03 April 2012

The Matchpoint Strategy

I heard of this way of thinking a long time ago and wondered if anyone lives it. Say you open 1 on this hand:

A Q T x x
J T x x
K Q x

Your partner bids 2 and you pass. Once dummy comes down you have another look at your hand and discover it's changed:

A Q T x x
A J T x
K Q x

Your pulse rises. Now to your horror you have a legitimate invite. Partner would have accepted. The room will surely be in game.

Do you now play for trumps five nil? Take the two-way finesses the other way?

9 ever, 8 never?

The theory goes that to do well the game must fail so you play to maximise tricks on layouts where it will.

Maybe you aren't gifted with my ability to miscount high card points but this goes for any ridiculous contract whatever the route.

Does any one else find it difficult to say "9 ever, 8 never"?


  1. Daniel

    This is one of the most misunderstood concepts at matchpoints. To do well when you are in the wrong contract is NOT the goal. Maximizing your expected matchpoints is. If the room makes game, standing on your head will not help. If they fail in game, all you need to do is to go plus.

    Say you play trumps differently than the field, and take a backwards finesse. If things are bad, and the field takes 9 tricks, and you take 7 that is a disaster. You get average, when you simply needed to play down the middle and take the same number of tricks they did for a top.

    In this exact situation, all you want to do is to guarantee your contract. Any plus will do. 110 and 200 figure to score the same.


  2. I suspect what you do depends upon your read of the field. Once played in an event where expected "the room" to be in 4H, but partner had bid 5C (my suit) when I belatedly put her in 4H. (I had been slam exploring, but she misread my intent.) Since I expected "the room" to be making 4H, 5C was no good unless we could make 6, so I bid it.

    As it turns out, "the room" was in 4H, but we were playing in the lower flight, and only one pair in our flight found 4H and managed to go down. 5C making would have been a top in our flight. So how did 6C work out for us? We had 2 fast diamond losers, but a friendly opening lead allowed us to set up hearts for a dimaond discard, and a friendly discard while drawing trump set up a second diamond discard, so we made 7.

    1. I've played a few filthy 6 minor contracts after auctions have gone similarly awry.

      Making them leaves me feeling guilty, poor opponents did nothing wrong.

  3. Hi friends,

    this problem is made easy by "fencing"

    Assuming 4s makes or goes down any score BETWEEN +420 and -50 gets you the same score - either a near top or a near bottom
    BUT if by trying for absurdities you mite come to -100 which is OUT of the fence and NOW normal play would have brought you a good score if "they" went down in 4s.

    So you try two things: Don't fall below or equal the low score of the hand s "normal" fence. Try for the best against other people who aren t in game.

    Yours Mike

  4. I think that the theory is meant for when you are in a choice of game contracts. Suppose you are in 4S on a 4-3 fit but you expect the room to be in 3NT. You are now justified in playing for the distribution where 3NT would fail but (this is critical) 4S would make. The theory is that if under normal play, both 3NT and 4S will make the same number of tricks, you are hosed anyway. You absolutely have to go plus. There is no point if the tradeoff is that you will go down more than they will go down.

    When in a bad contract, I find it usually simpler at matchpoints to just maximize my number of tricks. (1) there will be others who will miss game (2) this is simply one board out of 24 or 28 or whatever. My goal on such hands is to avoid a zero at all costs.

  5. I'm glad to hear you agree with me, it always seemed a silly idea.

    If the denomination is the same I think you play exactly the same as those in game taking a favourable result for 9 or fewer tricks and a poor result for 10 or more.