Default Agreements: Was that a penalty double ?
Part 1 -- Standard penalty situations.
Have you ever heard (or participated in) a discussion like this after a "creative" double had backfired?
EAST: Minus 670! Partner, how could you pass my double? WEST: I thought it was for penalty. EAST: No, no, no. It was penalty-oriented and cooperative. WEST: You mean it was mainly for takeout? EAST: Not exactly. It showed transferable values. WEST: So can I pass it, or can't I?
Just a few decades or so ago, bridge players seldom had this type of misunderstanding. Back then, there were only a few well-defined situations where a double was takeout, and almost all other doubles were "for business".
In recent years, competitive bidding has become much more lively, and players have developed new meanings for many olDfashioned penalty doubles. Some modern doubleS- including negative, responsive, support and maximal -- are conventional and apply only in clearly defined situations. OtherS- including those called cooperative, two-way, re-takeout, action, informative -- aren't as easy to define because they are often used in more complicated auctions.
These modern doubles make competitive bidding more flexible and accurate, but they also create more opportunities for misunderstandings, even for established partnerships. There are so many uses for the double now that it's virtually impossible to discuss every situation that might come up at the table. Instead, many players develop general "default" agreements that can apply to a wide range of auctions.
The modern practice seems to be "when in doubt, it's takeout". If you follow this general approach, it's easier to define your penalty doubles than to discuss all the auctions where a double is something else. You can start with this list, which summarizes some "universal" default agreements. These are basic situations where (barring a convention or partnership agreement to the contrary) most players assume that the doubler's intention is penalty:
Default: It's a penalty double if:
1. We double a natural notrump call.
Direct doubles of 1NT opening bids and overcalls tend to be "pure" penalty, and the doubler's partner usually passes. This also applies to balancing notrumps and notrump bids after any takeout double (ours or theirs). Defining exactly what constitutes a "natural" notrump call in other situations, however, is a subject for your default agreements. We'll discuss these doubles in the next article.
2. Either of us has bid a natural notrump earlier in the auction.
3. Either of us has made an earlier penalty double (or a penalty pass of a takeout double).
4. Either of us has made a carDshowing double or redouble earlier.
5. Either of us has preempted.
This includes doubles made after we open make a preemptive opening bid, a weak jump overcall, a weak jump shift or a preemptive raise. The doubler will usually be the preempter's partner, although the weak hand may be the one making a penalty double if his partner has shown strength.
6. Either of us has made an earlier leaDdirecting double of an artificial bid.
7. There are NO unbid suits.
This includes auctions in which all four suits haven't been directly bid, but have been shown or implied, as in:
Partner RHO You LHO
(1) 1S 2NT * Pass 3H * (Unusual for minors) DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
(2) 1D Pass 1S DBL Pass 2H DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
This definition of a penalty double is often extended to include auctions where there's just one unbid suit. There are so many exceptions to this, though, that it doesn't really qualify as a blanket agreement.
8. We've already found our fit.
One of the most common situations is when an opponent overcalls or balances after you've made a simple raise:
Partner RHO You LHO
1S Pass 2S 3C DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
9. It's made late in the auction.
There's no question that a double is for penalty after the opponents bid 1S2S4S, but other higHlevel doubles can lead to misunderstandings. Depending on the auction and your agreements (or lack of them), a double may suggest more than just a trump stack. Does it direct a lead? Is it pure penalty if one of us has bid earlier? And how late is "late"? These are questions for your default agreements.
10. The doubler's partner has accurately described his strength and distribution.
This one is a little harder to pinpoint, and tends to fall into the "when-in-doubt" category. It's a broad principle that encompasses many of the situations above. It can also apply in auctions where we've each had an earlier opportunity to make a constructive call, such as:
Partner RHO You LHO
(1) 1C 1H 1S Pass 2C 2H DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
(2) 1D Pass 1H Pass 1S 2C DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
This by no means a comprehensive list. There are other situations where a double can be for penalty, and modern bidding has developed some almost-standard exceptions to some of these old rules. The definitions above, however, can serve as a starting point for discussions with your regular partner, or as a fall-back set of agreements with a new partner.
In upcoming articles, we'll discuss some popular modifications to these guidelines and recommend simple default agreements you can use to cover ambiguous doubles.
Default Agreements: Was that a penalty double ?
Part 2 -- We double a natural notrump bid.
What type of hand do you expect your partner to have for his double in this auction?
