
Axxxxxxxxxxxx 4,997,094,488
xxxxxxxxxxxxx 37,478,624

Note that the last entry in the table (37,478,624) corresponds to the number of different distributions of the deck (the number of deals when cards are only distinguished by their suit).

Probability of Losing-Trick Counts[edit]

The Losing-Trick Count is an alternative to the HCP count as a method of hand evaluation.

LTC Number of Hands Probability
0 4,245,032 0.000668%
1 90,206,044 0.0142%
2 872,361,936 0.137%
3 5,080,948,428 0.8%
4 19,749,204,780 3.11%
5 53,704,810,560 8.46%
6 104,416,332,340 16.4%
7 145,971,648,360 23.0%
8 145,394,132,760 22.9%
9 100,454,895,360 15.8%
10 45,618,822,000 7.18%
11 12,204,432,000 1.92%
12 1,451,520,000 0.229%
13 0 0%

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Mathematical Tables" (Table 4). Francis, Henry G., Editor-in-Chief; Truscott, Alan F., Executive Editor; Francis, Dorthy A., Editor, Fifth Edition (1994). The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (5th ed.). Memphis, TN: American Contract Bridge League. p. 278. ISBN 0-943855-48-9. LCCN 96188639. 
  2. ^ Richard Pavlicek. "High Card Expectancy." link
  3. ^ Richard Pavlicek. "Against All Odds." link
  4. ^ Counting Bridge Deals, Jeroen Warmerdam

Further reading[edit]

  • Émile, Borel; André, Chéron (1940). Théorie Mathématique du Bridge. Gauthier-Villars.  Second French edition by the authors in 1954. Translated and edited into English by Alec Traub as The Mathematical Theory of Bridge; printed in 1974 in Taiwan through the assistance of C.C. Wei.
  • Kelsey, Hugh; Glauert, Michael (1980). Bridge Odds for Practical Players. Master Bridge Series. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd in association with Peter Crawley. ISBN 0-575-02799-1. 
  • Reese, Terence; Trézel, Roger (1986). Master the Odds in Bridge. Master Bridge Series. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd in association with Peter Crawley. ISBN 0-575-02597-2.