Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reviewing the situation

My regular readers may have noticed that I haven't written much about doubles lately. Well, in light of the recent articles in the Bridge Bulletin by Karen Walker, I cannot let that state of affairs continue much longer.

I am very fortunate to be heading to Phoenix for the NABC soon. I wasn't expecting to be there, but guess what – I have to go there for work so will add a few days at the start. I will play in the LM pairs with my friend Barry Margolin. For our previous exploits in a national event, see The Little Gremlin. So, in preparation for our bridge date I wanted us to be on the same page regarding doubles.

Barry says he's the kind of player who responds better to general principles than rules and/or triggers. I think there are probably a lot of people who would say the same thing. Therefore I tried to put together one general principle which I hope will keep us on the same page for our upcoming sessions.

Before I get to that, however, let me give praise to my biggest fan regarding doubles, Bruce Downing, co-author of the Downhill notrump system. He has independently done a review and/or comparison between my triggers and Karen's bridge bulletin articles and found much similarity (though he prefers my "traffic light" analogy and triggers). I quote his opening remarks in a personal email:

There are two unwritten books that I hope to someday have on my shelf. One is 'Gariepy on Redoubles'. Larry Gariepy, a Dartmouth grad student in my early days of bridge in the Upper Valley, believed that the blue card was hugely under-utilized...

The other volume will be 'Hillyard on Doubles'. Robin has put extensive thought into when doubles should be takeout or cooperative or penalty. He has traffic light analogies. It's complicated but it's simple. He has blogged extensively with examples and cautionary tales. On the rare, but always enjoyable, occasions when I play with Robin, I always have to study the list of 'triggers'. Triggers are auction types which make a double penalty in Robin's methods.

So, with all appropriate preambles, here I have tried to formulate my doubles rules into a single guiding principle (with optional rider):

Provided that the hand hasn't shown itself to be a misfit and we are still seeking a fit, then double is for takeout or is cooperative, i.e. showing a hand with an expectation of owning or sharing the hand but no clear course of action. The level of the auction, in and of itself, does not affect the meaning of double  but if we could have doubled cooperatively at a lower level, then logically double is now penalty. Of course, once penalty doubles are on, we can never go back to cooperative doubles.

Any frequent partnership needs to discuss a few more details to be completely on the same page, but I think that this description should suffice for most partnerships that play only occasionally (like ours). Here’s the optional rider (essentially similar to some of Mel Colchamiro’s “BOP” double situations):

Even when we have found a fit, if an intervention finds us wanting to compete to an uncomfortable (unlawful) level, double is cooperative, unless our distribution/fit is already well known.

Some clarifications (I wish everything was already so clear that these were not necessary):

A misfit declares itself (or at least suggests itself for our purposes) when somebody bids a natural notrump in competition. It says "this is our hand but we don't appear to have a fit". Similarly, a redouble normally implies no fit (although some pairs may not use it that way). One of us rebidding his suit in the face of no support tends to proclaim (or suggest) a misfit also.

Owning the hand means we have about 23 hcp or more. Sharing the hand means that we have at least 20 hcp and sufficient distribution (especially spades) to give us a little safety. Either way, we are entitled to a seat at the (competitive) table.

No clear course of action usually means that we are one card short of a bid, whether it be a raise, a rebid or a new suit. An analogous situation arises in constructive auctions where one partner bids the fourth suit.

well-known fit pertains when either partner has shown (or denied) a ninth card in our agreed suit. If it exists, this ninth card “entitles" us to bid to the three-level (similarly, denial of a ninth card would suggest not going to the three-level). Note that a cue-bid by us may hide whether the hand has a ninth card or is looking for a stopper (in which case maybe doesn’t even have an eighth card). Either way, subsequent doubles are penalty because so much is known already about the strength and distribution. Of course, it’s less likely that we will want to penalize the opponents when we have a nine-card fit but when it does happen, we need to be on the same page.

An uncomfortable (unlawful) level typically refers to the three-level in a competitive auction. But by extension, if the auction is jammed and we don’t yet know how good our fit is, double can be used to ask how good our fit is at a higher level.

Well-known distribution usually means that one of us has made a call that narrowly limits the distribution patterns that we might have. There are too many ways to do this to list them all.

Note that I definitely haven't given up on the traffic-light analogy (see More about doubles) or triggers (see DSIP Rule Summary). If the putative book mentioned above ever appears in print, there will be extensive discussion of those aspects because less experienced players are, I believe, more comfortable with rules. But the description given here is perhaps a little more palatable to the expert and/or intuitive player.

As always, your comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. I think you've done an excellent job here. I've blogged a response here but if anything it is violent agreement: