The previous article dealt with the original nature of Contract Bridge as being intimately associated with rubber bridge and suggested how a rubber bridge tournament might be played so as to keep the spirit of the came intact while eliminating the luck of the deal.  Notwithstanding what I wrote, in real life bridge tournaments are never played as I suggested.

Many different schemes were devised for reducing the luck component of the game and any tournament director's handbook is full of descriptions.  You will have encountered Mitchell and Howell movements for pairs events but those occur in several variations.  Then there are teams of four and individual movements.  This article discusses Teams of Four and Mitchell competitions.

The closest we come to the "real bridge" ideal in competitive bridge is the modern Teams of Four match.  I shall describe the simplest such event possible between just two teams.  There are usually more than two teams in any competition and there are movements which accommodate larger numbers but the principle is the same so there is no need for me to add complexity to this discussion.

Teams of Four

  1. Two teams of four players compete in two rooms playing the N/S cards in one room and the E/W cards in the other.
  2. Each board is independent of the others.  The sequential nature of rubber bridge play is gone.
  3. Vulnerability is assigned rather than earned.
  4. Part scores do not accumulate.  Instead, a 50-point bonus is added to the trick score.
  5. There is no distinction between points earned for making a contract and bonus points for overtricks, penalties, games and slams.
  6. Bonuses are assigned immediately for making game contracts.  The bonus depends on vulnerability.
  7. On each board, the difference in scores attained by the opposing teams is converted to IMPs (International Match Points).
  8. The difference in total IMPs determines the winning team.
Points 2 through 6 are the most significant departures from the ideal tournament which I described in the last article.  The final two points are crucial in determining the strategy of bidding and play.

The effect of converting a raw difference in scores to IMPs is to chop off the extremes and to give more weight to the small contracts while still preserving the substantial benefits of bidding and making game contracts.  Using the example from the previous article, let us invent some scores and fill out a results sheet. 

We have Team Trumpers with Clara Cardace and Jack Diamond playing the N/S hands in one room while Biddie Lightner and Trixie Short play the E/W hands in the other ...

Bd Vul N-S: Clara & Jack E-W: Biddie & Trixie Diff IMPs
+
IMPs
-
Bid By Tricks Score Bid By Tricks Score
9 E-W 2H W 8 -110 2H W 8 110


10 All 1NT S 8 120 1NT S 7 -90 30 1
11 Nil 4H N 10 620 3H N 10 -170 450 10
12 N-S 3C W 8 100 3C W 9 110 210 5
13 All 4H W 11 -450 4H W 10 420 -30
1
14 Nil 4H W 10 -620 4S W 10 -620 -1240
15
15 N-S 5Cx N 9 -500 4S E 10 620 120 3
16 E-W 2H N 10 170 2H N 10 170


Well I ended up using an example from the Coolum Bridge Club so you can look there to see the explanations.  I expanded the example far beyond what normally appears on a scoresheet in the hope that it makes things clearer but at the risk of making them too complicated.  Anyway the Trumpers won the contest by 19 to 16 IMPs.

The event that I have just described is a contest between two teams of four players.  Note that it is rare for such events to be limited to just two teams and there are movements which cater for many teams.  In those multi-team contests the principle remains that your opponents at any given time is just one team.  That is very different from the situation in pairs events.

Pairs events - Mitchell Movement

The most common movement for pairs events is the Mitchell and it is the one almost invariably played at the club on Mondays.  The Mitchell works well for 6 or more tables.  With fewer tables the tournament director may consider running a Howell movement but I do not intend to discuss those.

