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By "light" I mean with something like 11 high card points and a five card major suit or 10 high card points and a six card major headed by at least two honors. My (limited) experience has been that I will make my contract almost as often as if I open with 12, but there will be times when my "lightness" will cause me to go down much more.

In rubber or money games, the occasional big loss will be a deterrent to any given activity. But in matchpoints, my main worry is about a "rounder" bottom. Also, if others are opening light and they go down with me, I won't look so bad on the "curve."

In my duplicate club, pairs that stretch bid tend to do better in close auctions (both pairs have about 20 points each) than pairs who underbid (by an equivalent amount). Is this, in fact, a feature of matchpoint scoring?

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  • You're obvious has a confound big enough for Icon of the Seas to sail through: Yes, better players will regularly score better. They bid, call, and play more accurately because they evaluate hands, particularly difficult hands, better; and more accurately read the cards behind opponent calls. That naturally looks like aggressive bidding when aggression is called for; and caution otherwise, which you're ignoring. 1/2 Mar 29, 2023 at 1:13
  • Better players make accurate decisions more reliably, both in being aggressive when aggression is called for and in being cautious when caution is called for. Looking at only one side of the coin, and opting to be blindly more aggressive without actually improving your card reading and play, will lower your score not raise it. Simply because you've deliberately become a weaker player, by choosing to bid less accurately. 2/2 Mar 29, 2023 at 1:16
  • @ForgetIwaseverhere: You have not addressed the main point of the question, which is that there is a floor to the downside in matchpoints. How would this "floor" skew the bidding at the borderline?
    – Tom Au
    Mar 29, 2023 at 4:01

2 Answers 2

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In a word: No. Just the opposite is the case. Match Points is about consistency: the ability to sit down for 3 1/2 hours and make zero unforced errors. The reason is that there simply aren't enough tops available to overcome any avoidable bottom. Here's why.

Consider a typical club game with 12 top on a board, each pair playing 26 boards. A typical low intermediate player looking to improve is stuck scoring 156 to 168, only occasionally sneaking into the placing, is looking to add 12 to 18 points to their score so that they place regularly. Intermediates a bit better are scoring 168 to 180, regularly placing but rarely winning or even getting second, are likewise looking to improve by 12 to 18 points so that they see themselves with a shot at winning in most games.

However, there are only 26 hands being played, each one worth at most 12 points. On about half of those boards, call it 13, the scores will cluster at 4 and 8 hinging only on 1 trick in the play. Any attempt to "win" these boards in the auction will almost certainly either net a bottom for simply being in the wrong contract; or at best guaranteeing a 4 instead of an 8 by keying the opposition play. To improve your game here simply bid with the field, and improve your play so you are getting 9 or 10 scores of 8 here instead of just 5 or 6.

On another 3 or 4 boards the opponents will, whether through skill or luck, fix you. The hand was theirs to win or lose, instead of yours, and they won. Learn to accept these; and work on trying to keep these to a 3 or 4 instead of a 0 or 1.

On the remaining third of the boards, 8 or 9, both sides have interesting, and possibly difficult, decisions in both bidding and play. If you've been solid through the 17 boards above, then you clawed back enough on type 1 above to overcome your losses on type 2. You're perhaps a half board above average. To have a shot at winning you need to average 9+ on these boards, for a score of 162 + 9*2 = 189. That won't win often, but it will win on occasion; and if you're scoring this every third or fourth game, then the club's strongest players will start thinking a game with you might be an enjoyable evening.

But to get there, you need to avoid bottoms. There is no recovery from a goose-egg here; because it takes 3 tops to overcome each one. (Specifically because 9*4 = 36 = 12 * 3. This is why Top & Bottom bridge is always losing bridge - there simply aren't enough tops available to overcome a couple of bottoms.) The key is very simple: bid, play, and defend these hands near perfectly. (I.e. with no avoidable errors.) Be skillful. Forget weird bidding heuristics. Evaluate your hand well; listen to the opponents passes as well as their bids; signal consistently on defense and always see and read partner's defensive signals; and avoid all actions which risk a bottom.

If you can do all this, your game will move from the field's average of 156 up into the mid 170's. The occasional 190 or even 200+ game will come your way. Stronger players will ask for a date when you're available for a game, instead of you begging them for one.

This is the opposite of IMP play, where unforced errors in uncontested part score contracts (perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the deals) are quickly overcome, in bulk, by a single game swing. Here, one relaxes during the part scores so as to achieve maximum focus during game and slam hands.

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  • You told me that Barry Crane had a style of opening light, sacrificing slam accuracy (relatively infrequently) in order to win (frequently )dogfights for part scores. That makes more sense in matchpoints than IMPs or rubber. That's what's happening in my club. That was the gist of my question.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 30, 2023 at 14:17
  • @TomAu: Crane's system also played 4-card majors. Is that happening in your club also? Precision and Blue Club players also play lighter openings, because the low end of their forcing opening has dropped by about 6 points. These are systemic approaches. Your question is asking about systemic variations, a very different beast. Don't conflate the two. Mar 30, 2023 at 15:40
  • In my club, de facto, maybe not de jure. I once asked a question about how the club's highest scoring player opened 1 spade with AQJx.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 30, 2023 at 19:01
  • @TomAu: I suspect because: he was playing with the second or third best player - and knew exactly when it was systemically required to lie. I doubt he was "taking a view"; but rather was avoiding down-the-road trouble. Mar 30, 2023 at 23:50
  • I have, on occasion over the years, overcalled 1S with just AQJx in the suit; because it seemed the lesser of evils rather than a "view'. Mar 31, 2023 at 0:05
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I would say those two bids were competitive, and in duplicate there is incentive to compete more keenly at lower levels, so maybe light opening is a misnomer.

'Forget...' is 100% correct in saying duplicate is about avoiding mistakes, and one follows the system precisely in 1st and 2nd seats. However, passing a suitable bid is also a mistake! 11 points with 5-4 in first seat would meet 'rule of 20' as does a 10 point 6-4 hand. An unacceptable light is 11 points balanced (unless that's the convention card you play!); Some 12 point hands shouldn't open, while in 3rd and 4th Seats one effectively adopts a different bidding system that's even lighter.

The top players get good scores from bidding marginal situations well. They recognise subtle differences and bid according to the context. It is not bidding light per se but rather bidding to the situation with well-defined exceptions to 'basic' rules, so partner can still read the hand EXACTLY, and make the marginal decision needed. An opaque 'error-range' around the normal bid is always bad.

In duplicate there's more to gain from competing at a lower level, less to lose on doubled contracts, and an incentive to sacrifice; going down -1 to prevent opponents making a contract is usually better, but this comes from precise bidding at low levels and not the light bidding.

In the long term, down -1 saving 10 points 9 times out of 10 outweighs a -50 once in 10, and getting 60% 9 times and 0% once is good bridge, while 60% 8 times and 0% twice is bad bridge! Margins are thin so one's generally conservative to avoid mistakes, and 'Light' is bad where partner may misinterpret and place the contract wrongly.

But it's not a grey area, I would conclude the principle is: If you don't know which 'Light' exception you're following then don't bid it, but when you do know, then do it! And improving is about learning which marginal condition you and your partner should or shouldn't bid.

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