Sunday, October 21, 2012

Extending lead-directing doubles to suit games

I have written many times about different usages of double, especially my favorite  because it is so versatile  the cooperative double.  And I spent some time discussing various types of penalty double, in two parts (there is a third part in draft it seems that never was published).  Penalty Doubles (part 1) covered, among other types, lead-directing doubles.  My overall conclusion is that you won't get rich playing penalty doubles simply to increase your score because you think they are going down, unless you are preserving equity.  So, as Theodore Lightner realized many years ago, there's more profit to be had from suggesting the killing lead than there is in increasing the penalty when they've overbid slightly.  Most people understand that a double of a slam asks for an unusual lead.  And good pairs have discussed what the double of a 3NT contract asks for.  But I haven't read much on how to extend these principles to suit games.

I've also argued previously that cooperative doubles can lead to the juiciest of penalties  because such doubles tend to be made when the high card assets of the defenders and the trump length assets are separated in the two hands over the hapless declarer, who may not even realize that he was overbidding, is outflanked.

So, is it ever right to double because you think they have made an error or are running into bad breaks? Yes  when one of the penalty double triggers has occurred and it's already been established that our side has the makings of pincer movement as described above.  How about this auction: you open 1, LHO overcalls 1 and your partner bids 1NT.  According to my previously published rules (DSIP Rule Summary), penalty doubles are now in effect.  Both sides seem to have plenty to say and, after a competitive auction, we end up bidding 4 with no great certainty of making.  After two passes, RHO bids 4 and we double.  Our hand might be ♠94 AKJT52 QJ8 ♣K6.  Partner's original 1NT call assures us that they don't have a nine-card fit  and we have at least 22 hcp.

But supposing the auction goes thus (we are vulnerable, they are not):  pass (1) 2 (3) pass (3) pass (4) X all pass.  Your hand, by the way, is ♠K3 9876 AKJ94 ♣T5.  Partner is sitting under the spade length, he has passed twice, we have shown a decent hand and suit but have not shown any extras.  Can it possibly be that partner expects to defeat this on power alone?  And he thinks he can get it two tricks?   No, that's not possible.  The double must be lead-directing.  But this is not a slam.  Even if he has a surprise or two (or a void) in clubs, this isn't one of those situations where we get a quick trick on a club lead and then cash an ace for down 1.  No, we have to generate four tricks for our side!

This situation is more akin to trying to defeat a notrump game. The effect of the 2 overcall has raised the level of the auction to a somewhat uncomfortable level and the 3 call, while obviously showing good cards, is looking for a diamond stopper which opener doesn't have.  These folks sound like they might even be on a seven card fit. Surely the only possible interpretation of the double is that partner has some useful trumps and that our advantage of having the lead, if used wisely, will defeat the game.  So, laying down a high diamond is obviously not the solution because if partner wanted us to do that, he would not double.  Could he have a void in hearts or clubs?  Somewhat unlikely given that he never raised diamonds.  And whatever cards he holds in dummy's suit(s), likely clubs, can surely wait their turn.

What would a double mean if declarer had ended in 3NT?  It would (by our agreements, at least) say, don't worry about the fact that you have a hole in your suit  I've got it filled.  In other words, double suggests possession of a high honor in opening leader's suit.  Without the double, leader might try to "find" partner's "ace" for a lead back through declarer.  The double says "I don't have the ace, but you can low because our suit is reasonably solid and we will set the contract."

So what about in this contract, could it be that partner wants a low diamond to the Q (or perhaps even a void)?  Yes, that's got to be it.  Now, declarer runs out of trumps trying to stop diamonds and ends up going down one.  A high diamond lead let's him cruise to ten tricks.

Yes, I was partner and made the double.  And, yes, I had Qx of diamonds and four spades to the J.  Opening leader was not on the same wavelength (and I'm sure my readers will have quite a bit of sympathy with him, as do I).  So we lost 5 imps (instead of gaining 10) but fortunately got two big swings on other boards, not only to win this match, but to pass our opponents in the rankings and take first place at a club swiss.


  1. Why would you think that a responder, in the auction (1S)-2D-(3D) is looking for a diamond stopper and denies a good spade fit? More typically, I would submit, responder is merely showing a limit raise or better in spades. Declarer could well be on a 6-3 spade fit in the whole auction, and with trumps splitting 2-2.

    Looking at overcaller's Kx spade holding and a balanced hand, it is hard to fathom what hand caused advancer to double the final contract of 4S. But surely, advancer must have very short diamonds, because no feature in his hand makes penalty more attractive than having a misfit for his partner's suit. I would have led the DA and considered that lead pretty automatic.

  2. Yes, of course, you are right that responder could have LR+ values (presumably + given the raise to 4S) when he raises to 4S. But then how do we account for partner's double? He must have trump length (in addition to shortness in diamonds) and yet we have two trumps ourselves. I would venture to suggest that in this particular auction (1S 2D 3D), responder is as likely to be hoping for a D stopper as he is to be showing LR+ values. Looking at our hand (Kx), and inferring partner's trumps, pretty much rules out the LR+ possibility IMO.

    1. After 1S-(2D)-3D-(P), isn't opener constrained to bidding no higher than 3S if he holds a minimum?

      If answer to that question is "yes", then I suppose that means that if responder has gf values, no spade support and no stopper in the opponents' suit, then he would seem to qualify for making a negative double or else for making a 3C call.

      That's a long-winded way of saying that I think it is quite unlikely that responder who cue bid 3D has the hand you suggest is likely, one that is asking opener to bid 3NT with a diamond stopper.

      Wrt the actual auction, I am having trouble figuring out what partner could own for his double. My best guess is that he is something like 3/4=3=2/1=5, with a couple of "sure" tricks. Maybe something like QJT, Axx, xx, xxxxx. Looking at probable two tricks in his hand and hearing a two level overcall from your hand, he just thinks the opponents have overbid. Hard to say.

  3. In your methods do you think double is takeout or penalty in auctions such as this:

    1D Pass 1NT 2H; Now double by the 1D opener?

    1. What do you think is best, Dave?

      I think my partnership agreements define opener's double, if not a support double of responder's major, similar to what Robin suggests is best: that is, 1M-1NT-(overcall)-double is for takeout, and the other auctions' doubles of 1X-1Y-(overcall) by opener (including the one you listed) are for penalty.

      Perhaps where I might differ from Robin is that if the opponents have bid and raised a suit, then opener's double is for takeout ... although I certainly see merit to Robin's position that after responder has shown a stopper in the auction that begins 1D-(1H)-1NT, that opener's double of a 2H advance would be for penalty. Still, what can I bid then if I am something like 4=1=5=3 with some extras, if not double for takeout?

  4. I like to play that as takeout-oriented after a major opening bid because responder might easily have a decent four-card minor suit. Over a minor it is less clear and there are good arguments for penalty. For simplicity, I stick to it being for takeout (implying four clubs) but now I won't be too surprised if partner passes because he's already denied four spades and may not be comfortable going to 3C.

    Contrast that with 1D 1H 1NT 2H; now I treat the 1NT bid as a desire to play 1NT and showing something in hearts.

    These "rules" should perhaps be based on whether or not there is still a possible 4-4 fit in a major but then that would not help us find 3C when that's the right spot.

    Bridge is a tricky game, especially when talking about what double means!