  1. Several pairs compete in one room.  Half of the pairs play play the N/S and half play the E/W cards.
  2. Each board is independent of the others.  The sequential nature of rubber bridge play is gone.
  3. Vulnerability is assigned rather than earned.
  4. Part scores do not accumulate.  Instead, a 50-point bonus is added to the trick score.
  5. There is no distinction between points earned for making a contract and bonus points for overtricks, penalties, games and slams.
  6. Bonuses are assigned immediately for making game contracts.  The bonus depends on vulnerability.
  7. On each board, the scores for N/S and E/W are ranked and points are assigned according to rank.  These points are known as matchpoints.
  8. The sum of all matchpoints accumulated by the N/S and the E/W pairs determines the winning pair in that direction,  Thus there are two simultaneous competitions being run.  At all times the opponents on any one hand are all the other pairs playing in the same direction.
Matchpoint scoring has a major impact on the strategy of bidding and play.

Here is an example of a hand played on Monday 1st December 2014 ...

Pair numbers Score Matchpoints
N-S E-W Contract Lead Tricks NS EW NS EW
1 4 5 N A♣ 10 100 5 11
2 6 4 N A♠ 9 100 5 11
3 8 4 N 2 10 620 16 0
4 1 5 N A♠ 10 100 5 11
5 3 4♠ E 6 8 200 13 3
6 5 4 N 2 9 100 5 11
7 7 5♠ E 8 10 100 10 6
8 9 3♠ E 3 10 170 0 16
9 2 4♠ E 3 8 200 13 3
10 3
A K Q J 10 2
A
K J 8 6
9 8 2
9
K Q 9 6 5 4 3
Q 3
N
 W E  
S
A K Q 8 6 4
8 7
2
A 9 4 2
J 7
6 5 4 3
J 10 8 7
10 7 6


N-S has a solid game in hearts losing just two spades and a club but only one pair made it. E-W also has a geme in spades losing one trick in each side suit but nobody made that.

At matchpoint scoring you get two points for every other pair you beat and one point for every pair whose score you tie. If we look at the N-S scores then pair 3 who made the 4 game beat the other eight N-S pairs and so scored 16 points. The next highest scores were made by pairs 5 and 9 who were each given 200 points when the E-W pairs playing in 4♠ somehow found a way to lose 5 tricks. Those pairs each beat six other pairs for 12 points and tied with each other, thus scoring 13 altogether. The next best score was obtained by pair 7 who managed to push the opposition into the unmakeable 5♠. That score beat 5 others and yielded 10 matchpoints. The four-way tie for going one down beat just one other score gains 2 for the lower score and one for each of the other three tied pairs for a total of 5 matchpoints. Finally the pair who let E-W play in the 3♠ part score got a bottom.

We can run the same analysis on the E-W pairs to show how the matchpoints were calculated. Note that a useful check is that the sum of the N-S and E-W matchpoints is always the same.

Assigning matchpoints is actually much easier than might appear from the way I just described the process. After half an hour of tallying it becomes quite routine. The simplicity of the scoring method was a great boon When I was semi-permanent tournament director at the West Australian Bridge Association in 1968. There were no BridgeMates or equivalent, no personal computing devices, no electronic assistance whatsoever and matchpoint scoring was something which could be done quickly and easily. I have no doubt that this was a major reason why matchpoint scoring became so entrenched in club tournaments. It really is so much easier than IMP scoring. Nowadays that justification has vanished. Everyone uses a computer in some form to do the scoring.

A comparison of IMPs and Matchpoints

Matchpoint scoring rewards small differences in scores; IMP scoring rewards large differences. In this aspect, IMP scoring is much closer to "real bridge" which I am going to try to include in the comparisons. You may recall that in the first article in this series that I suggested rubber bridge was best played for money just to prevent silliness. Well in the 1960s when I learned bridge we'd play for stakes like 10 cents per hundred points so going down 4 tricks reduobled and vulnerable would cost a couple of dollars. It was enough in those days of penury to keep the game honest. Even now I think a dollar a hundred is sufficient and that is the basis of my assessments when I estimate the rewards and costs in rubber bridge. The bonuses awarded in tournament play (i.e. at teams and duplicate) correspond to the rubber bridge scenario when a rubber is unfinished; if one side has won a game (vulnerable) and the other has not then the bonus is 500, otherwise it is 300. For the sake of uniformity in making comparisons I shall assume that is the same situation in the rubber bridge game.

