Bridge is played in a variety of forms: rubber bridge, Chicago, party bridge, teams of four, duplicate pairs, and many others. This can be confusing until you realize that there are essentially just two kinds of scoring: total points and matchpoints. If you understand them, you can play any form of bridge with confidence. This column concerns the difference in the play of the hand.
At total points, declarer should look for the safest line of play to make his contract. The value of an overtrick is not important when compared to the value of making a game or a slam.
At matchpoints, declarer should try to win more tricks than other declarers. It is insignificant whether you make your bid or go down; all that matters is how your score ranks against the others.
Todays deal illustrates the difference. South is declarer in four hearts bidding would be the same at any scoring and West leads the diamond queen. East wins the ace and shifts to the club jack, a good defensive play. I would make the contract at total points but would be defeated at matchpoints. Lets get the bad news out of the way first.
At matchpoints, 12 tricks are possible if both major-suit finesses work; or 11 tricks if just one of them works. Therefore, Id try for the most tricks: Win the club king; heart king; spade king; heart finesse (losing); win the club ace; draw the last trump; spade finesse. Too bad; that loses too and they cash a club trick down one. Darn! First time Ive ever been set and the oceans are running out of salt.
At total points, it is wrong to depend on finesses when a safer line of play exists. After winning the club king, play the ace-king of hearts; spade to the king; diamond to the king; and a spade to the ace. No finesses! Next give up a spade; win the club return with the ace; then discard your losing club on the spade jack as West ruffs (if he wants) with his natural trump trick making four hearts.
© 1990 Richard Pavlicek