Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Is there a call in all of bridge that is more prone to misuse, misunderstanding, mistakes, and several other misses?  4NT is possibly as dangerous, but it doesn't come up very often.

Yet, double is often the most flexible call and can be deadly (to the opponents) when playing with a partner who really understands its use, preferably your clone sitting across the table.  The reason why it can be so deadly is that as declarer, you rue the day you play a doubled contract with extra values on one side (usually your right) and a trump stack on the other side.  Sometimes when the stack and the extras are in the same hand you can throw that opponent in at some point to give up a trick or two.  But that won't happen when the assets are divided.

I've been working for years now on a simplification of the meaning of double which doesn't give up on juicy penalties and can be used on many hands, whatever the level of bidding. It's based on a concept that's been around for a while: Do Something Intelligent, Partner (DSIP).  The basic rules are summarized in a later blog entry DSIP rule summary.

Of course, no double is 100% takeout or 100% penalty.  A partner can take out his partner's penalty double if he has a long weak suit he hasn't mentioned, but this is a fairly rare occurrence, especially playing as above.  A traditional, low-level takeout double can be passed with sufficient length in the suit and playing strength, but again it's quite rare.

When I first started playing these kinds of doubles, we got into all kinds of trouble.  Eventually, I realized that the reason for that is that we were making DSIP doubles on hands which were too distributional and partner would pass when actually it was right to bid on.  Sometimes we did it with insufficient values when competiting in any way was wrong.  Thus, good judgment and extra values are required to make one of these DSIP doubles (and it helps to have an understanding partner too!).  You don't need extra values yourself if you know that your side has the balance of power (a BOP double is really just a special case of DSIP).  You do need a couple of cards in the enemy suit yourself though.  If you don't have those cards, there's almost surely another bid you can make (bid a new suit, support, or rebid your own suit).

Notice that the main difference between this system and "standard" bidding is that the level is not a direct factor in whether or not the double is cooperative or penalty.  Certainly, the level and the vulnerability affect whether you will make a double, but they don't affect the meaning.  But also note that our side's third double is always penalty (three strikes, you're out!).

One area that is somewhat vague is what to do after notrump is bid.  This is a matter for partnership discussion.  I like to play negative doubles after 1NT with all my partners (except when we open 10-12) at both the two- and three-levels.  So, when isn't 1NT "to play" by my definition?  When it's an opening, when it's a forcing 1NT, or when it doesn't promise specific cards.  So 1 p 1NT X is for takeout as normal.  But 1 1♠ 1NT X is for penalty because the 1NT bidder has bid 1NT "to play", i.e. with specific stoppers in the enemy suit, and obviously we'd be raising spades if we had a fit.

I have lots of examples squirreled away for my upcoming book on this subject (might be a few years yet!) but here's a new example which occurred last night.  At the table, the double that I think was right didn't get made, but that's another story.

Playing 12-14 no trumps, matchpoints. Vulnerable vs. not. Your hand is ♠K3 K7 AJT87 ♣KQ98. The auction went as follows:



What do you do now? Playing the system that I outlined above, double is the most flexible call and most likely to get us to our top spot of 6♣ (or 6).  At the table, the hand shown above bid 4 and the opponents pushed on to 5 at which point, this hand's partner made a cooperative double which this hand passed. We ended up with 500 which was a lot better than going down in 5♠ but obviously not as good as 1370. I honestly doubt whether we'd have reached the slam in any case, given the barrage of interference we suffered, but I hope you'll agree that the double here is the most flexible call assuming you and partner are on the same "page".

Note that, although we were at the four-level, where most partnerships would only have penalty doubles available, none of the trigger events that cause us to shift to penalty doubles had occurred. Neither of us had jumped, there were no earlier doubles, redoubles, cuebids, NT calls, etc. Every reason to continue playing doubles for takeout!

I will be adding more detail and examples in the next day or two: see More about doubles.

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