The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders    (February  2008)

7. They strive to be sensible, not brilliant.  (Part 7)

As beginners, we all struggled to master the logic of basic bidding. Even routine auctions were adventures where we were seldom certain we were making “normal” bids. Our goal was to come up with bids that were acceptable rather than brilliant, and shooting for tops was about the last thing on our minds.

With more experience, we know what a rational bid would be in most situations, but the challenge can be actually choosing it when it’s right. It’s sometimes difficult to resist the temptation to be hyper-aggressive without a sound reason, especially at matchpoints. The lure of the close game or heroic slam can easily goad us into acting on hunches rather than logic.

Protect yourself in the post-mortem

At the table, it’s not always easy to figure out exactly what motivates us to choose unusual or “swingy” actions. Is it bridge knowledge and experience that’s telling you to make this bid? Or is it just a feeling you can’t explain?

One way to test your thinking is to imagine a conversation with partner after the hand. Try to predict how your side of the discussion would go if your decision doesn’t work out. If all you can come up with is “I had a gut feeling” or “I took a view” – or the old standard, “I thought we needed a board” – you’ll know you should be looking for a more defensible choice.

Matchpoints vs. IMPs

Determining whether there’s sound logic behind your bid may be as simple as counting points or trumps. More often, it will involve analyzing your hand’s assets and liabilities, the possible hands partner may hold, the likely results at other tables, and perhaps even the skill of your partner and opponents.

One important factor should be the form of scoring. What’s sensible at matchpoints may be irrational at IMPs, and vice versa.

Myths abound about the best tactics for each form of scoring. A common misconception is that aggressive bidding is rewarded at matchpoints and punished at IMPs. That’s why you’ll often hear “matchpoints is a bidder’s game” as justification for bidding a pushy game or slam in pair events.

Matchpoints is indeed a “bidder’s game”, but only in respect to competitive actions. Aggressive preempts, balancing bids and sacrifices can be good strategy at matchpoints because the possible rewards outweigh the risks. The opposite is true, though, for game and slam decisions.

At matchpoints, the general guideline is to bid any game or slam (at any vulnerability) that has at least a 50-percent chance of making. In the long run, odds worse than this will cost you too many matchpoints to justify the risk, so taking the “sure” plus score is usually recommended with borderline hands.

The real bidder’s game

IMP scoring makes it more profitable to bid thin games, especially vulnerable. At teams, the potential cost of missing a vulnerable game is 10 IMPs (for example, you’re plus 170 and your team-mates are minus 620).  The cost of going down in game is 6 IMPs (minus 100 and minus 140). The difference means that it will usually pay to bid vulnerable games that have around a 40-percent chance of success.

Not vulnerable, the IMP difference is smaller, so you want to bid only those games that are roughly 50 percent or better.

For slams, IMP scoring odds favor bidding any small slam that’s at least 50 percent and any grand slam that’s around 60 percent. That’s the math, but in practice, most players like to be closer to a sure thing to bid seven in team play, especially in a short match. Remember the last time you went down in a grand and your opponents at the other table didn’t even find the small slam?

Putting the numbers to work

You’ll rarely be able to compute these percentages during an auction, but the guidelines give you an idea of what your level of certainty should be in various situations. How confident would you be about game chances on this deal?

       Partner     You
       1S              2S
       3H               ?

A84    753   Q752   Q104

Do you take the push or take the plus, vulnerable at IMPs? Not vulnerable? At matchpoints?

There are a number of evaluation strategies you could use to justify your decision. More about these in the next issue.

©  2008   Karen Walker