Tactics and Strategy for MP (Pairs) and IMP (Team) Play:
IMP Team Tactics
Matchpoint (Pairs) Strategy
IMP Team Tactics
Games: Bid the safest game. At matchpoints, you may get a markedly better score for playing in notrump instead of a major, or in a major instead of a minor. IMP scoring, however, neutralizes the differences between these contracts. Your best strategy is to choose your best (longest) trump fit and bid the game that's most likely to make -- even if it's 5C instead of 3NT.
If you're not vulnerable, don't stretch too far to bid a close game -- the odds favor bidding only those games that you are reasonably sure will make.
If you're vulnerable, it pays to be a little more optimistic when you're considering a thin game. The IMP odds (your potential gain if the contract makes) favor bidding any game that has even a 40% chance of making.
Part scores: Look for the safest part score. Don't worry about searching for a few extra points by playing in notrump instead of a minor.
Overcalls: Matchpoint players often make light overcalls, but it pays to beef up your overcalls at IMPs. If you're vulnerable -- or if your overcall is at the 2-level -- you should promise a strong suit and the playing strength of a full opening bid.
Competing and balancing: Don't be too bold. Unless you have a good suit and good hand, let the opponents play in their low-level contracts, especially if you're vulnerable. Trump length is more important than overall strength, so don't let the opponents push you to the 3-level unless you have a 9-card trump fit.
Doubles: There's little to gain -- and much to lose -- by making a penalty double of a close contract, especially a part score. Don't make a penalty double unless you're reasonably sure the contract is going down at least two tricks. If the opponents sacrifice against your game and you are in doubt about whether to bid higher, double and take your sure plus score.
Sacrifices: If you want to take a non-vulnerable sacrifice over your opponent's vulnerable game, you should be reasonably sure that you won't go down more than two tricks. If you're vulnerable, you should be virtually certain that you won't go down more than one trick. Anything more is "too close for comfort" at IMP play, and won't gain you many IMPs. When in doubt, let the opponents play the contract and hope you can beat it.
Overtricks: When you're declarer, don't risk your contract trying to make an overtrick. Always choose the safest line of play to make your contract, even if it might cost you an overtrick or two.
Opening leads: Be cautious about trying for a swing with an unusual opening lead. In the long run, it's usually best to make your "normal" lead -- the same one you think your opponent will make when the board is played at your team-mates' table. Save your brilliant defensive plays for later in the hand, when you have more information.
Defense: Be optimistic and fairly aggressive when defending the opponents' contracts. If there's a layout of the cards that will result in a set, choose your leads and plays to cater to that possibility, even if it means you may give up an overtrick if you're wrong.
The Game's the Thing. Swiss Teams, and indeed all Teams play, is basically different strategy than matchpoint play, because of how Pairs Events are scored. Games and Slams are far more important, as the total score on a board is vital, and it's only played one other time -- not 12 times like Pairs events boards.
At Matchpoints, every trick is vital, and players scrap for every one, and sometimes get disastrous results and go down 1100. But, it's only one board, so it won't hurt your overall score for a round -- much.
Big Swingers. But, in Swiss Teams play, and other events scored with IMP's, the difference between bidding and making a Vulnerable Game and not bidding it can be 500 points, and that's a lot of IMP's -- it could lose the whole match for you and your teammates. Slams are even bigger swingers, of course.
Aggressive Bidding. So, in Swiss Team play, be aggressive about bidding even skinny Games and Slams -- go for Slam if it's even a 50% chance, because of the other team does and you don't, goodbye match.
Matchpoint (Pairs) Strategy at Duplicate Bridge
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 you can make game.
Choose the highest-scoring game. For game contracts, you should be most anxious to play 4H or 4S, willing to play 3NT and reluctant to play 5C or 5D. 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 notrump and a minor, play a suit contract if you have a fit.
Overcall freely. Don't be afraid to make light, lead-directing overcalls at the one-level -- especially when you're not vulnerable and your opponent opens 1C or 1D. If you have to go to the two-level to bid your suit, though, be somewhat cautious. For a 2-level overcall, you should have a good suit (a strong 5-carder or, better, a 6+-card suit), especially if you're vulnerable.
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 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 in. The best time to compete is 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're short in the opponent's 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 part-score situations -- those where you've found a fit but wanted to stop at a low level -- don't let the opponents push you to the 3-level unless you have a 9-card trump fit.
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 won't be bid at most tables.
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 pts. as the range for your opening 1NT bids. You'll often have a bidding advantage when you open 1NT. 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 requirements up by 1 pt. You should also change your 2NT opening range to 20-22 pts.
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. The recommended minimum should include (in a rough order of which are most valuable):
1. New minor forcing
2. Negative doubles
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)
7. Clear understanding of leads and signals
The Trick's the Game. In pairs Events, and all Duplicate scored at Matchpoints, every trick is vital, and each board will be played several times, up to 12 or so. This means that the board will be played by many players and teams, and will get several scores close to it's maximum many times.
Therefore, for you to win at matchpoints, you must be very aggressive about pushing your opponents to the maximum, and about understanding perfectly the difference between possible alternate outcomes while the bidding is going on.
Defense Wins. You must defend very well, as a single trick -- even an insignificant overtrick -- means the difference between winning and losing. You aren't necessarily trying to beat the declarer at all times -- your competition is the other pairs playing your way, after all. You must get all the tricks that are 'coming to you', and you must sacrifice when that produces a better result -- every time.
Tops - Yes; Bottoms - No!. You must play to avoid 'Bottoms', and to maximize 'Tops'. A few Tops along with many Averages will produce a winner for your pair. But, a few Bottoms will cook you chances for a winning round, so be careful about taking a flyer -- steady, dependable bridge is the watchword for good pairs players.
Concentration. Never lose you concentration for a second -- it's fatal. That's why Duplicate sessions are so quiet -- it's the most intensive concentration you can imagine for a totally intellectual, abstract activity.