Cam French

Baby – You Can Leave Your Hat On

 Joe Cocker – You Can Leave Your Hat On (1)


Matchpoints. Uggh!



Damn I hate that game.


Like Hal Holbrook said to the young, greedy Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, “the trouble with money {like matchpoints} is it makes you do things you would not otherwise do.”  

Some, less informed than me might say that too often applies to professional players, but I think for the vast majority – that is just untrue. Although Edgar did say as much…..and of course he would be one of the better informed.


For matchpoints, it’s an all new ballgame. It means balancing with reckless abandon, lead-directing overcalls on 4 card suits, playing in NT at all costs and avoiding the minors like minefields – you just don’t want to go there. Matchpoints is bridge on the razor’s edge, like sudden-death overtime with every shot, bid, play carrying momentous consequences.

And in many ways it is a great equalizer as every hand counts for identical value. If you score +430 while the field is +420 you enjoy a top by 10 lousy points. If you go for a huge digit say toll-free (800) or two sticks and two wheels (1100) well – it is only a bottom board, it is not (like it might be in imps) a match-killer.


Most experts I dare say prefer IMPS. Why? Imp scoring allows for more creativity to make or break contracts. Trying an under-lead of your ace to break a cast iron contract in imps is a given, in matchpoints it could be suicide. Matchpoints you are concerned about the field. If you happen to reach 3NT with only 9 tricks and you can see that 4H is cold, well clearly you put at risk your (below-average scoring) contract for an overtrick. To do so at imps would be sheer lunacy because the risk-to-reward ratio is not the same.

I suppose Imp scoring adds clarity. Make it or break it. The experts know at MPs you need to be “rabbit-killers”, meaning drill the weaker players. You can and must take more chances and the expert’s shot at an extra overtrick or undertrick is vastly superior so ….you draw the inferences.

All of this is old hat to the battle scarred veterans. 

So let’s try a new hat – or – if you prefer – baby you can leave your hat on.

You hold a modest collection: 65 1064 J852 AK84 (playing matchpoints) and the bidding goes pass by you 2NT (20-21) on your left, pass, pass back to you. Do you have anything to think about?

(No, it is not your lead.)  

Ponder that question for a moment before scrolling down.





HMM… my younger days I would have said without reservation – NO – what the hell is there to think about?








I recall my good friend David Turner telling me years ago this was an “automatic” double. I tried this gambit recently with the bots (albeit an artificial testing ground) and was rewarded with down 2 +500 win 15 imps on BBO. But this was the open pairs on Saturday’s Easter Regional  in Toronto. I contemplated the matter only briefly and applied the axe. It went all pass. My partner (Vince Oddy) chuckled and muttered “Johnny Matchpoint” and led a spade. This was the deal in full.


Dealer: N

Vul: NS























Declarer, perhaps rattled did not play to best advantage and when the smoke cleared was down 2 +300 and a cold top for us.

Another strategy you might employ is always raise to 3NT, especially if playing against “Joe” double adherents. And, yet another if you know me, Turner, Mcphee, Litvac (and an abundance of others) are at your table you can pass with 5/6 points, await our Joe double and punish us. So I guess the moral of the story is – know who you are playing against and their proclivities.

So baby – take off your shoes, your dress and everything else but leave your hat on and try the “Joe Cocker” (or in my case the”Turner”) double. It just might make your matchpoint play a lot more fun. BTW we finished third and for the record partner, I am not Johnny Matchpoint. I don’t recall the last time I played matchpoints but you helped make this time a real treat. But you can call me Joe anytime.

JMP  🙂





Jeff LehmanApril 26th, 2011 at 4:58 am

The passout seat penalty double of 2NT opening is an old chestnut. But I think there are particular hand types that I like to own before I engage that gambit. Best is a collection of intermediate type cards in the side suits. That way, the lead from partner won’t be too damaging: he might give away a trick leading into a tenace, but then your intermediate cards might get the trick back.

In the subject hand, for example, might partner not lead the SJ or the C2, each of which does not terribly disadvantage declarer? The play and defense on the hand will be complex, and declarer emerging with eight tricks does not seem too far-fetched. Give your hand some of those four nines that EW hold, however, and the contract’s chances of making are much diminished.

Danny KleinmanApril 26th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

The trouble with the quasi-automatic double after 2NT-pass-pass is that after your partner has seen you make it a couple of times it becomes a private understanding (he won’t start thinking “Now which suit does the double tell me to lead?” or the like). However, even when sprung on an unsuspecting partner, it destroys what would otherwise be a level playing field, as the opposing responder and opener who know your proclivities are poised to profit (as you know from your example of responder’s trap pass) but opponents who do not may be taken in, playing you for high cards that your partner has.

Cam FrenchApril 26th, 2011 at 11:19 pm


To be clear, I had never done this before and thus certainly had no partnership understanding.

I had not even played with this partner in the last 10 years. But I see your point.

That is why I suggested players might do the (3nt) auto-raise, irrespective of values.

Jeff Lehman called it “old chestnut” and you call it a partnership understanding. Well if it is “old chestnut” to some, and of course it is – it can hardly be an unlawful partenrship understanding, especially considering the lack of partnership agreement.

I suspect most seasoned players share the “old chestut” agreement and thus – there is a public agreement, hardly a private one that this auction forces an “automatic’ double.

I also suspect the opponents in this case were not privy to that concept.

I noted my partner’s comment – “Johnny Matchpoint” and I think that was not lost upon the audience. But you are right, we need clear deliniations of the rules of engagement.


John Howard GibsonApril 27th, 2011 at 3:05 pm

HBJ : I enjoyed this blog immensely.

Cam FrenchApril 29th, 2011 at 2:53 am

No matter what you think of the premise – you HAVE to love the tune. It is so sexy – something our game could use.

You give me reason to live! And leave your hat on……..


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