Matchpoint (Pairs) Strategy at Duplicate Bridge

By Karen Walker

Courtesy of Karen’s Bridge Library:

The Bidding

Bid aggressively.  Duplicate pairs tend to bid “close” games and slams, so don’t settle for a safe partscore if you think there’s a fair chance (60 percent or better) that you can make game.

Choose the highest-scoring game.  For game contracts, you should be most anxious to play 4 or 4, willing to play 3NT and reluctant to play 5 or 5. If you have game values and a club or diamond fit, consider playing 3NT instead.

Choose the safest partscore.  When you have minimum high-card strength, choose the safety of a trump suit. A major suit is still best, but if you’re deciding between a notrump and a minor-suit partscore, play the suit contract if you have a fit.

Overcall freely.  At the one-level, don’t be afraid to make light, lead-directing overcalls (as few as 8 or 9 points if you have a good suit), especially if you’re not vulnerable and your opponent opens a minor. If you have to go to the two-level to bid your suit, though, be cautious. For a two-level overcall, you should have good high-card strength (11-12+ pts.) and a very good suit (a strong 5-carder or, better, a 6+-card suit). A vulnerable two-level overcall should be even stronger.

Raise partner’s suit freely.  Even if you’re light in high-card points, stretch to raise partner if you have a fit for his suit, especially in competitive auctions.

Sacrifice more often.  If you have a good fit, sacrifice freely if your opponents are vulnerable and you are not. But be very conservative about sacrificing when you’re vulnerable.

Don’t “sell out” too low.  If the opponents stop at a low level, you don’t have to have a strong hand to balance back into the auction. The best situations for competing are when: 
   (1)  You’re not vulnerable; 
   (2)  The opponents have stopped in 1 or 2 of a suit contract (not 1NT or 2NT); and 
   (3)  You hold shortness in the opponents’ trump suit.

Double more partscores.  If you bid to a partscore you think you could have made, but your opponents bid over it, a double is sometimes necessary for you to get even an average score. (Be very careful in choosing when to use this tip!)

Use a simplified form of the “Law of Total Tricks (Trumps)” for competitive decisions.  In partscore situations — those where you’ve found a fit but wanted to stop below game — don’t let the opponents push you to the three-level unless you have at least a 9-card trump fit.

The Play

Make “normal” opening leads.  Don’t try for a “top” by choosing an unusual lead. Against most contracts, choose a safe, non-deceptive opening lead.

Look for overtricks.  Unlike in rubber bridge, it’s sometimes right to make a fairly risky play trying for the overtrick — especially when you’re in a “normal” contract that you think will be bid by other pairs.

Play it safe if you’re in an unusual contract.  Go for the sure plus score if you’re playing or defending a contract that you think probably won’t be bid at most tables.

In General

Play with the “field”.  When in doubt about what to bid or play, try to guess what might be happening at other tables and go for a similar result.

Consider using 15-17 points as the range for your opening 1NT bids.  A 1NT opening often gives you a bidding advantage because your responses are so well defined and your opponents will find it more difficult to enter your auction. Most duplicate players use the 15-17 range (rather than 16-18) because it allows them to open more hands with 1NT. If you use this range, responder will need to adjust his point requirements up by 1 pointt. You should also change your 2NT opening range to 20-21 or 20-22 points.

Consider adding popular conventions to your system.  Because many duplicate pairs play the conventions and treatments listed below, you might want to try them, too. Recommended (in a rough order of which are most valuable):

1.  New minor forcing

2.  Negative doubles (used by responder over an intervening overcall)

3.  Weak two-bids

4.  Michaels Cuebids & Unusual 2NT  (two-suited overcalls)

5.  Jacoby transfers  (responses to an opening 1NT)

6.  Jacoby 2NT  (forcing major-suit raise)