The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders† (May 2008)

They strive to be sensible, not brilliant. (Part 10)

Itís the second session of a two-day pairs event, and after your sub-average showing in the afternoon, you need a huge score tonight to qualify for tomorrowís finals. Nothing good has happened in the first few rounds. Is it time to shoot for tops?

When playing your normal style seems futile, itís tempting to start ďswingingĒ and taking chances. This strategy, which usually involves overbidding, is more common at matchpoints than IMPs, in part because you donít have teammates to answer to.†

Neither form of scoring makes it easy to erase a big deficit, but itís especially challenging at pairs. In a team match, your IMP score is determined by results from just one other table, and half the players there are on your side. At matchpoints, your result has less impact on your standing. Even if you engineer a top, many of the pairs ahead of you will be scoring average or better on that board, so itís difficult to make headway.

However, if you decide that desperate measures are called for, there are sensible alternatives to the bid-every-time-itís-your-turn style. A successful comeback requires luck and some assistance from your opponents, but good judgment and patience can improve your odds.

The first rule: Donít stage a comeback if you donít need one.

Even those with decades of tournament experience find it difficult to accurately estimate their matchpoint scores. Thereís a running joke at my local club about how poorly I do this. My mind magnifies my errors and makes the bad boards more memorable than the good ones, so I almost always think my score is lower than it actually is.

If you have the same pessimistic tendencies, consider that you could be wrong about your current standing. Try to make an objective assessment of what the field will be doing with your cards. Your missed game may feel like a disaster, but if you had trouble bidding it, itís likely that other pairs sitting your direction had similar problems, or worse.

A particularly demoralizing scenario is a session where the opponents are dealt a preponderance of the strength. As you defend hand after hand, itís easy to forget that other pairs holding your cards will probably have the same string of minus scores. If your minuses arenít worse than theirs, perhaps your game is better than it feels.

If youíre still sure youíre losing, here are the basic ideas that should guide a come-from-behind effort at matchpoints:

You must have a sense of how other pairs will bid your cards.† A staple of top-searching is to put yourself in different but potentially higher-scoring contracts than the field will choose.† To do that, you need to consider how the bidding will go at other tables.†

A typical Open Pair field at a regional tournament will bid most games that are 50 percent or better, but will miss many decent slams. If an auction suggests an ďobviousĒ or safe contract, that will be the most popular choice. Those who declare that contract will usually score above average because there will be some silly results from other tables. Yours may be one of them if you spurn the normal spot, but thatís the risk you take with this strategy.

Your goal is to get better results than the field, not necessarily more spectacular results. You donít need four-digit scores to collect matchpoints in bundles. All it takes is scoring plus 110 in 2H when the field is plus 90 in 1NT.

More matchpoints are swung on competitive partscore deals than on game and slam decisions. A disciplined pass or a bold but carefully considered double can gain just as many matchpoints as a miracle slam.

Matchpoint tops are most often the result of your opponentsí errors rather than your brilliancies. No matter how inspired your comeback strategy, you probably wonít fight your way back into contention unless your opponents make mistakes. Give them opportunities to do so, and be ready to take advantage.

Your score doesnít depend entirely on the final contract. If the auction doesnít offer a legitimate opportunity to create a swing, donít force it. Look for extra matchpoints in the play.†

Itís highly unlikely that your chance for a top will come on the board immediately after youíve suffered a zero. After a bad result, itís natural to want to retrieve it right away. Fight your emotions and force yourself to be objective in evaluating your prospects on each deal.

Next: Putting the ideas to work at the table

©  2008   Karen Walker