Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Single-suit cooperative doubles

It came as a bit of a surprise last week that two of my partners that I thought were pretty much au fait with so-called "Hillyard" doubles, apparently were not familiar with the concept of the single-suit cooperative double.  I hope to address this issue here.

Suppose you have the following hand and are fourth to speak: ♠ A8 Q62 J98 ♣ KJ854 (matchpoints, nobody is vulnerable).  LHO deals and opens 1, partner overcalls 1♠ and RHO bids 2.  After carefully checking the backs of the cards, you feel compelled to show partner that you have a decent hand.  But how do you go about it?  3♣ jumps to mind, but it's not a very good suit to be introducing for the first time at the three-level.  What if partner has six spades but only two clubs?  Then our best spot is surely 2♠.  How can we resolve this dilemma?

Double!  None of the triggers have yet occurred, so this is still a cooperative double (not penalties).  For more detail on the triggers, see my earlier blogs DSIP Rule Summary, etc.  As always, this call  says "I have values, I'm relatively short in the opponents' suit(s), but I'm short a card in our suits to have an easy bid."  With three spades it would be obvious to make some sort of spade raise.  With six (decent) clubs, it would be equally obvious to bid 3♣.  And I don't really have both the opponents' suits stopped so 2NT is unappealing.  Yet, pass is surely out of the question with such a good hand.  Clearly, we should be competing for the part-score.  We might even have game, although that does seem unlikely with both opponents showing good hands.

That leaves double – the perfect call for this situation.  Now, you're probably saying: But that's "Snapdragon."  Well, sure it is.  Plenty of people have recognized the need for cooperative doubles whether one, two, or more, suits are available to take the double out into.  This one just happens to have a rather good name.

Being a card short in partner's suit here means having two, given that he's made an overcall.  Snapdragon "rules" advise having an honor doubleton and this seems like sound advice.  Being a card short in my suit generally means having five (this is the expectation with snapdragon).  But it seems to me that if my suit would not raise the level of bidding, a good four might be enough. 

What if all the suits have been claimed and there are none left to take out into?  Well, that is one of the trigger rules that makes such a double a penalty double.

I should note that this type of double is incompatible with Rosenkranz doubles to show (or deny) an honor in partner's suit. While I admit that such a double has its uses (I've played them myself), I think that giving up the single-suit cooperative double is too high a price.

So, what happened at the table?  My partner passed with the given hand and RHO bid 2NT.  I was on lead and deduced that partner's values must largely be in hearts.  I led a heart and they took 9 tricks for pretty much a bottom.  Had the snapdragon-style double been used, I hope I would have led a club for +50.


  1. From the bleacher seats: I agree with advancer's pass; I doubt I would agree with overcaller's choice to lead a heart.

    With a reasonable eleven point following three bidders, might advancer surmise that each of the other three hands are lightish? Perhaps opener has 12, overcaller 7, responder 10 HCP ... something like that. This suggests that opener might have either a "weak notrump" hand or a weakish diamond one-suiter. How, then, can advancer best take advantage of the fact this his partner's overcall has caused responder to bid his hearts at the two-level instead of the one-level?

    By passing! Advancer's Pass forces opener to bid something, even if he would otherwise prefer to pass. OTOH, a Snapdragon-type double allows opener to pass, rather than, as might have happened at the table, to bid 2NT when holding a combined total of maybe 22 HCP.

    Does this mean that Snapdragon is a bad convention? No, not at all. Let's alter the at-the-table situation in two ways evolving the rounded suits: to change responder's call from 2H to 2C and to reverse advancer's heart and club holdings. Now, the Snapdragon call works perfectly.

    Why the difference? Because in the at-the-table case, the overcall forced responder to bid his suit (hearts) at a level higher than responder would have preferred; that is, the overcall inconvenienced the opponents. But in the hypothetical case, the overcall might have helped responder describe his hand: perhaps responder held a ten count with five clubs and was playing 2/1 ... now the overcall freed him to make a natural 2C call on values that would have been insufficient had there been no overcall.

    Because of the above, I prefer to play Snapdragon only when responder has bid below the two level of opener's suit. I am not sure if that preference is standard or just personal.

    OK. Let's get over to overcaller's lead. We haven't seen his hand, but what overcaller knows about the hand is that dummy has at least five hearts and that opener has at least four diamonds and a probable spade stopper. Under those limited conditions about the opponents' lengths in the red suits, I would think that the preferential leads are in the black suits. That overcaller's lead of a heart produced a near bottom does not surprise me.

  2. My hand was K9532 A53 T54 T6 (not perhaps the most robust overcall but I was able to put LHO under a bit of pressure). Perhaps at IMPs, I might have chosen a club lead because overtricks wouldn't matter and it would be my only legitimate, if forlorn, hope. At MPs, I had no idea what the proper contract was but it seemed probably that they had underbid. In any case, I chose what I thought was the safest lead. Indeed, it gave nothing away - except the tempo!

    Your thoughts on snapdragon are interesting and no doubt sensible. Nevertheless, whatever name you give it, it does seem that advancer should have a way to show values and doubling for penalties seems unlikely to be profitable. If responder is short of hcp (as seems likely), he will probably have a good suit. Opponents of course cannot be relied on to have their bids. But in this case, it was overcaller that was light. Dummy had T7 KJT84 A73 Q92.