In my recent blog Making Negative Doubles Positive (Part 2) I referred to Mel Colchamiro’s "Rule of Nine.” To use the term “Rule” is sort of a misnomer, as they are really guidelines. What is the distinction? Guidelines can be breached, but if you do, you better be right!
The Rule of Nine is used for determining when it is appropriate to convert partner’s take out double to penalty double. In Part 2 of my recent Negative Double blog, the rule was mentioned in the context of a reopening double in a sequence like 1h/2d/p/p/x/p/? Partner’s double here is effectively asking you to bid, but sometimes you will have passed with a trump stack in overcaller’s suit hoping that opener will re-open with a take out double and give you a chance to convert the take out double to a penalty double. This is overcaller’s worst nightmare—he has been caught speeding at the wrong time against the wrong opponents and is about to get a bloody nose, a dose of humility and a bottom board.
The Rule of Nine gives us a guideline as to when it is safe to pass for penalties and when we must bid, even though defending may look juicy. Here is the basic rule: Add together your cards in opponents suit plus your honors in that suit plus the level of the bid, and if they total nine or more, then smile and pass partner’s take out double. This rule can be applied to all situations where partner has made a take out double and you are thinking of passing.
Here is an example of the application of the Rule of Nine: Partner is the opening bidder. The bidding is 1h/2d/p/p/x/p/? You hold xxx, Kx, AQ987, xxx. You can’t bid a suit or make a negative double so you pass to see what partner will do. Happy Day, he re-enters the bidding with a take out double. You say, aha, lets see if we can count to nine! You have 5 trump plus two honors and the bid level is two so 5+2+2 =9 and you pass, hoping no one will notice the saliva on your chin.
If you have the capacity to remember a couple of refinements, then you can enhance your results: (a) when you have doubleton or trebleton honors such as AQ or KQJ etc. make it the Rule of 10. One of those honors may get smothered and be a non-counter (b) if you have two sure defensive tricks outside the trump suit, it is discretionary to let the double stand even though your count is only eight and (c) if the opponents open the bidding at the four level, it often will be correct to leave the double in even if you don’t meet the Rule of Nine, If you have a squarish hand and at least 1 defensive trick, leaving the double in will be better than contracting for 11 tricks in a minor or 10 tricks in spades. When you have length in your suits and distribution, then it is more likely to be correct to bid. If the basic rule is all you remember, you will be money ahead and right most of the time. There are no guarantees, but if you are correct 75% of the time, that will produce a nice score.
There are two further points to keep in mind. First, the Rule of Nine is a matchpoint rule and is not always correct if the scoring is IMPs. Second, this rule is not a rule telling you when it is correct to double opponents, it tells you when to convert partner’s take out double to a penalty double.
My favorite team game partners are Carolyn Waugh, Barbara Burgess and Patty Luther. Plenty of competitiveness, ample competence and adequate patience. They drag me along for comic relief. Last Thursday I was a spectator as Barbara and Patty were put to the test in a difficult hand. My post round analysis was flawless since I had forever to decide what to do and had just finished my blog on Making Negative Doubles Positive (Part 2). Barbara is the dealer and holds KQxx, xxxx, KQxx, A. Even I can get that opened with one diamond! LHO overcalls 1 heart and there is no further competitive bidding. Patty has to make a call with 10xxx, void, Axx, KQxxxx. Here is your first chance to stumble. I hope, like Patty, you ignored the club bid and made a negative double. Yes, even with those ratty spades and 6 nice clubs.
Back now to Barbara’s hand, she of course bid spades, but what is the correct level. Remember in my blog I said a jump bid in response to a negative double shows 16-18 points. I also said that this is not a hard number and subject to the usual valuation adjustments for fit and playability. Should Barbara jump to 2 spades? There is a fit, so how do you value the singleton club Ace? Remember, that the only game force bid is a cue bid in the overcalled suit. The obvious weakness is the 4 small hearts. Do you want to inspire partner or slow partner down? You pick!
Now we have it back to Patty. We know there is a fit and so we now have to revalue Patty’s hand and find the correct call. Patty’s nine high just got huge. Not only does she have the club suit with the KQ in the sequence (always better to have length and touching honors, this hand has both) but we also have a heart void and an Ace. What do you say, bid game, make a game forcing cue bid in hearts, or invite with 3 spades?
This the type of hand that can produce big swings in IMP scoring because it requires both partners to look beyond hcps and assess the true playability of the fit. If Barbara’s raise is 1 spade, then she has limited her hand and slam is not in the cards. But, if Patty now bids 3 spades, Barbara can pass, so my bid is 4 spades, I don’t want to play this hand short of game with IMP scoring.
If Barbara jumped the bidding to 2 spades, then I might make a game forcing cue bid of 3 hearts to get another bid out of partner before I give up on slam. Barbara could have as much as 18 hcps and still bid 2 spades. Since she is really on a minimum for that double raise, I would hope that she would spike the balloon by bidding 4 spades.
What did my partner’s do? I told you that they are good didn’t I. I will give you a clue, we won the round by 26 IMPs. In team games, it is only the end result that counts. Them things ain’t no beauty contest. But even if it were, my team would contend.