IMPS v Matchpoints continued

IMP Team Tactics

The Bidding:

Games: Bid the safest game. At matchpoints, you may get a markedly better score for playing

in notrump instead of a major, or in a major instead of a minor. IMP scoring, however, neutralizes

the differences between these contracts. Your best strategy is to choose your best (longest)

trump fit and bid the game that’s most likely to make — even if it’s 5C instead of 3NT.

If you’re not vulnerable, don’t stretch too far to bid a close game — the odds favor bidding

only those games that you are reasonably sure will make.

If you’re vulnerable, it pays to be a little more optimistic when you’re considering a thin game.

The IMP odds (your potential gain if the contract makes) favor bidding any game that has even

a 40% chance of making.

Part scores: Look for the safest part score.

Don’t worry about searching for a few extra points by playing in notrump instead of a minor.

Overcalls: Matchpoint players often make light overcalls, but it pays to beef up your overcalls at

IMPs. If you’re vulnerable — or if your overcall is at the 2-level — you should promise a strong suit

and the playing strength of a full opening bid.

Competing and balancing: Don’t be too bold. Unless you have a good suit and good hand,

let the opponents play in their low-level contracts, especially if you’re vulnerable. Trump length

is more important than overall strength, so don’t let the opponents push you to the 3-level unless

you have a 9-card trump fit.

Doubles: There’s little to gain — and much to lose — by making a penalty double of a close

contract, especially a part score. Don’t make a penalty double unless you’re reasonably sure the

contract is going down at least two tricks. If the opponents sacrifice against your game and you

are in doubt about whether to bid higher, double and take your sure plus score.

Sacrifices: If you want to take a non-vulnerable sacrifice over your opponent’s vulnerable game,

you should be reasonably sure that you won’t go down more than two tricks. If you’re vulnerable,

you should be virtually certain that you won’t go down more than one trick. Anything more is

“too close for comfort” at IMP play, and won’t gain you many IMPs. When in doubt, let the

opponents play the contract and hope you can beat it.

The Play:

Overtricks: When you’re declarer, don’t risk your contract trying to make an overtrick.

Always choose the safest line of play to make your contract, even if it might cost you an overtrick

or two.

Opening leads: Be cautious about trying for a swing with an unusual opening lead. In the long

run, it’s usually best to make your “normal” lead — the same one you think your opponent will


when the board is played at your team-mates’ table.

Save your brilliant defensive plays for later in the hand, when you have more information.

Defense: Be optimistic and fairly aggressive when defending the opponents’ contracts.

If there’s a layout of the cards that will result in a set, choose your leads and plays to cater to that

possibility, even if it means you may give up an overtrick if you’re wrong.

Your matchpoint and weak rubber bridge experiences can be a deterrent to improving your

bidding to play IMPS at the highest level. Your bidding system should be geared to play against

“tough opponents” at a high level. Not too many bunnies to bag at the Bermuda Bowl.

A good strategy in local games is just sit and wait for them to make mistakes and they will .

This is wrong strategy at high level IMPS. You must earn IMPS by making appropriate

gambles and psychological tactics. “Sitting there” waiting for mistakes that will rarely

happen will just result in a losing set time after time.

Gearing your system to bad bidders is a losing strategy. An over dependence on “trump

stack” penalty doubles is a good strategy in weak games but not at a high level. Good

opponents play the vulnerability and put maximum pressure on you to take losing options to

double them at the expense of your vul games and slams. System bids should be geared to

pulling doubles when appropriate and not just blindly leave doubles in . “Never pull my

penalty doubles” is the worst strategy at high level IMPS that one could possibly conceive.

“4NT is always Blackwood” is a horrible platitude to follow at high level IMPS. Bids

should be employed based on their frequency of occurrence. If 4NT has a more frequent and

useful role then ace asking then Blackwood should be thrown out. 6 hands at 12 IMPS apiece

could come up before a hand for which Blackwood could be suited. Blackwood in your system

for these auctions could be very destructive.

Most IMP players experiences stem from weak match point fields. Match points

re-enforce the “plus” on any particular board. Get rid of that type of thinking at IMPS.

IMPS by its very nature is accumulative. Avoid disasters by “taking out cheap insurance”

instead of going for a plus. In match points a disaster is only one board. In IMPS it can be

17 IMPS and take a ½ dozen boards to make up.

I was watching this hand.

K Q x K
Q J x x
10 10 x

In 3rd chair partner vul against not opens 4S . All pass and then a 5D

bid from the last bidder and around to you. In Match points your action is clear.

5S has no guarantee to make and they are obviously “sacrificing” so you double. In IMPS it is a different matter. Partner bid 4S vul without the KQ10 of spades. The

spade suit is dead for defensive purposes . 5D might even make ! Given the

spade suit, partner probably has outside cards for the 4S bid. These cards will

defeat 5D but they might also make 5S! When in doubt bid in IMPS. In this

particular hand 5Sx makes (with a shot at 6 ) and 5D x nets you +100.

You just do not rely on your experiences in high level IMPS because they are usually based

on weaker players in a different form of Bridge. Think IMPS when you are playing that game !!


