Monday, June 9, 2014

The final problem

No, this isn't my final blog. I hope not anyway. But I would like to wrap up some loose ends on the subject of doubles. Devotees of Sherlock Holmes will of course recognize the title as that of one of the adventures.

First, I want to stress something about doubles which I haven't really emphasized before. Cooperative doubles are always a last resort. This comes from the definition that you have no other possible bid yet you have too much strength to pass.

I have mentioned previously the "three strikes you're out" rule which comes into play whenever our side makes a total of three doubles (see Three strikes - you're out). But there are other flavors of the three strikes rule. 

For example, suppose that I open 1♠, partner raises to 2♠ (with or without competition) and then later,  one of us bids 3♠. Each partner has clearly limited his hand, there's no doubt about our best strain, and nobody is prepared to bid game. By bridge logic, if the opponents continue on to the four level, a double by one of us must be for penalties.

For some time, I've been trying to determine if there is a simple trigger that applies to these situations. Essentially, these are the criteria:
  • each partner has limited his hand by making a non-forcing bid;
  • we have found a fit or we have settled into a quasi-fit.
Let me try some examples:
  1. ♠KJ4 75 KQT962 ♣AQ opposite ♠QT86 KQJ63 J ♣J63: 1 (p) 1 (p); 2 (p) p (2♠); p (p) X: in this case, opener has bid and rebid diamonds -- responder was content to sit there in a quasi-fit -- until the opponents decided to balance. We know we cannot find a fit at a safe level and weren't thrilled about having to make eight tricks in diamonds. Opponent's 2♠ call is music to our ears: Double!
  2. ♠KJ942 75 KQ62 ♣A7 opposite ♠QT86 KQ62 J3 ♣J63: 1♠ (2♣) 2♠ (3♣); p (p) 3♠ (p) p (4♣) X: here, we have found a limited fit in spades (three spade bids altogether), neither player has made any attempt to bid game (thus each is limited in strength). Double!
But is it necessary for both partners to have limited their hands? What if the one partner who has limited his hand, with a pass or a non-forcing bid, doubles? Is that always for penalty?

The case where one of us passes is covered in The dead auction rule. But I'm not sure that covers all of the cases. Doesn't it also apply when one of us makes a non-forcing bid and then doubles?

More situations:
  1. ♠KJ942 75 K2 ♣AJ67 opposite ♠QT6 KQ63 JT43 ♣82: 1♠ (p) 2♠ (3♣); p (p) X: here, we have found a limited fit in spades (just two spade bids this time), but opener is still unlimited while responder has limited his hand. Is it possible that responder can have a hand that is a penalty double of 3♣? It's relatively unlikely so that I have always defined this situation as being a cooperative double. How good are your spades, clubs? For many pairs, double is always penalty once we've found a fit.
  2. ♠KJ942 72 AKJ2 ♣72 opposite ♠QT6 JT65 T3 ♣AJ83: 1♠ (p) 2♠ (x); p (3♣) X: here, we have found a limited fit in spades (just two spade bids this time), opener and responder are limited. Now, is it possible that responder can have a hand that is a penalty double of 3♣? Absolutely, he's sitting over the club bidder and he has a maximum balanced raise.
The conclusion, for me at least, is that as soon as both partners have limited their hands, then penalty doubles go into effect. But should penalty doubles only be in the direct seat? No, I think that's unworkable. We need to have both partners using the same meaning for double, otherwise it's possible that the fish can wriggle out of the net.

And now for a real hand, this one taken from the World Wide Pairs (hands rotated).

The bidding by the opponents is a little "forward" as the Abbot might say, yet this is the kind of thing that happens in club games. It's obviously important to be on the same wavelength as to the meaning of my final double. Given that my first double was essentially a bid of spades, our side had bid spades three times. Add to that the fact that I had passed over 2♠ showing no interest in going further, then it was clear that my final double was for business. [Editor's note: I have edited the bidding a little to suit my story better, although the first four bids are real, as is the final contract.]

Our result (+500 when we managed to get an extra trick on defense) was a local top and worth 99% worldwide. Note that 4♠ cannot be made legitimately, although there were quite a few making game (420) our way so we needed that extra trick. 

So, my question to my readers is this: is it a workable scheme to turn penalty doubles on whenever both partners are limited? Is it sufficiently obvious? I'm sure that it's correct to do it this way, but is it going to be usable in practice?


  1. Some return questions for you, Robin. Assume an auction start of 1S-(P)-2S-(3C) and opener has a stiff club and, let's say, 5-4-3-1 distribution:

    1. What would you expect opener to bid with a minimum hand?

    2. What would you expect opener to bid with an invitational hand?

    I would think that opener would re-raise to 3S with the minimum hand and would bid 3D or 3H with the invitational hand.

    Now, let's assume the same auction start of 1S-(P)-2S-(3C) but opener has the AJxx club holding you mentioned, in a hand of 5-4-3-1 distribution:

    3. What would you expect opener to bid with a minimum hand?

    4. What would you expect opener to bid with an invitational hand?

    4. What would you expect opener to bid with an invitational hand?

    I would double with either, expecting partner to pass unless he has one or fewer clubs.

    Finally, let's assume that opener has neither four good clubs nor one or fewer clubs.

    5. What would you expect opener to bid with a minimum hand?

    6. What would you expect opener to bid with an invitational hand?

    I would Pass with the minimum and would bid 3D or 3H with the invitational hand.

    Notice that with a substantial excess of Defensive Value over Offensive Value, I double; with a substantial excess of Offensive Value over Defensive Value, I bid; and with no substantial excess of either, I pass with no chance for game and bid on to try for game when I still think there is a chance for game.

