Saturday, December 29, 2007

Negative Doubles - Tthe Final Word (Hopefully!)

One would think that after 3 blog posts I would have nothing more to say about negative doubles. I have discovered that trying to put finality to any bridge discussion is like raking up leaves in a windstorm. I was playing south in Ocala on Thursday, paired with Barbara Burgess, a new partner for me, but one of the best in ODBC.

Barbara opened 1 diamond, her LHO bid 2 clubs and I held something like KJxx, Q10xx, Jx, Axx. “Aha”, I said, classic negative double showing both majors, so I pulled out the double card and slid it on the table. Partner now bid 3 hearts. I could not resist the urge to show off a bit, and since I had a squarish 4-4-3-2, I thought I would offer her a choice of games. The thought also occurred to me that Barbara may have started with something like Axx, AQx, xx, Kxxxx and her heart raise could have been a “least worst” choice. In any event, I bid 3NT and Barbara passed. She did have 4 hearts, but a very minimum hand and 3NT "sunk like a rock." Each of us were careful not to start a food fight on the 2nd board of the day, but as it turned out Barbara felt that I only needed one major to make my negative double and that my bid of 3NT said you have hit my short major, but I have a club stopper.

The issue is “does 1d/2c/x guarantee both majors or can that negative double be made with a single major?” I turned to World Champion Mike Lawrence to get his take on this. Mike in his excellent book Double! New Meanings for Old Bids (2002) says in the 1d/2c/x sequence opener’s expectation should be that the negative double shows 4-4 in the majors, but responder can make the call with 4-3 in the majors, or even 4-2 in the majors, if he can afford to escape to 2NT when opener bids his short major. Here are two hands that are not 4-4 in the majors, and yet are good enough, according to our World Champion, to make a negative double after a 1d/2c sequence. (i) JT73, Q8, A742, KJ3 and (ii) J3, AJ83, KJT4, 763. Karen Walker (Bridge Bulletin Columnist) on her web site shows this hand as being good enough for a negative double with 4-3 in the majors: KT63, 762, K72, AJ3. She says that the double shows an invitational hand with a club stopper. Since you started with a negative double rather than 2NT, partner will know that you hold a 4 card major. Well done Karen! Got a game next week?

I also looked in Max Hardy's treatise Standard Bridge Bidding for the 21st Century (2000). Max shows an example KJ86, AJ9, 64, T742. Max is not thrilled about the hand, but says that a negative double is the best of the numerous evil choices. I think it helps that the hand has 4 clubs and 2 heart honors.

I think the bottom line is "Do you have a solution if partner bids your short major suit?" If so, you can afford the luxury of making the negative double with only 2 or 3 cards in one of the majors. So, Barbara was correct that my rebid of 3NT should be interpreted as a warning that “I may be short in hearts.” So much for being clever! If I just bid 4 hearts we go from 0 to 12 match points!

You may be asking what does responder do with 1d/2c/ holding KJxx, Qxx, Axx, xxx. I am open for suggestions, and until I get a good one, I’m going to pass.

While I was studying the problem I glanced down at Mike Lawrence’s discussion of the sequence 1c/1d/x. I knew that showed 4-4 in the majors (no ifs, ands, ors or buts about it!) and this was reading just to restore some of my shattered confidence. I found the agreement I was looking for: the negative double shows both majors, but hold on —Holy Cow – Mike says it doesn’t have to be 4-4; it often can be 5-4 in the majors. Mike suggests that experience shows that there are hands where it is appropriate to double the 1c/1d sequence holding hands like these: AJ73, J8543, 543, 3. He says if you bid 1 heart and the next opponent bids 2 diamonds, you might loose the spade suit. Also with KJ973, Q543, 54, Q3, same idea and same reasoning. If you bid 1 spade opponent can raise diamonds and you may loose a potential heart fit. Even with as much as this: KJ73, AQ762, 32, 82, negative double as well. Mike says that he inquired among his fellow experts and found no rule of thumb, but that he believes you need a good 11 hcps before you try to bid out 5-4 major suit hands in the 1c/1d/ sequence.

Does this contradict the rule that you double when you have a 4 card suit and bid the suit if you have 5 cards in the suit? No, that rule applies only to auctions where your negative double is showing only a single major such as 1d/1h/x. It has no application to auctions that start out with a minor suit opening and a minor suit overcall.

People ask me where I get my ideas for blog posts. Almost all of them are prompted by things I see at the table week in and week out. Most often if you look, at the center of the controversy you will see my face buried in my hands!

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