Matchpoint Pairs

November 3, 2009 at 8:07 am 11 comments

One of the utterly miserable things that has happened in bridge in Australia over the last – I’m guessing – twenty years or so is the near total destruction of matchpoint pairs.

When I first moved to Melbourne there were two fabulous events at State level: both the Open pairs and Mixed Pairs were 3 week qualifying, 3 week final, the latter being barometered. Good stuff! There were also lots of Congress pairs events.

As the ANC has downgraded the pairs aspect of its schedule, there has been a natural tendency for the same thing to happen at State level – though it is true here in Melbourne there has been a reaction against that and the events are now as they were. Still, there are virtually no matchpoint congress events. Swiss Pairs rules. What a terrible idea. Matchpoint pairs is such a skilful game, whilst Swiss Pairs is a tedious lottery at least at that local club level.

As far as I can tell, though, that is just the reason why matchpoint pairs is being avoided. It is a relentless test of skill and who wants that? At the bums on seats level, not many, by the look of things.

I’m going to put in a plea for anybody reading this to reconsider the virtues of Matchpoint pairs. I used to hate it because I didn’t know what I was doing until I discovered I was going to be playing the World Mixed Pairs with Tim Seres. That made me figure I’d better get my game in order. A little group of us studied the form of the game via literature on it, I tried SO hard to understand how it worked. And it paid off. Tim and I qualified 14th (I think!) out of 400+ pairs for the final, though once there we did not have a happy time of it. Meanwhile my pairs scores, instead of lurching between the mid-forties and the mid-sixties, became consistent.

Soon after I did move to Melbourne, I had a game with one of the juniors here one Monday night. ‘What did you think of my game?’ he asked eagerly afterwards. Oh dear. It was the first time time I’d scored less than 50% in Australia for more than a year. ‘You played like a junior’ I said, hedging. Honestly, I was a bit shocked. I didn’t know what to say.

The fact is now, however, that any matchpoint skills I learnt in that period have well and truly gone out the window for lack of practice. And unfortunately that makes me disinclined to play in the only good matchpoint pairs we have left: Surfers. I know that sounds pathetic, sorry!

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Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Man or mouse? Concluded What about this pairs decision?

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shen Ting Ang  |  November 6, 2009 at 3:17 am

    Interesting to read about such an occurrence happening in Australia because Matchpoint Pairs are well and truly alive in both Singapore (where I’m originally from) and UK (where I’m currently studying). In fact, I directed 4 sessions of matchpoints tournaments within the space of 1 month during summer when I was back in Singapore.

    I used to hate matchpoints a few years back, this probably stemmed from my inferior skill level and a lack of understanding into proper matchpoint play. And as it so happens, the most regular games i could find were all matchpoint pairs weekly sessions or tournaments. So one day, I finally decided to borrow a copy of Kelsey’s book on Matchpoints and after reading it, learnt to appreciate matchpoints a lot more! In fact, I am missing matchpoints now because I end up playing teams matches far more often now. Personally I hope that I would have more time and opportunity to play more matchpoints. I think Ben sums up the advantages of playing matchpoints very well above.

    Incidentally, do you have any suggestions as to where one can find more material on studying matchpoint play?

    Reply
    • 2. khokan  |  November 6, 2009 at 9:32 am

      “Matchpoints” by Kit Woolsey is pretty good.

      Reply
  • 3. Stephen Fischer  |  November 4, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    I was quite interested to introduce a significant MP event into the Territory Gold calendar a few years ago (which currently has a 2-session event). The overwhelming consensus was that nobody would come – less experienced people play to win gold points and the contending pairs don’t like playing match points. The feedback was so negative that I eventually gave up the idea.

    More generally, I find that the majority of events, from club level upwards, are more or less the same. They’re almost all swissed with IMP scoring. This lack of variety is disappointing, IMO.

    Reply
  • 4. jill  |  November 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    A few years ago, we played (not very well) in the North American Bridge Championships in Honolulu after having only ever before played in Australia. My ex-compatriots, for all their flaws, do put much more of an emphasis on MP-style in their big events. This time, the format was BAM , which takes matchpoints to the ultimate. first bd out of the slot , after a slow-as-molasses competitive auction, we bid to 3H over the opps’ 2S. At which point, my LHO, a frail ,silver-bunned octogenarian, doubled me for penalty. i duly went one off. 2nd board out of the slot we got to 3C over their 2H, Wham! she wielded the axe again, down one. I remember feeling astounded that this meek -appearing little old lady had the balls to double a close partial, thinking “this would never happen in australia” and i guess that is tied in with the imped format of most of our events —where doubling to get something one off is not lucrative enuf to risk the chance of the contract making. but in matchpoints, and even more so, in BAM it can make all the difference. So i learned then and there that we have developed bad habits here from playing too many imps games–such as a pusillanimous fear of doubling partials, bidding partials on crap cos we know almost no one will double, and settling for making or setting the contract rather than trying for more etc. all of this lazy-fies the game, as already mentioned.

    Reply
  • 5. Peter Gill  |  November 4, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I agree that matchpoints is a great test of skill.

