Saturday, April 12, 2014

The blue card

I realize that I've been surprisingly reticent on the subject of redoubles in this blog, especially given my obsession with doubles. I've mentioned redouble just a few times, particularly in the context of DSIP and the various triggers and in my recent blog on staying with happiness. The "blue card" is such a rarity at the bridge table, that whenever it appears there's a little sense of shock that runs around the table. If your side is the redoubler you expect to get an above average board at least. If your side was the doubler, then you're not so hopeful. But, despite the fact that it seldom comes up, it is essential to have good understandings about what it means in order to take advantage of the situation.

My musings were prompted by a question came up in an email conversation as to the meaning of this redouble: 1♠ pass 2♣ X XX?

Clearly, it's not a "support" redouble since opener couldn't have raised partner's response to the two-level. It seems to me that it denies a good raise of clubs (Qxx or better), denies the ability (or desire) to rebid spades, and suggests extras (we could have passed with a minimum hand that has nothing to say). It further suggests that opener isn't enthusiastic, at least not yet, about bidding notrump. So what's left? Some sort of hand with extras, either unbalanced or semi-balanced but unsuitable for a 1NT opener. I would think that it suggests four hearts (that being the guaranteed suit of the doubler) and probably 5=4=2=2 or 5=4=3=1 shape, possibly 5=4=1=3 with three small clubs. Opener might have a void in clubs of course in which case the hand is probably 5=4=4=0.

Once we have redoubled, any subsequent direct pass by our side is forcing and any double is for penalties. Depending on the vulnerability, our goal should be either to punish the opponents for their misjudged interference or to bid game ourselves.

So, what's the meaning of redouble in general? I believe that the following list covers the common situations:
  • shows a good hand (extras) with no fit;
  • shows a bad hand with no fit (SOS);
  • asks partner to name his implied but unnamed suit (this may not be "standard" but to me is so obvious that I can't understand why it wouldn't be);
  • shows three card "support" when raising partner's suit to the two level is a possibility (assuming you've agreed to play it);
  • shows/denies an honor in partner's suit (Rosenkranz if you have agreed it);
Unfortunately, many of these situations have grey areas. For instance, what do you call with ♠Q92 Q54 KQJ3 ♣J72 when partner opens 1 and RHO doubles? Many would probably redouble but this could easily backfire if we later come in at a high level or if we pull partner's penalty double "to show our support." One strategy which I favor with this sort of hand is to pass initially and then bid hearts at whatever level is necessary (or make our own penalty double if they get too high first). Partner will infer we have this sort of hand.

However, I posted this problem on BridgeWinners and many votes (65%) were given for redouble, even though I said that the "Redouble implies no fit" box was checked. I can understand redouble on this really flat awful 11 count in the sense that we don't have a good fit. Others avoid this whole problem by using a transfer system in this situation.

Passing first may not work well with a more distributional hand, though, say ♠2 Q54 KQJ93 ♣K872. Here, a Truscott/Jordan 2NT or, better, a fit-showing jump to 3 would be more more descriptive (even though partner will expect another trump with either of these bids). Redouble and pass will probably work very badly if the opponents quickly jump to 4♠. We might be cold for slam in a red suit and they might even end up making 4♠ doubled. The BridgeWinners community again voted mostly (48%) for redouble here too, though. I have to admit that this surprises me quite a lot.

What surprises me is redoubling with three-card support, especially in the second hand. Perhaps Karen Walker has it right when she says that the "implies" box really means temporarily imply no fit (her emphasis).

There's one other somewhat controversial treatment that I like to play. If partner opens and RHO makes a takeout double, redouble shows no fit, but also doesn't promise any particular number of points. If partner has opened 1♣ and you have 1 or fewer clubs, then redouble. It's an advance SOS call in case LHO is planning to pass. Partner will take it out to a better spot (at the one level), assuming that they don't. Of course, if we do have decent values (10+ hcp) then we will now contribute to harassing the opponents or until we find a good contract of our own. If partner opens 1♠ and we have 1 or fewer, we may already be in our best spot, so here XX would tend to show good values. Hearts and diamonds are treated somewhere in between. This hasn't come up much, I admit. But on the few occasions when it has, we have ended up getting a decent result.

Finally, a hand that came up just today. You hold: ♠8754 A92 3 ♣KJ952 with everyone vulnerable. LHO passes, partner bids 1 and the next player doubles. Again, you're a bit stuck for a bid. I think 3♣ is almost perfect here, assuming that you have agreed to play fit-showing jumps. It says you're willing to play 3, four if partner has extras. It says you have good clubs. Partner's going to expect better hearts and/or better clubs but I think it's the least lie so to speak. Had this been bid at the table, we would have scored exactly 50% on the board. As it was, this hand redoubled and the next player bid 2. Partner passed and now our hand came in with 2. This was followed by two passes and then 3. Partner closed it out by doubling. We ended up with +200  for a 79% board (it was fortunate that the declarer was the one with the A else it would be -670). We got a little lucky here. In my opinion, redouble should be used with relatively flat hands with at least 10hcp and no more than a doubleton in partner's major suit.


  1. This is timely. Last night I held the worst 21 point hand I've ever seen:
    ♠AKxx ♥Qxx ♦AKxx ♣KQ
    Bidding went (1♣)-x-(p)-1♥-(x)-XX-(2♦)-p-(p)-back to me. I don't know if XX is the right call here but getting a double negative from partner was enough to convince me to sign off at 2♥ (+140) where my counterparts apparently bid game somewhere (-50). Was I giving away too much information? My partner noted that there were only about 7 HCP between him and my LHO. I suppose if partner had better shape, he could have gone to 2♥ with or without my action. Thoughts?

    1. Can you not just double two diamonds?

    2. To what end? I probably can't beat 2D by more than 1 trick and if I can then we probably have game somewhere.

  2. My main thought was to involve partner in the decision.

  3. A treatment I favor is called Manfield, the meanings of which I took from Marshall Miles book on Competitive Bidding in the 21st Century. After a takeout double by RHO of opener's 1 suit opening bid, responder's redouble shows not only 10+ HCP, but also at least four cards in two of the other three suits. The basic idea is to apply a Total Tricks concept in trying to make a penalty double of the suit advancer bids. With the problem responder hand of a three card limit raise, responder passes and then later supports opener's suit at a minimum level. Some other calls have different-from-standard meanings, as a result of the definition of redouble.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I have played Manfield myself in one partnership but not recently. Part of my purpose in setting the questions on BridgeWinners was to see how many experts supported that style.

      Meanwhile, I don't have Marshall Miles' book, but clearly I should have! He was a gentleman and great player. I enjoyed, if you can call it that, one time being thrashed by him and his team in the National Swiss ;)