In duplicate, you play “regular” contract bridge, but the matchpoint scoring can affect your strategy in some situations. Your goal is to beat the results from other tables, and it doesn’t matter if the margin is 10 points or 1000. A very small difference — making an overtrick, saving an undertrick, scoring 110 when other pairs holding your cards scored 90 — can win a board.
Here are some tips for adapting your style to duplicate scoring:
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 decent chance (60 percent or better) that you can make game.
But when in doubt, go for a plus score. In some situations, it’s right to take the sure thing. If you’ve found a reasonable contract, weigh the risks of bidding on to try finding a better one, especially if success depends on partner holding a perfect hand. Don’t jeopardize your plus score if a pushy slam-try or game-try might land you in a contract you can’t make.
Choose the highest-scoring game. For game contracts, you should be most anxious to play 4H or 4S when you have a fit and 3NT when you don’t. Be reluctant to play 5C or 5D. If you have game values and a club or diamond fit, consider playing 3NT.
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 a notrump and a minor-suit partscore, play the suit contract if you have a fit, but not many high-card points.
Overcall freely. At the one-level, don’t be afraid to make light, lead-directing overcalls (as few as 8 or 9 points if you have a good suit), especially if you’re not vulnerable. If you have to go to the two-level to bid your suit, though, be cautious. For a two-level overcall, you should have good high-card strength (11-12+ pts.) and a very good suit (a strong 5-carder or, better, a 6+-card suit). A vulnerable two-level overcall should be even stronger.
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 big trump fit, consider sacrificing if your opponents are vulnerable and you are not. But be very conservative about sacrificing 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 into the auction. The best situations for competing over their contract are when:
(1) You’re not vulnerable;
(2) The opponents have stopped in 1 or 2 of a suit (not 1NT or 2NT); and
(3) You hold shortness in the opponents’ trump suit.
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 an overtrick — especially when you’re in a 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 you think probably 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.
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