A fairly spectacular illustration of the differences between the scoring systems is offered by board 3 played at the club on Monday 1st December 2014. (They're not always so clear-cut!)

Pair numbers Score Matchpoints
N-S E-W Contract Lead Tricks NS EW NS EW
1 1 4♠ S 7♣ 12 480 16 0
2 3 4♠ S A♣ 11 450 8 8
3 5 4♠ S A♣ 11 450 8 8
4 7 4♠ S A♣ 11 450 8 8
5 9 4♠ S 6♣ 10 420 0 16
6 2 4♠ S 6♣ 11 450 8 8
7 4 4♠ S A♣ 11 450 8 8
8 6 4♠ S A♣ 11 450 8 8
9 8 4♠ S 6 11 450 8 8
N-S: Clara & Jack Diff IMPs
+
IMPs
-
Contract Tricks Score Contract Tricks Score
4♠ S 12 480 4♠ S 11 -450 30 1
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
4♠ S 10 420 4♠ S 11 -450 -30 1
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
4♠ S 11 450 4♠ S 11 -450
Contract Tricks Score Win or
loss
4♠ S 12 480 $4.80
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50
4♠ S 10 420 $4.20
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50
4♠ S 11 450 $4.50

On this occasion at every table South was the declarer in a contract of 4♠ not vulnerable. The par score was 11 tricks for 450 points but pair 1 made 12 tricks and pair 5 only made 10.

The first table is a matchpoints score sheet. The second shows the raw IMP scores for the Trumpers team calculated against a par score (datum) corresponding to a contract of 4♠ yielding 11 tricks. The third table simply shows the expected value of the hand at rubber bridge when playing at the modest stakes of $1 per 100 points.

Now we are in a position to look at what the scoring systems say about bidding and play.

Implications of Matchpoint Scoring

At matchpoints all hands are treated equally. You can get the same bottom score for playing in 4♠ when everyone else is making 10 tricks in 3NT as you can by going down 5 doubled and vulnerable. Likewise you can get the same top score for bidding and making a grand slam as you can for just bidding the game when everyone else is in a part score.

Overtricks matter. That can be seen in the hand scored above where N-S pair 1 got a clear top score by making that one extra trick. Likewise pair 5 got a bottom for failing to make an overtrick even while fulfilling the contract.

Partscore hands count just as much as games and slams. At matchpoints players tend to overcall frequently and engage in agressive bidding when strength seems to be divided evenly.

Favour 3NT contracts rather than a minor suit game even though the minor game may be safer.

Because of the way that the scores are ranked, the extra 10 points for playing in NT rather than in a major can mean the difference between a top and a middle score.

Bid a grand slam if you think everyone will be bidding at the 6 level and there's a 50% chance of making it. Again, this works because you're not penalised so much for missing out on the 1430 points for a vulnerable small slam as you would be at IMP or rubber bridge scoring.

Implications of IMP scoring

Whereas matchpoint scoring tends to flatten the rewards and consequences of bidding, IMP scoring is much closer to rubber bridge in that large wins and losses are accumulated into the total score and have a much more significant effect on the outcome. For this reason be cautious about sacrificing. Going down 3 (doubled) when opponents would not have fulfilled their contract costs 11 IMPs.

Overtricks don't matter much. The difference between making 10 and 11 tricks in a major suit game is only 1 IMP so it is more important to focus on making the contract than taking any sort of risk for an overtrick or two when the difference between making and not making can be at least 10 IMPs

Similarly, the extra points for a NT contract over a major suit is pretty worthless. Along the same lines it is probably worth playing in a minor suit game rather than NT if the suit contract seems safer.

Be more cautious about bidding risky grand slams. It is worth an extra 10 IMPs to bid the grand but the cost of going down is 14 IMPs when the opposition bids and makes a small slam.

Be more inclined to bid a somewhat risky game, especially when vulnerable. Going down in a vulnerable game when the opponents stop in a partscore costs 5 IMPs but making the contract gains 10.

Next article: How the scoring method affects the play