Another one is never to double part scores unless you KNOW they go down.

It is good team tactics never to have -670 on your list. On the other hand you

can double close games if the suits are breaking badly for them (unless this

gives the needed information to make the contract).

Don’t overcall on the 2-level with bad suits / hands.


When playing long matches for example in the Europeans we play 20 board

matches. I would recommend the following strategy:

Concentrate as hard as you can for the first 3 boards bid aggressively; try

and put the boot in and set the tone for the rest of the match.

Secondly, concentrate extra hard for the last 3 boards of the match, more

imps are lost in the last few boards of a match than at any other time.

If you can keep your focus then you can often pick up a lot of free imps.

Another piece of advice i would give is regarding a disaster. Nobody is perfect

and disasters will invariably happen particularly in a 500+ board event.

The trick is that when you have a bad result to take a few moments, think

of a relaxing place, maybe go and get a glass of water but whatever you do,

don’t play the next board immediately unless you are sure that you can

maintain your focus. The amount of pairs I commentated on at the olympiad

(some of the top pairs in europe) that went on tilt after a bad board was

significant. If they had just composed themselves then these tilts could

have been avoided.

MatchPoints versus IMPs

The difference between MatchPoints and IMPs is  simple enough.  In MatchPoints, your

score is put on a list with everyone else’s score.  You get one MatchPoint for every person you

beat on this list, a  half a MatchPoint for everyone you TIE on that list.   Hence, if you do better

than the 12 other people who played the hand, you would get 12 MatchPoints.  An average

result would be 6 MPs if 13 pairs play the hand.  On OKBridge, this is simply converted to a

percentage with 100% going to anyone who beats all  of the other pairs, 0% to anyone who

registers the  worst score.

In International Match Points (“IMPs”), we take the DIFFERENCE between the scores

that you  and your opponents have achieved and convert that difference to an arbitrary number

of “IMPs”  according to this scale:

Difference in Raw Scores    IMPs

0-10                            0

20-40                          1

50-80                          2

90-120                                    3

130-160                                 4

170-210                                 5

220-260                                 6

270-310                                 7

320-360                                 8

370-420                                 9

430-490                                 10

500-590                                 11

600-740                                 12

750-890                                 13

900-1090                   14

1100-1290                 15

1300-1490                 16

1500-1740                 17

1750-1990                 18

2000-2240                 19

2250-2490                 20

2500-2990                 21

3000-3490                 22

3500-3990                 23

4000+                         24

IMPs were originally designed for team competition.

IMP PAIRS is simply an averaging of your opponents’ results before such a comparison takes

place; you are pitted against the “average opponent” when playing IMP Pairs.

Playing IMPs, if you make 430 while others make 420, you have a raw score difference of a

measly 10.    This is worth ZERO IMPs.  Were you playing MatchPoints, though, 430 would beat

ALL the other pairs with their 420 scores; you would receive ALL the MatchPoints on such a

board.  (This, by the way, explains the popularity of No Trump contracts among MatchPoint players.)

Similarly, if EVERYONE ELSE scores +100 on a  hand, you will get all the MatchPoints with any

score  above +100:  +110 would get you the same fine result as +1100 would!

At MatchPoints, then, you only need to beat the score achieved by others who play the

same hand.  It does not matter BY HOW MUCH you beat them.

At IMPs, though, it is not enough to beat the others who hold the same hand as you.

In order to make headway, you must beat them by as much as possible!

If you score +110 as opposed to +100 you will score a lot of MatchPoints, but a net difference

of (110 – 100 = ) 10 would net you ZERO IMPs.  +1100 versus everyone else’s +100, on the

other hand, is worth (1100 – 100 = ) 1000 net points, or a whopping +14 IMPs.

How does this difference in scoring methods affect your decisions at the table?  Plenty!

At MatchPoints, making an overtrick in an undoubled, non-vulnerable 4H while others

make only  ten tricks means a “top” board (i.e. all the  MatchPoints available).

But at IMPs, it means only  (450 – 420 = ) 30 points, or 1 measly IMP!

With so few IMPs at stake, this would be considered a “flat” or “near-flat” board at IMPs.

Many such hands which are so exciting at MatchPoints (“Can you make that critical extra trick?”)

are a total yawn at IMPs!

On the flip side, going down in 4H while all others make 10 tricks is a “bottom” board,

or ZERO MatchPoints.  At IMPs, though, you have just lost (420 + 50 = ) 470 points in total,

which  converts to a disastrous -10 IMPs.

From this we discern that, at IMPs, you would NEVER risk the contract for an overtrick.

The risk (-10 IMPs here) far outweighs the gain (1 IMP).  At MATCHPOINTS, however, that

overtrick may mean the difference between a top and an so-so result, so you MIGHT, if you see

the chances as better than 50%, put your contract at risk to try for an overtrick (especially if you

think everyone will be in the same contract as you). Similarly, on defence, you would always cash

the setting trick at IMPs to ensure defeating the contract.  But, at MatchPoints, an extra

undertrick might be worth the risk of NOT cashing the setting trick in the hopes of setting

the contract TWO tricks!

