In the aftermath of the experiment in IMP scoring conducted at the club
in the middle of lat year it is obvious that very few people understood
what was going on, what the fuss was about and why there was any reason
to change the way that the weekly club events are scored. With
people waiting to start play I had only a couple of minutes to explain
the principles and purpose of IMP scoring and it is obvious that I
failed to impart any understanding to club members.
To understand we have to go back a bit and reflect on the history of Contract Bridge.
What is "Real Bridge"?
That is my term for rubber bridge played for money. The money
itself is not important except insofar as it puts a brake on
silliness. If you want to bid a grand slam in no trumps with 5
points then you had better be prepared to pay something for your folly.
Rubber bridge was often played in the home but there were bridge clubs
where you could go and take your chances at the table with regular or ad hoc
partners. These were social clubs like any other but the main
purpose of their existence was the game. Until the mid-1920s that
game was auction bridge but contract bridge soon became popular and
displaced auction bridge from most venues. This discussion deals
only with contract bridge.
OK, so what is Rubber Bridge?
Rubber bridge is a contest between two teams each comprising two
people. The room may contain any number people but only the four
seated at the table are relevant. This is in contrast to the
weekly club events where everybody in the room is a participant.
At rubber bridge you win a rubber by scoring two games before your
opponents. To score a game you can either bid and make a suitable
contract such as 3NT or 4♥ just as in modern club play, or you can accumulate two or more part scores until the total reaches 100, e.g. 1NT + 2♦ +
1♠ = 110. You become vulnerable after winning a game and you
remain so until the rubber is completed. There is no bonus for
making a part score or for any single game. The bonus is added to
your score for winning the rubber. Furthermore, only points
accumulated by bidding and making contracts count towards games.
You do not score a game via points earned defeating the opponents or
from other bonuses. If you bid 2♠ and make 11 tricks then 60
points count towards game. The other 90 points are a bonus which
becomes part of your overall score but does not contribute to a game.
You'll still need to score another 40 or more points by winning another
auction and making the contract. If you are holding a part score
and your opponents reach game then your part score ceases to count
towards the next game; you have to start over from a game tally of zero.
During the course of a hand the cards are played into the centre of the
table. One member of the pair which wins the trick gathers the
four cards comprising that trick and stacks them nearby. This is
quite different from tournament play where the four hands are kept
separate. The game is played with a single deck of cards (although for
convenience a second deck was usually used so it could be shuffled
while the first was being dealt). The point is that every hand is played with a
freshly-shuffled deck. Each deal is an independent event in that sense.
Over any extended period, the better players score more points (and
money) than poorer players but it is conceivable that a run of good
cards can yield a good result for a weak pair at the expense of the
Bridge tournaments were conducted during the heyday of rubber bridge
and to minimise the effects of luck, rubber bridge tournaments
were typically run over several days. Prizes were given over and
above the table stakes.
Well it had to happen sometime. One day some bridge players
decided that a five day rubber bridge tournament was a bit like a test
match and what the world wanted was a 50 overs. Of course
for that to happen without screaming protests against the vicissitudes
of the deal the element of luck had to be eliminated. Several
methods were devised but every single one implied that the cards would
not be shuffled after each deal; the integrity of the hands would be
preserved so that the same hand could be played at two or more
We are all familiar with card holders and the practice of keeping
played cards face down in front of us for return to the holder at the
end of the hand. That is a minor but necessary adjustment and if
it were the only one then it is easy to devise a contest which
preserves all the other elements of "real bridge". Expand each
team to four players, i.e. to two pairs instead of one. The match
takes place in two separate rooms. So we have the the Trumpers
team of four players, Clara
Cardace, Jack Diamond, Biddie Lightner and Trixie Short. In one
room Clara and Jack play the N/S cards and in the other Trixie and
Biddie play the E/W cards. Over an agreed number of hands, say
40, the Trumpers play against the Splinters team in a rubber bridge
match. The result is determined by the difference in the scores.
Now in rubber bridge sequence is important. Remember that part
scores are carried forward so previous hands can affect the current one
which in turn can affect subsequent hands. This means that the
same hands have to be played
in exactly the same order so it probably means that either the boards
are dealt and duplicated prior to the match or that play in one room
little later than the other so the boards can be transferred to the
second room after they have been played in the first.
A match arranged as I have described would be the purest form of tournament play in bridge. The only real
variation from pure rubber bridge is that you're now playing with three
partners rather than just one.
Upon thinking about it I find it somewhat surprising that I have never heard of a tournament being played that way. It
is highly improbable that I am the only person to ever come up with that idea but a web
search for a rubber bridge tournament did not yield anything matching
what I have described. I have no explanation for that. In
the real world, tournaments are different. I shall deal with that in the next article.