Other Competitive Doubles

The double has many uses in bridge besides penalty and takeout. In today's modern game, one of the most common uses for the double occurs after your side opens the bidding.

In days past, when partner opened one of a minor and the next player bid 1 ♠, the following hand type presented a serious problem.

♠ 87 ♥ QJ62 ♦ KJ94 ♣ J62

If your right-hand opponent had passed, you would have happily bid 1 ♥. You have more than enough to respond, and you could tell your story in one quick bid. When your right-hand opponent overcalls 1 ♠, however, you are no longer so happy. You have no spade stopper, so 1NT won't work, and raising partner to 2 ♣ with that anemic holding has little appeal. Well, what about hearts or diamonds? To bid either of those suits, you will have to go to the two level, which requires a minimum of five cards.

Furthermore, you have only 8 HCP, and bidding at the two level shows at least 10 HCP.

This kind of hand is the reason that Alvin Roth, one of the all-time great players, invented a tool that has become a staple of just about every bidding system worldwide.

It's called the negative double, the negative stuck in there to, you might say, “negate” the penalty aspect because it's not meant to punish the opponent for a bad bidding decision. It's for takeout.

The negative double was originally known as the Sputnik double because when Roth and his partner, Tobias Stone, introduced the new bidding device in 1957, the Russian space satellite was getting a lot of publicity. The Sputnik name is still used with the convention in some countries.

In the formative years of bridge, a double after an opponent's overcall was for penalty, but you don't get many chances for a significant penalty of a one bid. Roth, one of the great bidding theorists of all time, reasoned that the double in the given situation was more useful as a way to show the other two suits.

Here's how it works. When your partner opens one of a suit — usually a minor — and the next player overcalls, a double indicates that you have enough to respond and usually four-card support for the unbid suits.

With negative doubles, the emphasis is always on the majors. This is the formula:

  • When an opening of 1 ♣ or 1 ♦ is overcalled by 1 ♠, double shows a four-card heart suit and probably — but not necessarily — four or more cards in the other minor.

  • When an opening of 1 ♣ or 1 ♦ is overcalled by 1 ♥, a bid of 1 ♠ shows at least five spades. With only four spades and enough to respond, employ the negative double.

  • If 1 ♦ is overcalled by 2 ♣, double indicates possession of at least one four-card major.

  • The negative double can be used when you hold a suit longer than four cards but without the 10 high-card points needed to bid at the two level. You can double, and if partner bids your suit, decide whether to raise or just pass. If partner bids some other suit, you can bid your long suit to reveal the nature of your hand and the reason for the negative double.

  • There is no upper limit in terms of high-card points for a negative double, although most of the time you will have a relatively modest hand. You could, however, have a very strong hand but choose to use the negative double to find a fit in a major suit.

  • The negative double is one of the handiest of the conventions you will learn as you progress. It has almost universal acceptance.

    How High

    When opener's rebid in response to a negative double will be at the one or two level, assuming the next player passes, you can make a negative double on minimum values, roughly 6–9 HCP. If opener will have to bid higher than the two level, the HCP requirements for a negative double will increase.

    Discuss with partner how high the opponents can bid before negative doubles become penalty doubles. Most experienced partnerships agree that negative doubles are in effect through the three level. That is, if partner opens one of a minor and the next player bids 3 ♠, double is still for takeout. Of course, when you are forcing partner to bid at the four level, you must have a relatively strong hand.

    Information, Please

    One of the best uses of the double is to help your partner out with his opening lead. Suppose your left-hand opponent opens 1NT and, after partner passes, your right-hand opponent (RHO) bids 2 ♣, a conventional bid called Stayman. It is completely artificial and is used to inquire of the opener whether he has one or more four-card majors.

    Bridge writers frequently use terminology and jargon that may be unfamiliar to newer players. The notation RHO signifies your right-hand opponent and LHO your left-hand opponent.

    Now, suppose your holding in clubs is something along the lines of KQ1098. It certainly appears likely that the opponents are going to end up playing the contract, and if the 1NT opener bids a major suit that is raised by his partner, that means your partner will be on lead. So, what suit do you think will be the best lead for your side? That's right! You want partner to lead a club.

    So, how do you get partner to cooperate? You double, that's what. When you double an artificial bid, it shows that you have length and strength in the suit. So if your partner finds himself on opening lead, he should start with a club unless he has a great excuse, such as being void in the suit.

    If you play in tournaments, you will encounter many artificial — not to say esoteric — bids that give you the opportunity to help partner with his opening lead, or even find a suit that you and your partner can bid as a way of competing.

    Be careful about doubling artificial bids if it is likely you are going to be on lead against the final contract — as when it is clear your right-hand opponent is going to play a spade contract and she has bid some suit you can double. Doubling gives the opponents a chance to exchange more information, and you could be providing declarer with potentially useful information.

    Some examples of artificial bids you might encounter:

  • Jacoby Transfers over 1NT and 2NT. In the simplest form, bidding diamonds asks the opener to bid hearts; bidding hearts asks partner to bid spades. Transfers are useful because they keep the stronger hand concealed, which is an advantage in most cases.

  • Stayman. Already mentioned.

  • Gerber. An ace-asking convention of 4 ♣.

  • Responses to the 4NT (Blackwood) convention, also asking for aces.

  • There are many other artificial bids. The key is to be aware of the opportunity to indicate length and strength when the opponents bid some suit you know they don't intend to play.

    Avoid doubling an artificial bid without true strength in the suit. For example, you would not be too keen for partner to lead a suit in which you held six to the jack. You double mainly with the idea that leading that suit for your side will develop tricks.

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