Thursday, January 7, 2010

More about doubles

If you're new to this blog or didn't see yesterday's article, take a look at Double! before you read this one.

I mentioned yesterday that "three strikes you're out" is one of the penalty double triggers.  Actually, just like in baseball, where not all strikes are counted (it's OK to foul the ball when you have two strikes against you, thus prolonging some games to interminable lengths), the rule could be restated as: the second double of our partnership is always penalty, except that pure takeout doubles don't count towards the total.

Here's a better way to think about it.  It's logical that there should only be one bidding box per partnership, right?  You can never rebid a previously used bid (unless your LHO is asleep) so we don't really need four copies of every bid.  In fact, strictly speaking, we really only need one bidding box per table.  But I digress...

Imagine that between you and partner you have one light green colored double card, one amber (orange) double card, and several red double cards.  The light-green card is for pure takeout doubles.  Light green, the color of leaves in the early spring, suggests all is roses in the garden and all partner has to do is bid his/her suit and all will be well.  There's only one of these per auction.  The amber card is for cooperative (two-way, DSIP, card-showing, action, etc.) doubles.  This one says, careful, it might be better to pass than to bid a poor suit.  Again, there's only one.  The red card is the one we're familiar with.  The opponents are going down, possibly with lead-directing aspects to it.  There are lots of these.  The world record for penalty doubles, by the way, was set in the 1975 Bermuda Bowl between North America and Italy played, appropriately enough, in Bermuda.  Bobby Wolff opened 1 and Giorgio Belladonna made an off-shape takeout double (such tactics generally worked well for them).  Bob Hamman redoubled and Benito Garozzo bid 1.  Eventually, the Italians ended in 2X, down 3 which helped send 14 imps to the American camp.  There were seven rounds of bidding including seven doubles (six by the Hamman/Wolff) and two redoubles.  The squadra azurra went on to win of course as they usually did in that era.  But I digress still further...

Lest you think that I am suggesting a new kind of bidding box, with multi-colored double cards, please rest assured that the idea of the colors is for illustrative purposes only.

The point is that the sequence of our doubles in an auction can go takeout, cooperative, penalty, or it can go takeout, penalty, or it can go cooperative, penalty.  But there can be at most one takeout and at most one cooperative double.

Here are some possible continuations after W makes a takeout double:
  • E passes for penalty: all following doubles are penalty;
  • E makes a forced bid (over pass): W's subsequent double is cooperative;
  • E makes a free bid (or jumps the bidding): W's subsequent double is penalty;
  • E bids over a redouble: all following doubles are penalty.
You may be wondering what should happen after some other kind of double that isn't clearly a pure takeout double (i.e. a double of a natural bid when partner has only passed, or has not yet called).  Here's a summary of what should happen after such doubles (assuming no other penalty-triggering events have intervened):
  • negative double: the next double should be cooperative;
  • responsive doubles (this is essentially a cooperative double): all subsequent doubles are for penalty;
  • conventional doubles (e.g. support, maximal, snapdragon, Rosenkranz, etc.): all subsequent doubles are for penalty [but this is a subject for partnership agreement – I'm just suggesting a simple rule, not necessarily the best rule];
  • lead-directing doubles (these are essentially penalty doubles): all subsequent doubles are for penalty.
After partner makes a double that promises a single (unknown) suit, then an immediate double by you should be to enquire "which is your suit?".

You're probably saying to yourself "but that's how everyone plays!".  Well, it's true a number of experts do play this way (definitely not all), but unless you've really discussed it with your partner (or you actually are an expert), you really can't assume that he or she will be in tune with what you're doing.  Most experts, if shown a bidding sequence culminating in double, will, if there's any doubt in their minds, look at the level at which the double was made.  If it's a game contract (with the exception of an opening bid of 4 of a major, or 5 of a minor), then the double will be deemed penalty.  If below game, the expert will have to look more closely but will often consider it to be a balance-of-power (i.e. cooperative) double at the three-level if conditions are right, and will be inclined to see it as pure takeout at lower levels.  I'm generalizing a bit.  But the point is that the scheme described in these two articles is independent of the level of bidding.  That simplifies matters considerably.

OK, an example (more tomorrow):  World Pairs, 1998.  Berkowitz's hand:  ♠74 KT32 A94 ♣QT76.  Opponents are vulnerable.

all pass
11-15hcp, 2+ diamonds (i.e. nebulous precision opening)
cooperative (BOP)
Cohen/Berkowitz didn't feel that penalty doubles should be on immediately after a support double (I agree with them, but it's a partnership discussion issue). But nothing else had happened such as a jump by our side, or a notrump bid, etc.  So the final double was cooperative. 3♠X went down 2 (500) for a top. Cohen would not have been able to make a penalty double (assuming they would play it as penalties) because although he has something in spades, he didn't know whether Berkowitz had good defensive values or had strained to bid 1 with a distributional hand. Note that Berkowitz was prepared for a bid of 4♣ (Cohen might have had five of them) or for 4 thus showing a real diamond suit.  And he had the perfect holding for a cooperative double: two small, which would come in very useful if Cohen decided to pass, as he did.

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