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I've been learning the rules and just playing solitaire with bots so far. The scores I'm typically seeing are dominated by the rubber bonus (combined with the implied extra contract points for making it).

Without much experience, it seems like 500+ bonus points is a huge bonus in the game, and that it would be incredibly difficult to beat that from behind, and especially with underpoints. I can see it happening if a team consistently overbids and you can punish them by doubling, but if everyone's making reasonable bids it feels like the rubber bonus is hard to beat. Clearly if you just won by winning 2 games, underpoints wouldn't matter, and without this or a time limit like Chicago, you could just outbid any bad hand so your opponents don't have an opportunity to win.

I've struggled to find data on typical scores, as most results I've found are simply explaining the scoring or discussing strategy. But what I'm wondering is whether typical match scores between players of similar skill imply that whoever gets the rubber bonus will usually win clearly because of it, or if underpoints gained from preventing the other team making contract have a significant role in winning the match.

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  • Practically no one plays one rubber of bridge with the bigger score being the winner as a competitive game. Either people play duplicate, or they're playing for money (in which case the margin of victory matters), or they're playing many rubbers over a few hours, or they're not really keeping score. Personally, I've never kept score when not playing duplicate. Oct 5, 2023 at 18:14
  • If people are playing multiple rubbers, do you typically combine all your scores or just count how many rubbers have been won?
    – Samthere
    Oct 6, 2023 at 10:45
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    combine all the scores Oct 6, 2023 at 14:57
  • That makes more sense, even if it's relatively small and your main goal was to win each rubber, the penalty points could add up and compete with a round or two.
    – Samthere
    Oct 9, 2023 at 9:05

2 Answers 2

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Yes, you are right and a very good thing to notice when you start playing bridge. Many new players do not bid game aggressively enough.

While the bonus is still important while playing duplicate bridge, you can easily catch up in scoring by making an undeserved overtrick on another board.

In IMP or teams scoring the difference in points is converted to IMPs (https://www.bridgehands.com/I/IMP.htm). In this scoring method, which is the most commenly used in high level bridge, winning 10 times by 30 points gives 10 IMPs which is the same as winning once by 450 points. So the game difference is very important, but reduced a little due to this conversion.

As a general rule: In duplicate, bid game when you have a 50% percent chance of making. The same it true for IMP scoring non-vulnerable. While vulnerable, bid game when you have a 40% percent chance of making. In solitaire bid game when you have a 30% chance of making.

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You badly underestimate the percentage of hands on which game can be bid and made. At an average of 7 or so minutes per hand, roughly the tournament standard, one can easily complete 24 or more hands in about 3 hours. Of those, upwards of a third have game biddable and makeable (or an equivalent penalty if the opponents over compete). That's easily 3 or even 4 rubbers in an afternoon or evening. I've seen 7 board Swiss team matches with 5 games bid and made between the two directions.

If we were to make a comparison to tennis, specifically men's tennis, then a rubber corresponds to a set rather than to a match. Bests of five sets can generally be completed in 3 to 5 hours; and the same could be expected from playing 5 rubbers and computing total score.


Update, responding to comment below from OP

Non-Vulnerable: down 3 doubled is a set of 500; the same as a slow rubber bonus.
Vulnerable: down 3 doubled is a set of 800, 100 greater than a fast rubber bonus.

Expert players will routinely defend against weak players 1 or more tricks better than they should, due to both giving away less and to taking full and prompt advantage of openings from their opponents.

Down 3, doubled, is the score one is attempting to avoid when competing, based on distributional values rather than high card strength, against opponents with moderately strong hands. But weak players routinely fail to do so - because they are weak players. So an ostensibly correct sacrifice becomes an incorrect one from an inability to play the cards to full advantage.

Strong players prey on this in money games (at stakes ranging upwards from 5¢/point) by sitting on a vulnerable part score and collecting penalties of 300, 500, 800 and more - every hand rather than every 4th or 5th hand.

Now look at the score card. My expert partner and I in the first five hands of a rubber won a game, lost a game, and collected a part score. Then we collected 1100 points in penalties over the next 4 hands before conceding a slow rubber bonus. We're up 600 points even though you won the rubber; and we're only an hour into a 3-4 hour session of bridge.

Later, we will bid and make the slam we're dealt for an additional 500 or 750 bonus, while you unluckily fail in the one you were dealt for another 800+ to us, due to mis guessing a finesse (that could have been avoided with a throw-in).

At the end of the session you have "won" 3 of the 4 completed rubbers - and at 5¢/point are still each paying up $100 to us.

Rubber bridge (or, for that matter, Chicago with part scores) is a vicious game not for the faint of heart. If you're not at least the second best player at the table - I advise moving down a table and letting another sucker in.

Now you ask: Why would anyone do that?

Simple? They are paying for lessons in how to become a better player. If one is patient, courteous, and polite; and both willing and able to pitch advice in a kind tone, between hands, and only when solicited, there is no shortage of opponents.

As to how I spent my winnings - I invested them in becoming a better backgammon player, under a similar understanding. ;-)

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  • I'm sorry but I'm struggling to understand what you mean or how it relates to the question, am I just missing something?
    – Samthere
    Oct 9, 2023 at 0:55
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    @Samthere Apologies. Does the edit above help? In the late 1970's I played a session of rubber bridge once or twice a month for near 18 months - and never lost more than my table fees. I left with winnings of $30 or so (perhaps $120 in today's money) regularly at just 1¢/point in those days. Oct 9, 2023 at 1:43
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    Thanks, that's a lot more context! So does it seem fair to say that the penalty points are more effective at overreaching between different skill levels than a major penalty at similar skills, or are they relevant all the time?
    – Samthere
    Oct 9, 2023 at 8:11
  • @Samthere: Yes, one of the key skill denominators is being able to reliably not over sacrifice. Oct 9, 2023 at 12:42

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