Sunday, December 5, 2010

Double Trouble

This post is about taking a second bid after you have made a take out double. Noted expert Max Hardy (RIP) stated:

After making a take out double be careful not to get too excited when partner bids a suit you have suggested. Remember that partner’s call is a simple raise of a suit that your take out double has suggested. If your original call has shown all of your values you have no license to bid further even through you are pleased with what you have heard from partner. Perhaps the most common bidding error is a restatement of the same values that a take out bidder has already shown.

Actually, if this post ended right here it would rank among my most important. Have you ever heard “don’t bid the same values and hand twice!

I am not known for brevity, so I’ll pursue more definitively what it requires to double and then bid? Expert Marshall Miles in Competitive Bidding for the 21st Century (2000) states “the best rule (for simple overcalls), although it is not always easy to apply, is that you shouldn’t be so strong that you are likely to miss game if partner fails to take action.” Max Hardy says “the (double and bid) auction shows a hand with fine values whose bidder feared that an overcall might be passed and game missed.” These are sensible rules, but you have to know the minimum level at which partner will protect you if you make a simple overcall.

In most practical discussions of ”double and bid” requirements we find that the hand should be one that has a strong suit that you would like to bid but is too strong for a simple overcall. Every time you fill out a convention card you take a position on simple overcalls in terms of high card points. The convention card asks you for the hcp range of your simple overcalls. Realizing that it can’t simply be a fixed number, the ACBL adds the work “usually.” So if you write in 8 to 16 (not uncommon) that means that normally your double and bid action starts at 17 hcps. “Normally” performs an important function, it allows you to apply discretion, the essence of duplicate bridge.

You can often tell the sophistication of bridge players by their “double and bid” action. A beginner will say “I do it whenever I feel like taking another bid in the auction.” The novice will profess to hold to the 17 standard, but slip and slide a little. If a 15 or 16 comes along they start worrying that partner won’t know that they have more than 8 hcps and just crank up another bid. Then we have the intermediates who never double and bid without 17, but of course they are prone to counting distributional points even though they have no known fit. If you are a “slipper and slider”, don’t blame partner if he puts you in game with a good 6 or 7 hcps.on hands with only 17 hcps. Here are some examples hands that experts feel warrant double and bid action:

Marshall Miles: AJ5, AJT763, AQ, K7. With K874, K9, 9865, 654 there is a good play for game, but partner will surely pass if you make a simple overcall. Double and bid hearts. Good suit and 19 hcps.

Max Hardy: A6, AKJ975, AQ6, 83. With K543, T2, K872, 654 you don’t want partner to pass. Sound the alarm, double and bid hearts with these 18 hcps.

Wednesday Night Void, AJT965, AK6, A943. I can hear the snarls now, only 16 hcps! Remember we mentioned “Usually” and “discretion?” Just picture pard with 843, K842, 732, 652. Four hearts is cold but you will never hear from him if you start with an overcall,

Allan DeSerpa, author of Principles of Logical Bidding (1997), explains that when you double and bid, you have to be prepared to show your suit if the opponents bid and raise. If you do not, they will bury your suit. Suppose you have this hand: AJx, AJ432, Ax, AJ, with 19 hcps. The opponents bid and raise spades. Do you want to bid 3 hearts on your own in the auction at any vulnerability? If you do, make sure you have an understanding partner. In matchpoints it could just be a board, but in IMP’s it could be a long drive (or even a bus ride) home.

I was watching the finals of the Australian National Team Matches on BBO recently. It was a pair of grizzled veterans against a pair of juniors. A club was opened on the right and one of the oldsters held AQT2, AQJT5, QTx, xx. Opener wanted to bid his heart suit but he was worried about losing the potential spade fit, so he took his chances and doubled. Opener’s partner bid 3 clubs, so to stay in the auction overcaller now bid his hearts!! The commentator stated that he didn’t have the values for the bid and that there is a new and better way to show this hand without overstating it. Bid hearts first and then double when the club raise comes back around. This would have resulted in finding the spade fit at the 3 level instead of playing 4 hearts going down.

I grabbed my keyboard and in what looked more like polish than English asked what the “bid and double” required. The commentator said it shows a good hand, a good suit and a tolerance for the other unbid suits. I later jumped to a web site that I really like called In an overcall discussion I saw this hand as an example with one club opened on the right. The hand in 2nd position held AK632, AQ72, Q975, void.

The commentating expert said that overcaller had a good suit but should overcall 1 spade rather than double. He said the hand is a good hand but still an Ace or King short for “double and bid.” The auction went 1c/1s/2c/p/p/x. It was said that the double following the overcall completes the description of overcaller’s hand, 5 spades, a good hand and support for the unbid suits. So maybe if you don’t have enough to double and bid, you can bid and then double. Double trouble, discuss it with your partner.

I realize that there may be “conventional” ways to alleviate some of these problems such as “top and bottom cue bids” and "equal level conversion doubles.” Maybe I will explain one or the other some time, but they are really at a level beyond the scope of my intended readership.

The final situation to be discussed is a matchpoint issue that comes up in competitive bidding. Assume that you have made a take out double of a 1 spade opener with this hand x, Qxxx, Qxx, AKJxx. Following a pass by responder and advancer bids 2 clubs! and Opener now bids 2 spades. For sure overcaller wants to compete to 3 clubs, even on the law of total tricks, but how does partner know that your 3 club bid (a double and bid situation) is only competitive and not this hand: void, KQxx, KQxx, AKJTx? For some the answer is a cue bid of 3 spades, but now you have taken up a lot of space and a level higher. A second double might work, but it has risks of clarity. Does it show both a club fit and a big hand? Not really.

In this situation I prefer a partnership agreement that if overcaller bids 2NT (Alert) over 2 spades, it is a relay asking advancer to rebid clubs at the 3 level to play. If instead, doubler bids 3 clubs over 2 spades, it shows the big hand with a club fit and game interest.

Thanks to my loyal readership and my new readers as well, including Jay who just joined us from Thailand.

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