Sunday, August 17, 2014

A new species of double?

A couple of hands came up the other evening where competitive auctions arose in which I was forced to make a cooperative penalty double. Is there such a thing? I think so.

Let's revisit what a normal cooperative (or competitive double is). It's a call where a) we believe our side has the strength to compete; b) there is no other possible action because we have insufficient cards in our suits; c) we expect (60%?) that partner will normally take it out but won't be surprised if he passes for penalties.

So, what's a cooperative penalty double? It's very similar. We believe that, based on the hand partner has shown so far, that the opponents will be going down in their contract. It's therefore a penalty double. Partner will leave it in probably 75% of the time, but we won't be surprised if partner takes it out.

Why would partner take out such a penalty double? For the simple reason that he thinks that he'll score more playing our own contract than defending.

A well-known case of a cooperative penalty double is made when the opponents sacrifice over our game bid (or our commitment to game) and partner makes a forcing pass. If we have no extra distribution, we will be, perhaps reluctantly, forced to double. But we will be thrilled if partner now pulls our double because this is the "pass-and-pull" maneuver which says that he's interested in slam.

Less spectacular was this hand:

Playing weak no-trumps, partner opened 1 in second seat and this was followed by 2♠.  I didn't feel able to contribute at this point so passed. LHO now raised the ante to 3♠. Two passes followed. This was a bit much though. It was possible that partner had a balanced 15-17 hand and it would therefore be our hand. In that case, if I double he will leave it in. What if he's based his opening bid on a good diamond suit or perhaps both minors? Then he'll take out my double. The trouble was that, having passed over 2♠, my double was now a fully-fledged penalty double (the "dead auction" rule). Yet if I double now, I can't possibly be showing a spade stack (unless 2♠ was a psyche). Perhaps partner will be able to work it out. In other words, a cooperative penalty double. Here's the whole hand:

Obviously, partner doesn't have a bid and therefore passed. We collected 300 for a top. Well, no, it wasn't a top.  Several E/W pairs managed to find the lucky 3NT game. I wonder how their auctions might have gone. Even for those playing 16-18 (and I doubt there were any), surely the East hand isn't worth an invitation, is it?

Next up, from the same session, a much more controversial instance:

Notwithstanding the fact that you surely should have bid 2 at your previous turn, what are you going to do now? Is partner's double final and absolutely penalty? Seriously, how can it be? He doesn't know what your hand is, but he assumes that we can score a game our way but he doesn't know what in. How can he be sure that your side can get 2♠ down 2? And bear in mind that partner doesn't know about your third heart (indeed, he assumes you don't have it) nor your sixth diamond. Those are two offensive cards that will make us want to play our own contract.

In other words, he is making a cooperative penalty double.

When I posed this situation to the BridgeWinners site, there were three votes for taking out into hearts, 18 for pass and seven abstentions. At least one abstention was because they would have bid 2 at their previous turn so the problem would not have arisen.

Here's the full deal:

As you can see, 2♠N is cold as is 4E. What went wrong?

I think one clear error was made, and two misjudgments, each worth half an error. In total these were the cause of missing the two tricks we needed in defense of 2♠X. West never showed that he had three hearts. Presumably, he intended to support hearts after he had created a game force with 2—so what happened? And both East and West had six card suits when they might only have had a five card suit.

Switch a couple of small red cards from the West hand with a couple of small black cards from the South hand and we get the following layout:

In this layout, totally consistent with the actual auction, the "normal" contract is 3NT by West making four for 430. But 2♠X by North is now worth 500 to E/W.

So, this example of the cooperative penalty double was not such a success. But I think it could have been, given a full understanding of the idea. I should note that in neither situation had this concept ever been discussed, or even contemplated. But in at least one case it did work well.

I believe that this sort of double can only occur after responder has made a forcing bid (such as a game-forcing 2/1 or forcing-1NT-with-invitational hand). One is that it is only when we have an expectation of being able to make game (or are close) that we would even think of making a penalty double that might be pulled for tactical reasons. [I don't count those situations where partner pulls with a weak distributional hand because that is a unilateral action, not one anticipated by doubler].

The other reason is a more practical one. There aren't any other situations where responder makes a delayed support bid. In the auction on board 5, West was only able to avoid immediately supporting hearts because he had a forcing bid at his disposal. After such a response, opener doesn't yet know if his side has a fit or not so he may easily try for a penalty only to have his partner show support and revert to plan A—bidding and making game.