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14: Defence 1, Scoring

Pairs Scoring

As in all bridge, the score is first calculated by awarding points for each trick or undertrick and any slam bonus. In pairs, successful contracts are also awarded with a part-score or game bonus. At the end of the session, each N/S result is compared with every other N/S result; each pair gets 2 points for every pair they outscored and one point for every pair whose score they matched. The table below gives a possible outcome for a 5-table movement. The top score is 8 for a pair who beat all 4 other pairs. So for each match there are 8 MP up for grabs; the total of N/S MP and E/W MP will always be 8; if N/S get a top the E/W at that table get a bottom. 

In pairs you are really playing the other people holding the same cards; if you are E/W in a Mitchell movement, the people you have to beat are the other E/W pairs but of course you do this by getting a good result against the N/S you are playing. Sometimes you hear weak players saying “Only 50, we weren’t vulnerable” seemingly not realising that everyone playing their way is just as invulnerable.

Pair 1 bid game and made an overtrick; the next pair bid and exactly made game; the third and fifth bid game but made only 8 tricks; pair four made ten but bid only a part score; they all got the trick and bonus scores shown and entered them immediately after they played the hand in the tinted columns.

Later, the session’s scorer, probably using software such as “Jeff Smith’s Pairs Scorer”, compared those scores with each other awarding two, one or zero points for each win, draw or loss. For example, pair two got 6 points for beating pairs three, four and five. Pairs three and five got one MP for equalling each other. Pair 4 got an average, they beat 2 and lost to two.

When you read the traveller for an already played hand, you can estimate how you are doing by awarding yourself two for each score you exceed, one for each you match then dividing by the maximum available and turning it into a percentage. It can be simpler: for example, if you have the best result, you have 100%; if the worst result, 0%.



N/S score

E/W score




























Competitive Bidding over Opponents 1-of-a-Suit

We aren’t yet talking about competing after NT openings, pre-emptive opening or genuinely artificial openings such as 2C. It used to be the case that players doubled the opponents just to show willingness to compete and maybe promise something about strength. When I played Precision, in defence my double showed any 16 point hand, the mirror of Precision’s 1C opener. The crucial downside of this is that the opposition may pre-empt and we don’t know where our values are to compete.

A more modern style is to overcall with a 5-card suit with quite wide-ranging hands, even those with fair strength. Double is reserved for those hands with nothing special to say or certain extremely strong hands. An overcall serves many purposes: to identify a suit for competition, to suggest a lead, to crowd the opponents, sometimes even to discourage the opponents from bidding NT. It is usually a bad idea to overcall in a suit where partner gives a trick away by leading, say, the Q from a doubleton.

The overcaller is guaranteed to have 5 cards in his suit and his partner should raise to the level of fit based on this guarantee; with three spades he can raise a 1S overcall to 2S, with five spades he can raise to 4S. This is based almost entirely on shape and almost not at all on high card strength, though one might be a little more cautious when vulnerable. All suits other than the opponents suit are simple overcalls.

If you have no worthwhile 5-card suit and you are short in the opponents suit and you have at least 4 cards in the unbid major(s) you can make a takeout double. If fairly strong, say 15-18, and balanced with a stop in the opponents suit, you can overcall NT as cheaply as possible. 

If you have more than one 5-card suit, you can pick one, often the major but mostly the one with the high cards so partner can get off to a good lead if you lose the auction. Or you can use a two-suited overcall to show them both. Ignoring the opponents suit, there are three pairs of suits you might want to show and only 2 bids to do it with: the cue bid of their suit and an unusual overcall in NT. We will come back to this later. For now the NT overcall, if unusual and not just meaning you have a 15-18 balanced hand, shows as many minors as possible, the cue bid shows as many majors as possible. We will tabulate these in a future seminar and identify treatments you may find others playing.

We have yet to address powerful single suiters and very powerful 2-club-opener-strength hands. Nor have we covered responses in any detail.

Hand valuation is substantially different in competitive bidding. The key book here is Partnership Bidding at Bridge 1993 by Robson and Segal which is available online but is of daunting length.

Odds and Ends

If you open and partner does something exciting, like a Jacoby 2NT or a jump-shift or a succession of new suits, you must bid to the system even if you made a rule of 20 opening and are now regretting it. Back pedal by all means, making weak bids, but partner is in charge; if he forces, you must find another bid; you still have the opening bid you originally made!

On the problem hand, Lyn made a 4S opening with a solid suit, about 8 playing tricks and very little defence, a ploy she had learned from Mike. The idea was new to most of the rest of the group. A powerful spade hand with at least 16 HCP would open 2C and maybe take time exploring for the best contract or make a limit 3S bid after partner’s likely 2D response. The 4S opener is weaker and probably more shapely. A partner with an ace and a king can pass 4S with equanimity even with JTx in the preempt suit: a slam is conceivable only with a holding rich in quick tricks.

On the hand, Lyn made a good plan to establish a trick in dummy’s long suit expecting to make when the opponents holding broke 4-3, as likely. For this to work: trumps also had to break 2-1, likely; declarer also had to delay drawing trumps as they were all needed for entries to dummy. Dummy’s 3 of trumps was also an entry, provided declarer had preserved the 2S in the closed hand.

The exact hand isn’t important (which means I’ve mislaid it) but the learning points are:

  • always consider ruffing out a 5+ suit in dummy to establish a length winner
  • go through the entire hand before you play to the first trick and count your entries
  • to give yourself time to plan, discourage dummy from playing even a singleton to the first trick.


S: T 4

H: Q 6 5

D: T 6 2

C: A K J T 4

East (Dealer)

S: A Q 5 3

H: A J 7

D: K J 3

C: Q 8 6

The unopposed auction went 1S, 2C, 2NT, 3NT and south lead 5D to North’s Ace. North returned the 9D. If you believe S made a normal 4th highest lead the contract is safe, according to the site I cribbed it from! Win the K, run all 5 clubs and end play S who can take his 3 diamonds but must then, it says, lead into one of your tenaces.