Friday, September 13, 2013

Matchpoints vs. IMPs -- do you know the difference?

A bridge friend, Bill Kreps, has always said that even good players don't play IMPs well. They play matchpoints so often that certain habits are ingrained. He claims that we all know the difference between IMPs and matchpoints, but don't shift gears correctly. This deal is an example of that:

In third seat, East opened 2. South, an expert who is playing on one of the U.S. teams in the Bermuda Bowl (the world championships) in Bali, Indonesia, later this month, was South. He overcalled 4 which was passed out. I believe I would double, then bid 4 as you can play in three suits. It doesn't take much to make slam, say the club ace, spade king and not much else. But as Shakespeare said, the play's the thing.

West led the Q, declarer played low from dummy and ruffed. Do you notice anything?

Yes, as long as trumps aren't 5-0, you can draw trumps, knock out the A and claim 10 tricks. That's not what South did, however, or there would be no story.

South next led the A and another with West winning the J to lead the J. Declarer ruffed, ruffed a spade in dummy, led a club from the North hand, and the contract was in jeopardy.

East ruffed, played the A, and South was in a pickle. He ruffed with the queen and played the A and K. West had started with 8 6 4 and his 8 was now high for the setting trick.

Here are all four hands:

Notice that even in the end game, declarer could have made his contract. After ruffing high, he could lead a low trump to dummy's jack, then lead a club. East is out of trumps, so that works. Declarer couldn't picture that East had five spades, however. He wouldn't have been in that position though, if he had played the deal in a straightforward manner. Get the kiddies off the street. No use losing two trumps tricks with J-10 vs A-K-Q-7-5-3 now is there?


  1. I'm gonna take a guess: Match play is when two golfers play hole by hole. If there are ten holes and you win six, the match is over and you've won.

    IMPs are those little guys from Ireland, I think, that you find in the forest. Or maybe those are trolls. I know some little kids who were IMPs, though.

  2. It's a bit more complicated than just MPs vs IMPs.
    IMPs in a 6-8 board swiss is very different than IMPs in a long KO match. There comes a point where the extra IMP is in fact worth eschewing the safety play. I'm a firm believer in adapting based on state of the match conditions.

    His line of play to get the spade ruff looks so out of the way that I'd have to imagine that it was calculated for a specific purpose.

  3. @Pretender: It was a KO match. I think he was on autopilot and just misplayed. There's a good chance (from the bidding) that trumps are 4-1. If you play as he did, you get tapped again and haven't knocked out the club ace.

  4. Last paragraph about how declarer can still recover. I must be missing something.

    North has ruffed once, so in order to enter dummy with the Jack of hearts, declarer can pull only one. If he leads a club off dummy, East can ruff with his 9 of hearts.

    p.s. please don't make comments go through a "captcha". They are getting too hard now ;(

  5. Your (presumptive poker) friend had begun a good analogy with golf. Matchpoints (and even more so board-a-match) is like match play in golf: you either win, lose or halve a hole. IMPs is like stroke play: best total score wins, and some really good or bad holes can have disproportionately important effects on who wins.

    I had never thought of that analogy before.

    To Lak: declarer has lost only one spade, and then a second trick when RHO ruffs the first round of clubs. If declarer ruffs the third round diamond continuation high, the hearts around the table then are AKx, 8xx, J, 9. A heart to dummy draws RHO's last trump. Now a club is won by LHO's ace for the third trick of defense. EVen if he could force declarer with a spade or diamond (and he can't, he is down to all rounded cards), declarer could just trump that with his small trump, draws trumps with the AK and has only good clubs remaining.

    My general observation is that the best players play very little mathchpoints, and so the reported play shocks me.

    1. right, East ruffed the club, so he's down to one trump. Missed that.

  6. Hi Dave! Thanks for your comment. And it's nice to know I'm not the only one who makes silly mistakes sometimes! :)

    Have a great week!