Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A tricky one

My regular readers know that I am keenly interested in the use of the red (double) card in competitive auctions. Some of you might say I'm obsessed.

Here's a hand that was reported to me from the regional A/X pairs in Cromwell, CT that engendered some discussion. The N/S players were experts. Vulnerability was favorable and your hand, the dealer, is ♠T6 KQ52 KQ853 ♣K3. You open 1 and LHO chimes in with 2♣. Partner makes a negative double and RHO raises the ante with 2♠. Now what? At the table, it was passed around to partner who doubled again.

Any good ideas? Is it obvious? I believe that if you were playing with me, and had agreed to use my rules for doubles (see many previous blogs including Introducing four-card suits in high-level auctions), then this shows hearts with at least tolerance for a 3 contract. That's to say this is not a penalty double but a cooperative (DSIP) double. But playing with a partner without the benefit of such explicit rules, there's room for doubt. I posted the hand on Bridge Winners so you might like to go there and see the comments.

At the table, South felt that partner must be showing both majors and was making a penalty double. The resulting –870 didn't garner many matchpoints.

Despite having 24 hcp, N/S cannot make a game yet E/W can make 4♠ blindfolded (shouldn't the score have been –1070, then?).

Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps more then one:
  • develop and learn an explicit set of penalty double triggers (you can borrow/adapt mine – DSIP rule summary – if you like);
  • make space-eating overcalls like 2♣ and advances like 2♠ whenever you get the chance;
  • if you're not 100% sure as North that a second double will be taken as cooperative, then bid 3 – there's a very good chance that South, with four hearts, will bid 3 now, restoring (if it matters) the benefit of being in a major;
  • play Larry Cohen's "Good/bad 2NT" – in this case, South might have managed to scrape up a 2NT ("bad") bid over 2♠ suggesting in this case minimum high-card points but competitive red-suit shape (admittedly, South's hand hasn't exactly improved after the first round of bidding so perhaps pass would still be appropriate here).


  1. North had five card support for his partner, and made two doubles without ever showing the support? This is bridge? Instead of asking his partner to magically select what intelligent something he is supposed to do, why doesn't North do something intelligent himself, such as supporting his partner?

    Maybe NS needs to pre-alert this strange agreement. With benefit of a pre-alert, maybe an especially savvy EW pair would figure out to advance 2S on some hands without especially long spades.

    If I made the bids that this North bid, I might have a ten count of 4=4=1=4 distribution. When my partner, owning some hand that looks something like a weak notrump (consistent with passing over 2S advance) had better not even think about removing my double!

  2. As of today, the BridgeWinners poll is stable at: 3H (71%), Pass (15%), 2NT (7%), 4H (4%), 3D (3%).

    While I do have empathy with Jeff's comment -- and indeed with the dealer at the table -- that's to say "pass", it is a fact that, without any special agreements, the clear majority of the BridgeWinners crowd (not all are experts, but a lot are) voted for 3H.

    Playing opposite myself I'd bid 3H too. But I'm not sure I would do it playing with someone where I hadn't explicitly discussed this sort of thing.

    BTW, Jeff, what would be the nature of this pre-alert? That we sometimes suppress 5-card support for a minor when there might very well be a 4-4 fit in a major? Wouldn't most pairs be pre-alerting, then?

  3. The pre-alert comment is referencing the second double, not the first double. If my opponents are playing some sort of agreements so that what sound like penalty doubles are for takeout, I, as an opponent, would like to know so I can take advantage.

    1. Judging from the overwhelming support for the 3H (or 4H) calls, this treatment is pretty standard, at least among experts. Since I play that style myself (without trying to suggest any expert status), I have often asked directors what we are supposed to do about alerting, etc. The standard response is that cuebids and doubles are never alertable unless they say something very specific, such as the support double.

    2. There are a high number of abstentions (relative to other Bridge Winners problems). (The voters can't see responder's hand, and so the abstentions are not able to comment on North's decision to withhold showing diamond support for two rounds of bidding.) Most of the abstentions deal with disagreement about South's pass over 2S. Some of those who disagree prefer for South to bid 3H at that stage; others prefer for South to double (presumptively for takeout) at that stage. Bidding 3H at that stage does not appeal to me because South does not know if his partner has four hearts: nearly everyone plays that the negative double of 2C could be delivering only one four card major (which might well be spades). Those who argue for South to make a takeout double of 2S have a more interesting case. I can see that call on a hand with a singleton spade, but I am not sure about doubling with a doubleton spade. And if South might have a singleton spade, then North's converting the takeout double to a penalty double by passing when he has four trumps seems pretty dangerous to me. Do we really want to defend a doubled two-level contract when the opponents have 8 trumps between them, and can infer that any missing trump honors are in the slot?

      So .. what is the point of all of this? Not to disagree with Robin's comment above that apparently many/most experts take the second double as takeout and not penalty; that does seem to be an accurate take on the voting. But to comment that when so many low level doubles are for takeout, it is very difficult nowadays to get a number from overstepping opponents ... and that conclusion is likely to lead to even more opponents choosing to overstep.

      Frankly, my experience is that many of these tough bidding issues are eliminated when a pair chooses to open minimum balanced hands with a weak notrump. Not a cure-all, for sure, but describing the general nature in one bid of a common hand type does provide a good foundation for later choices on how/when to compete. And, when effectively employed and supplemented, can lead to the ability to defend some doubled partials when, what seems to happen ever more frequently, the opponents bid too much.

    3. Agree regarding the weak notrump of course. But to my mind bidding 3H or doubling at opener's second turn is just overbidding. Partner has promised an 8 count. We have 13. That's not, to me, a justification for making a second noise.

  4. I agree with your last comment; it would not have occurred to me to do anything but pass over 2S with a weak balanced hand as South. To me, this disaster was caused by North's failure to show his diamond support. Should South have bid after North's second double? Apparently the majority feels "yes". I, and the actual South, would say "no". But North's failure to support with support, IMHO, created the whole problem.

    1. Well, it's a different style of play. North's double was in line with what many experts play: if there's an unbid major lurking about then double suggests possession of it. The failure here was that South wasn't on the same page. That's a problem of communication and one that many partnerships might fall into. That's the reason for the book I will eventually write on doubles if I can get somebody well-known to co-autthor it.

    2. Have you considered submitting to Bridge Winners a poll choosing a second round call of North? I, for one, would be curious to see if the votes favor doubling vs. showing diamond support.

      (My thoughts are that North's bidding 3D at the second round not only shows his diamond support, but also implies having four hearts. After all, he must have at least one major for the negative double and with length in spades, wouldn't he pass out 2S?)