    My point in all of this? You don't need to have triggers to remember, bids in a suit to count, etc. When you have found a fit, you just use bridge logic: you double with defense, you bid with offense, you pass with indifference. (And, yes, I would play the same as responder: if opener passed the 3C overcall, responder would make his choices to double, bid, or pass on the same basis.)

    1. Wow, Jeff. Not only did you get through the long complex blog but you asked a lot of questions. Let me see what I can come up with for answers.
      1. pass mostly, but with a very offensively oriented hand and non-vulnerable (good texture, small club) I might bid the third spade.
      2. double mostly, although I think some hands
      might bid 3H
      3. this one is easy: pass
      4. 2NT, pass or 4S depending on my mood and conditions
      5. another easy pass
      6. again, this would depend
      Your style is perfectly playable (and I would guess that the majority of bridge players would be with you). Nevertheless, I think that playing a DSIP style has its adherents and I think is slightly better in the long run.
      One of the aspects of "standard" bidding here is that it tends to try to retain methods of inviting game even though the conditions have changed. Once we're in a competitive auction, the most important thing is knowing when to bid on and when to defend. Getting to game has become secondary.
      BTW, the extension of the pass/double inversion to their (low-level) interference wasn't really meant to be the subject of this particular blog. Earlier blogs, yes. But I was taking it as kind of a given here (presumptuous of me perhaps). But I'm always willing to discuss it because I think it's an interesting subject.
      And, yes, I should add one thing. Clearly my style of competitive bidding is _not_ for casual partnerships. Even my long term partners have a hard time adjusting to it. But that doesn't deter me!

    2. If I were your opponent, I would want to know -- and think I have the right to know (although many would disagree with me) -- that your side would pass with 3 and would not double with 4. That information would free me to loosen my standards for overcalling 3C.

    3. And ... let's observe that you are (at least sometimes) passing with 1. ( a hand with a singleton in the overcalled suit of clubs), 3. (a hand with AJxx of clubs), and 5. (a hand that often has two or three clubs). I don't see how choosing to pass on such widely divergent defensive values can help the opening side determine when to penalize an overreaching opponent (which is why I said, if I were that opponent, I would want to have been informed of your style ... something that the ACBL convention card, unfortunately in my opinion, does not inform me).

    4. Not in any way suggesting this UI from you, Robin, but I do fear that some partnerships that play that so many low level (non-negative) doubles are DSIP would tend toward tempo problems where partnership experience can result in slow passes tending to be the choice on one type of passing hand and fast passes tending to be the choice on a different type of hand. And then, when partner of the tempo-variant seems to make the winning decision ...

    5. Jeff, loosening your standards for 3C might be a bad idea if you were playing against me and my clone. I agree you have the right to know but, as you say, the ACBL alerting procedures and convention card layout don't really help. We usually tell our opponents in long KO matches about our general tendencies for doubles but they never seem very interested.
      We tend to pass in direct suit if we have hands where bidding on doesn't seem like a good idea.
      Actually, I would say that it's a lot easier (tempo-wise) to decide between pass, double and bid given that we have such consistent and easily remembered "rules". Once you get used to it, it's very intuitive.
      After all, what we're doing is simply extending the notion of a negative double to later stages of the auction. Beginners have a lot of trouble when they pickup AJTxx Kx Qxx Jxx, hear their partner open 1H and RHO overcall 1S. But soon they get used to passing smoothly. It's really just the same idea :)

    6. I would strongly dispute the notion that the DSIP doubles employed after the partnership has found a fit are similar to negative doubles employed before the partnership has found a fit.

      As noted earlier, when you are proposing to pass on some hands that have strong interest in penalizing the opponents and some hands that have no interest in penalizing the opponents, it is hard to see how you can choose whether or not to compete.

      In short, how can partner do something intelligent when he has not been provided with the information he needs to decide what is intelligent!

    7. Jeff, I'm at a loss as to how best to respond to your latest comment. Apparently the parallelism between negative doubles and these fit-discovering doubles does nothing for you. I accept that. But the rather vague objections noted in your second and third paragraphs make no sense to me. So let me just make some observations.
      There are at least 11 other articles in my bridge blog on these cooperative doubles (generally indicated by the keyword DSIP). This particular article (The Final Problem) is the most advanced and difficult of them all. I assume that you wouldn't have attempted to understand this one without having a complete grasp of the others. The objections you make here might make good comments on some of the earlier contributions, assuming that there was a little more specificity. But, although you have made many comments here over the years, those comments have generally not been on the subject of DSIP (cooperative) doubles. You commented on perhaps the most relevant article to your current objections ("Using double to find out about fit") -- but your comment there was on a somewhat tangential issue.
      It's fine that I haven't convinced you but let me reiterate that the method is actually quite precise. When one player doubles, his partner knows almost exactly doubler's distribution. In other words, I feel that the information is there for partner to make an intelligent decision. Perhaps you'd like to take another look at some of the earlier articles and make some more specific objections?

  2. I am sorry you are offended by what you perceive as an inconsistency based upon my failure to have adversely commented on other articles of yours that deal with your view on doubles. I did not and do not feel compelled to comment except when I feel like it. But, since you raised the subject, I would suggest that there is some consistency in that I rarely respond to articles that fail to present card layouts. I applaud you for this article which does present multiple layouts.

    1. With hopes that this may be the final comment on The Final Problem, I have taken your points to heart and, like Conan Doyle, have decided to reopen the subject with a better explanation of the rationale behind my methods. The article is almost ready -- and will I hope afford an ideal forum for a good substantive debate -- but now that I know your rules of engagement, I must first find a suitable hand with which to illustrate it :)