    Bill is correct that unequal masterpoint allocations are part of the reason for the collapse of matchpoint bridge at national level in Australia.

    The phenomenal success of the matchpointed Grand National Pairs, in which masterpoints are allocated to almost all the field in State and National Finals, is further evidence that master points are (or were, based on the existence of the GNP) a major part of the problem.

    The English-style format of the matchpointed Dick Cummings Pairs takes into account the need for a masterpoint-friendly format.

    Historically, the Australian Open Pairs and Swiss Pairs ran in tandem for a few years in Canberra, with the former’s numbers collapsing as the latter increased in size. The ABF reasonably enough reacted to consumer demand.

    The decimation of the Interstate Pairs events has slightly different reasons in my opinion. As soon as they were reduced to less than 4 sessions, many of the few people who were around regarded them as a bit of a joke and tended to skip them.

    I notice on the NSWBA website that the automatic State qualifiers into Stage 2 of the Butler is in danger of elimination. This upcoming change could have far-reaching consequences for Aussie bridge, but hardly anyone seems to know about it.

    Reply
    • 6. Peter Gill  |  November 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm

      “The ABF reasonably enough reacted to consumer demand.”

      Having just done some research, I take issue with that ststement. I know from recent experience that “you” can handle being abused by me for making such a rash statement.

      In the 1990s, the AOP was going along nicely, e.g. 104 pairs in AOP and 234 pairs in ASP (Aus Swiss Pairs) in 1999. Then the ABF introduced a Mixed Pairs on the Saturday as a new event. This bit into the AOP big-time. People who wanted to practise playing IMPS before the NOT decided to play the two separate events on Sat/Sunday instead of playing the 4-session AOP.

      So AOP numbers dropped (74 pairs in 2000 and 2001, 58 pairs in 2002, 56 pairs in 2003) but the AOP remained a high quality event, limited in field size just like America’s Reisinger, which few Americans enter due to the difficulty of getting any masterpoints in it. From 2000 to 2004, the Aus Swiss Pairs grew a little, as the Mixed Pairs grew slowly from 84 pairs to 100 pairs.

      Suddenly in 2004, for reasons unknown to me, the AOP attracted an unusually weak field of only 46 pairs, the
      Finalists being shown at:
      http://www.abf.com.au/events/not/2004/html/docs/contsum.htm

      The ABF moved the AOP to be part of the Spring Nationals in 2005, attracting a moderate field of only 42 pairs. The ABF then abandoned the AOP, moving the Dick Cummings Pairs to become the matchpointed part of the Spring Nationals from 2006 onwards. The AOP has not been held since 2004. In 2005, Mens, Novice, Senior and Women’s Pairs event were added on the Saturday of Canberra to replace the AOP.

      On reflection, abandoning holding the AOP in Canberra may have been precipitiate. Having a high quality small-field matchpointed AOP has merit. I hope this historical research might help guide us towards a better future.

      Reply
  • 7. Bill Jacobs  |  November 4, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I am told the reason for this is that more masterpoints are available from Swiss pairs events than for matchpoint pairs.

    Basically relates to masterpoints being awarded for each match won.

    This has affected the way Congresses are run.

    Reply
  • 8. Ben Thompson  |  November 4, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Matchpoints is a beautiful game. It weights the skills of the game differently to imps (eg safety plays, competitive bidding), but because every board counts equally, you have an opportunity to test your skills meaningfully on every board.

    It used to be that matchpoints was more popular than teams at congresses. I think mostly because it’s easier to organise a pair than a team. Why shouldn’t that be the case today, and why shouldn’t organisers be able to make pairs appealing?

    The Summer Festival, for example, could adjust the schedule to re-incorporate an excellent matchpoint pairs event. How about trimming the long NOT qualification just a few matches, and feeding players beaten in the early KO rounds into the semi-finals/finals of the pairs? I would try my hardest not to play, but be delighted to contest a strong MP pairs.

    Reply
  • 9. andrew webb  |  November 4, 2009 at 8:49 am

    The first Blue Ribbon pairs I played in Canberra was 6 sessions; one seeding” round; 2 qualifying rounds & 3 final rounds. It was fantastic & I’ve always loved matchpoint pairs in consequence.

    Curiously though, I have never found that the literature on the game reflects the reality of it at all. That my be a sad reflection on my reading ability of course. The game as played in Australia has never seemed to reflect the “viciousness” of the partscore battle as reported from the major international events. The “double to protect partscore” hardly ever happened here. Apart from a couple of superlative practitioners of relentless attack, the MP game I recall seems pretty conservative.

    Reply
  • 10. phil markey  |  November 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    too true – i much prefer teams to matchpoints but i had great time playing the NZ open pairs this year – 1 day qualifying 1 day “semi” and a 1 day barometer final

    the only other pairs contest i have ever enjoyed was the open pairs in canberra before the NOT – everyone played it and over 2 days it was a decent contest although i think an extra day would of been better – that event has been effectively replaced by the swiss pairs which i will never play again because as bridge contests go its a joke

    Reply
    • 11. Chris Mulley  |  November 3, 2009 at 3:36 pm

      +1 to all of that … apart from the bit about having previously played the open pairs in Canberra.

      Reply

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