Thursday, February 9, 2012

Passing a support double

Once every five years, or thereabouts, you might have the opportunity to pass a support double for penalties.  The stars have to align quite well for this to be the right call.  First, you almost certainly want to be at favorable vulnerability.  Second, you obviously will have only four of your major.  Third, you should have no great fit for partner's opening suit.  Fourth, you should have a pretty decent hand with a solid expectation of setting the contract for 200.  Fifth, you will probably want to be defending a two-level contract (2♣, 2 or 2) – the other possibility, 1♠, doesn't give you much in the way of vigorish.  And finally, you should be playing matchpoints or, if IMPs, have extremely understanding teammates in case things don't go quite as well as you'd like.

The last time, about five years ago, that I passed a support double, it was in the last round of a matchpoint event.  I was deliberately swinging.  It didn't work.

This evening, I was playing in a "Robot Duplicate" on BBO and I picked up this hand: ♠AKT8 T532 AJ8 ♣52 in third position.  Partner opened 1♣ and I bid 1.  LHO chimed in with 1♠ and partner doubled (support).  RHO passed and there I was with another possibility of making a penalty pass.  All the conditions were in place, except the fifth.  Still, I had every expectation of a two-trick set, or if only a one-trick set, perhaps partner would be minimal and we would not have game.

Partner's hand was indeed a minimum but we still had a game (10 tricks at NT).  One pair even scored 490 our way.  Fortunately, we had a two-trick set coming for an almost clear top (shared by one other player).  Unfortunately, my robot partner made the wrong lead.  Aren't you encouraged to lead trump when partner makes a penalty pass?  Doesn't the fact that I didn't want to try for game suggest the possibility that my hearts might not be the most robust?  These considerations apparently didn't signify to my partner unfortunately and he led a heart from Q87.  This allowed declarer to pitch a diamond loser and so we managed only 200 for a 22% board.

Oh well. I realize now that there's a seventh criterion that must be satisfied: partner must be sufficiently expert to make a good lead: either a safe sequence or, failing that, a trump.


  1. Seems like a good decision to pass, Robin.

    Although I don't know what was your partner's hand, your suggestion that an expected lead is a trump surely seems right to me. All of us well-read players know to lead a trump (if we have one) when partner converts our takeout double to penalty. Is the situation of responder passing opener's support double much different? Maybe it is a little different -- because we "know" that responder can't possibly have as many as five of the overcaller's suit and yet have responded in a different suit -- but I still think the situations are substantially analagous.

    I have never played bridge online, and most certainly not with the Robots. Between your story about partner not leading a trump and another blog story I read about partner Robot not leading an ace against 7NT (!), I don't think I am inclined to begin.

    Good story.

  2. The robots do most things pretty well (declare and defense), but their leads are atrocious. You can bid and rebid your suit and they (almost always) lead something else. The programmers need to fix that somehow.

  3. I think you need a very clear picture of the hand layout not to lead a trump. So often you see someone lead from AKxx or a similar safe looking holding only to find that's dummies singleton and now declarer gets an extra ruff.

    The corollary is that you shouldn't penalty double or convert a double unless you can tolerate a trump lead.