Thursday, July 28, 2011

More on "Hillyard Doubles"

Recently, I've been playing again with my good friend as well as one of my favorite bridge partners: Bruce Downing (see for example The Downhill Notrump).  We spent some time working through what he calls, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "Hillyard Doubles".  One of the things I've found as a boon in software development is the power of "peer programming."  In practice, this usually works as follows:
  • me: Dilbert [or some other denizen of cubicle-land], could you help me find a bug?
  • Dilbert: sure, what's the problem?
  • me: well, it's like this [goes into long-drawn-out discussion of the design of the program and during said discourse, realizes what the bug is without any help from Dilbert] -- ah, I think I've figured it out.  Thanks so much for your help, Dilbert!
  • Dilbert: sure -- no problem -- any time I can be of service...
You see what I mean.  Well, bridge theory is a little like that.  It often requires me to explain to some interested party the reasoning behind an aspect of the theory and during that explanation, I realize something I hadn't before.

Here's a case in point.  As I'm sure you know by now, all doubles in "my" system, are takeout, or at least cooperative, until some event triggers conversion to penalties.  The level, in and of itself, is irrelevant.  So, for instance, the following double is two-way (not penalty): 4 4♠ 6 X.  It asks the spade overcaller "I'm not sure about this.  I do have some spade support and I've got quite a few points, shortness in hearts and support for both minors, what do you think is right?".  Now, the spade bidder can pass or pull according to his hand.  With ♠AQJxx Axx Kxx ♣Qx, you're going to pass obviously, converting the double to penalties, but with ♠AQJTxx x KQxx ♣Ax, you're going to bid 6♠ and with ♠AQJTxx KQxxx ♣Ax, you'll probably bid 7.  Admittedly, these situations don't come up often.  Incidentally, given that we voluntarily bid game on this one, we can assume that partner's pass over 6 is "forcing".  In this we play the same as Meckstroth and Rodwell: the meanings of double and pass are reversed.

But, wait a moment, after an auction like 1 p 2NT* 4♠, pass is again forcing (because we have committed to game -- let's leave aside for now the possibility that defending 4♠, making may be the par result).  But, according to my trigger rules, double in this situation would be 100% penalty (because partner jumped, showing a 9-card fit).  So, now we don't play the Meckwell system.  How do we resolve this inconsistency?  Well, the answer is that the inverted style of forcing pass is particularly well-suited to auctions in which it is the opponents who have jumped, thus depriving us of bidding space.  The standard style of forcing pass is good when we have jumped, thus already communicating lots of distributional information.  This was the Eureka! moment I had when discussing it with Bruce.

Fortunately, I've now got quite a few gullible, oops I meant to say sensible, partners who are willing to play my doubles.  One of these is Brian Duran, whom I played with yesterday evening.  We actually hit our stride reasonably well this time, scoring 58.3% and losing first in our direction only by a fraction of a masterpoint.

There were actually two hands on which a two-way double would have been just the ticket, and as it happens they were sequential boards, although, as E/W, we didn't play them sequentially. On the first of these, with none vulnerable, I held the following hand: ♠Q52 2 QJ42 ♣K9762 in third seat.  I passed after two passes and LHO opened 1.  Partner came in with 1♠.  RHO bid 2 and I bid 2♠.  LHO now bid 3 and partner bid 3♠.  You see how this is going.  There were now two passes and LHO dug out the 4 card.  There were two passes to me.  We were not in a penalty double situation, so my double would have been two-way.  But do I have enough at equal vulnerability opposite a passed hand?  I decided to pass.  Unlucky.  LHO wrapped up his 10 tricks and we were booked for a 14% board.  Had I rustled up a double, partner would pull it (hopefully!) to 4♠ and we would take our 10 tricks and reverse the tables so to speak.  So, a missed opportunity.

Now take my partner's hand on the next one (red on white) ♠K3 AT7542 K5 ♣952: LHO opens 1 and partner overcalls 2♣.  RHO passes and we bid 2.  This goes pass, pass and now RHO comes in with 3.  It seems like it should be our hand, right?  We've got three-card support for partner and six-not so great hearts.  It's a tricky decision.  This is where the cooperative double comes in handy (although normally, double would show at least three-card support for the unbid suit).  Partner doubled and I left it in with 3-2-2-6 shape.  We actually only outgunned them in points 21-9 but it was enough.  We chalked up +300 and a top.

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