Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Three strikes - you're out

In previous incarnations of my rules for competitive doubles, I've talked about imagining that each pair has one bidding box to share between them.  Obviously, you don't normally need two copies of each bid and the box comes with plenty green pass cards.  There's a yellowish double card, an amber double card and several red double cards.  Assuming no other penalty-triggering events have occurred, the double cards must be played in the order given.  The first is for takeout.  The second is two-way and/or cooperative.  The third is penalty.  [For more on the double rules, see DSIP rule summary and others.]

Obviously, this is just an illustrative scenario, not real life.  But the idea of the third double being for penalty is a valid one.  These days, I just call it the "three strikes" rule.  Here's an example of it in use from a recent pairs game.  With no-one vulnerable and in fourth seat, I picked up this hand: ♠ AJ7 AK3 53 ♣ AQ654.  RHO opened 1 and I had to choose an action.  For better or worse, I made a takeout double (unusually, this was one of two occasions on which I doubled with 3-3 in the majors).   LHO raised to 3 and it came back to me.  I doubled again, this time cooperatively.  Partner pulled to 3♠ and RHO bid 4.  I doubled again.  This time it was pure penalties.  Yes, partner could have pulled with a very weak distributional hand.  But he sat for it.

The result was down one – +100 for our side.  This turned out to be the absolute par on the board though happily worth 60% of the matchpoints.  As it happened, the final double made no difference to our matchpoint score.  There were 19 total tricks on the deal, 10 for us in clubs, 9 for them in either red suit.  We had a 10-card club fit and they had heart/diamond fits of 8 and 9 cards respectively.  Of sixteen tables, all but four played a contract in our direction, six in their 4-3 spade fit and six in the 5-5 club fit. 

It's quite satisfying when things work as they're supposed to. We were slightly lucky perhaps that 5♣ couldn't make against normal defense (they get two fast diamonds and eventually must come to a spade). Still, that's what you might reasonably expect with two balanced hands and 24 hcp.  The bottom line is that each side did what it had to in order to reach the par result. 


  1. I disagree. The second double is for takeout, but with stronger offensive orientation than the first takeout double. And the third double is also for takeout, but with only three spades and an even stronger offensive orientation.

    To take my point to the extreme, I would make three takeout doubles on a hand such as KQx, KQJT, x, KQJTx.

    With your actual hand, I would double on the first round, gladly; I would double on the second round, but with some trepidation; and I would definitely pass on the third round.

    Meanwhile, back over to advancer's seat. Partner's bidding might be on a hand with A-fifth of spades [or even T-fifth] and out (where I would expect him to convert my third double to 4S). Or partner's bidding might be on a hand with J-fourth of spades and out (where I would expect him to pass 4DX with, say, 4=3=3=3 distribution and where we might or might not get a set, and I have my apology ready in the case of the latter).

    I am willing to bypass the opportunity for some doubled undertrick(s) in exchange for the opportunity to bid a possibly making game. A third double is also for takeout, IMHO.

  2. Jeff, I look forward to your comments. My blog posts are intended to be at the least thought-provoking and maybe even controversial (but not inflammatory). This isn't the first time that we've disagreed on the subject of doubles and I'm sure it won't be the last. So, thanks again for your comment.

    I'm skeptical though that a regime of increasing offensive orientation makes sense for doubles. Clearly, my position is diametrically opposed, i.e. one of _decreasing_ offensive orientation on successive doubles. If I had a hand that was extremely offensively oriented, for example KQxx KQJT -- KQJTx, I might be inclined to bid clubs at some point rather than double three times. I'm not sure that there is any good "formula" for such a hand.

    I'm not sure what's "right" but I like my way :) As mentioned in my post, I would expect partner to pull the third double with a very weak offensive hand (and shortness in the doubled suit). I also would probably not be making the third double at a team game. But at mps, we must try to protect our equity. That is, it might be essential if we are making, say 140 in spades or 130 in clubs, for us to recoup 300 in diamonds.