“So,” you might ask, “if going down in a game which everyone else makes is a

disaster at  both forms of the game, what’s the difference?   Isn’t it just one bad board?”

The difference is that at MatchPoints you can recover by making an overtrick in 3D on

the very next board while everyone else makes only 9 tricks.  At IMPs, this would only recover

ONE of the ten IMPs you lost going down in 4H earlier! Because you need hands where big

numbers are at stake, it is much harder to recover from disasters at IMPs BECAUSE THERE


In MatchPoints, “the play is the thing”.  An overtrick or an extra undertrick means

EVERYTHING if it distinguishes your score from everyone else’s. There are few “flat” boards at

MatchPoints.  In a typical 24-board session at MatchPoints, you may have 2 or 3 “flat” boards.

In a typical 24-board match at IMPs, you may have 12-18 such “flat” or “push” boards. 🙁

At IMPs, bidding is paramount.  Miss a slam or a makeable game and you’re in trouble.  Squeezing out an extra overtrick or extra undoubled undertrick via careful play on

the next hand will NOT recover your loss.

The above distinction explains the expression: “IMPs is for BIDDERS;  MPs is for

CARD-PLAYERS!”   It also explains why MatchPoints is a much more intense game where

EVERY board has equal importance.   A delicately bid and played 7NT contract will not gain

you any more or any fewer MatchPoints than the lucky overtrick you made in 1C the hand earlier.   At IMPs, however, you can safely fall asleep during the 1C hand–as long as you wake up for the 7NT

one! In this regard, by the way, IMPs is closer to Rubber bridge than MatchPoints is.

Bottom line:  At IMPs, the big “swing” hands with a lot of points at stake (e.g.

difficult games,  slams and doubled contracts) matter most.

At  MatchPoints, all boards are equally important.

The area where the two games diverge most is in competitive part score bidding.

Consider this situation:  You have bid 3D, rather confident of making.  The vulnerable

opponents compete to 3S. You can’t be 100% certain, but your instincts tell you that 3S will

likely go down one.  Should you double?

At IMPs, the difference between 3S down one doubled versus undoubled is (200 – 100 = )

100, or THREE IMPs.  If they make, though, the difference is (730 – 140 = ) 590, or

ELEVEN IMPs. Hence, you’d better be VERY confident of 3S going down before doubling it

at IMPs!  Otherwise, you would do better to pass 3S.  If it does go down one, the board will be

flat, since (110 – 100 = ) 10 points means ZERO IMPs.

At MatchPoints, however, you were slated for +110 in 3D, so +100 in 3S will NOT

compensate you.  You may get a bottom board if everyone else is allowed to collect +110 in 3D.

Hence, to  “protect” your +110, you might double 3S and hope to nip it one for +200 and a

GREAT score at MPs.

Bottom line:  save those close doubles for MatchPoints, not IMPs!

At MatchPoints, you will often strain to balance the enemy into an unmakeable contract.

Nothing does your game better than pushing the opponents to 3H and collecting +50 while

everyone else is -110 against 2H.  If balancing against their 2H risks the odd -800 because of

a trump stack against you, so be it.  As long as you collect more +50s than -800s you’ll do fine

in the long run at MatchPoints.

At IMPs, though, those -800s had better be FAR fewer.  Getting +50 versus -110 is

worth (50 + 110 = 160) FOUR IMPs.  -800 versus -110 loses (800 – 110 = 690) TWELVE IMPs,

and such disasters are harder to recover from,  with fewer decisive boards at IMPs than at

MatchPoints. 🙁

Bottom line:  save your balancing heroics and aggressive part score

competing for when you’re playing MatchPoints, not IMPs!

Let’s take another scenario.  They have bid 4H, vulnerable.  You figure that they have a

better-than-even chance of making it.  Your side, on the other hand, can bid 4S, get doubled,

and go down -500, 120 points better than you will spit up for 4H if it makes.

Should you sacrifice in 4S, then?

At MatchPoints, the answer is YES. If they do make 4H you are have improved

your score from -620 to -500.  Yes, if 4H goes down, you -500 will not look good

opposite everyone else’s +100.  But as long as 4H has a better than 50% chance

of making, you will gain more often than  you will lose IN THE LONG RUN.

At IMPs, the answer is not so clear. 4S will only improve your score by  (620 – 500 = 120)

THREE IMPs.  If, on the other hand, 4H goes down one, you will have foregone the +100 for -500,

a 600 point difference for MINUS TWELVE IMPs.  Since your sacrifice has to be “correct” (i.e.

4H has to make) 4 times to 1 for those 3 IMPs to equal the 12 IMPs you might be missing,

4H should have an 80%  or better chance of making before you should  sacrifice

against it! At MatchPoints, your sacrifice only had to be right 51% of the  time to pay off in

the long run!

Bottom Line:  At MatchPoints, sacrifice against anything the opponents bid confidently.

At IMPs, sacrifice only against those contracts which are underwritten

by Lloyds of London!  🙂