In a pairs game, each deal is played a number of times by different players, after which all the scores are compared. Immediately after a hand is played, the North player writes the result of that hand on the travelling sheet, and the East player checks it. The information recorded includes at least the numbers of North-South and East-West pairs and the score achieved. Usually the contract and the number of tricks won are also recorded, and sometimes also the opening lead. Sometimes the cards in each hand are also written on the traveller, which is useful in case the cards are inadvertently mixed up. The traveller is contained within and travels with the board. The usual form of overall scoring for a pairs tournament is match point scoring; occasionally IMP scoring is used instead. Every pair plays against a number of opposing pairs in successive rounds, depending on the size of the field. Tournaments with up to about a dozen tables are usually played either as a Mitchell movement (each North/South pair plays against all or most East/West pairs) or a Howell movement (each pair plays against all or most other pairs, and switches between North/South and East/West as required). A Howell movement is typically used if there are less than about 7 tables. With larger fields the tournament can be split into separate sections (every section operates its own separate movement, but the scores are compared across all sections); each section normally plays a Mitchell movement.
The tournament consists of rounds, which present a number of boards, usually two to five, to be played against the same opponents. After a round, some or all of the players reseat themselves according to a prescribed movement, so that each pair opposes a different pair in each round; the boards are also moved. The movement must be set up so that every pair does not play more than one round against the same opponents, and, of course, does not play the same board more than once. The tournament director will select the movement depending on the number of pairs playing, to allow them to play the desired number of boards each, without repetition. A session typically consists of between 24 and 28 boards in total, but this can vary. Typically around eight boards are played per hour, so a typical session will last 3 hours or slightly more. If there are an odd number of pairs, one pair will have to sit out in each round. Most games are single-session, but tournament events can consist of two, four or more sessions.