LHO Partner RHO You
1C Pass 1H Pass 1NT DBL
Does he have a hand that was too short in heartS- or too weak in higHcardS- to make a first-round takeout double? Or is this a penalty double?
In the last article, we listed ten standard situations where, absent a convention or other existing agreement, a double is for penalty. The first one was:
Default #1: It's penalty if we double a natural notrump call.
The most common situations are direct doubles of 1NT openings and overcalls, which are seldom misunderstood. Doubles in other auctions, however, may be misinterpreted if you don't have a general agreement to cover them.
One example is the auction above, which causes trouble for many pairs. Is the double still penalty if it's a 1NT rebid? If the doubler is a passed hand? There's also the problem of deciding exactly what constitutes a "natural" notrump bid.
Here's a basic set of agreements you can use to sort out your doubles of notrump bids. These are "modern standard" interpretationS- the meanings I would assume if these doubles came up in a new partnership with an experienced player. Also included are some popular treatments you may want to discuss with your regular partner.
When the opponents overcall 1NT:
If we open the bidding and an opponent bids notrump, the general default is that a double by either of us is penalty. Depending on the situation, some of these doubles virtually command partner to pass; others are just strong suggestions.
The one that's closest to being a command is when you double a direct 1NT overcall of your partner's opening suit bid. You expect partner to pass, although he may pull with a very unusual hand.
If it's opener who doubles 1NT, (as in 1C1NT-PasSP / DBL), it shows 18+ points, whether it's a direct or balancing 1NT. In either case, his partner will often pass, but can pull if he has a very weak hand with a long suit or length in opener's suit.
What if it's an "unnatural" 1NT? If your opponent makes a "sandwich" 1NT overcall (1CPasS1H1NT to show a weak two-suiter), you may want to adopt a different meaning for a double. We'll discuss doubles of artificial bids in an future article.
When the opponents open 1NT:
Some players like to double 1NT with almost any hand that has at least the same strength as opener. This is a poor strategy. Since your partner may have a super-weak hand with nowhere to go, it's much wiser to promise a better hand than opener.
Essentially, this means that the higher your opponent's notrump range, the greater your intention to penalize -- and the more likely partner is to pass. Partner won't usually pull a double of a strong 1NT unless he has a very weak hand with a long suit.
When doubling a strong 1NT, one of your most important considerations is having a strong (or at least safe) suit to lead. You'd be happy to double 1NT with AK 1092 KQJ1076 K7 . That hand is only 16 points, but it rates to take more tricks than an 18-count like AQ2 KJ5 KJ643 KJ, which you should pass.
If it seems like these strict requirements mean you'll seldom be making penalty doubles of strong notrumps, you're right. That's why many popular conventions use the double to show a one-suited hand.
Doubles of weak notrumps (ranges of 10-12 and up) should promise a little more than the top of the opponent's range. A double of a 10-12 notrump, for example, should promise at least a good 13-count. These doubles still suggest penalizing 1NT, but partner will pull them more often than doubles of strong notrumps.
Your strategy should change somewhat in the pasSout seat, so you may want to lighten up these doubles at some vulnerabilities. If you're white vs. red, it can be valuable to play that a balancing double (1NT-PasSPasSDBL) promises only 11-12+ points. This can net you a large penalty when partner has 9-10 points and passes. Even if he's weak and has to pull, you'll often have a safe spot at the 2-level.
When the opponents rebid or respond 1NT:
Your general default -- doubles of natural notrumps are penalty -- also applies in longer auctions where you or the opponents start with a suit overcall or takeout double. If either opponent responds or rebids a natural notrump later, your double is still penalty.
One example is when an opponent responds 1NT after your side makes a takeout double. In the auction 1HDBL-1NT-DBL, the last double is pure penalty, and partner will almost always pass. The double becomes more optional if it's made by the takeout doubler (as in 1HDBL-1NT-P / PasSDBL). He shows 17+ pts. and suggests penalizing 1NT, but partner is free to pull if he has a very weak hand with a long unbid suit.
A trickier situation is a delayed double of a 1NT response or rebid. This is the problem at the beginning of this article. Some pairs play this double as takeout (see below), but if you have no agreement, you apply your default, which means it would be penalty. It shows a trap-pass with length in the suit bid on the doubler's right, so it also suggests a lead. In the example auction, partner -- who might hold K7 A105 K76 KJ1086 -- wants you to pass. If you were on lead, you would lead a club.
When is a double of 1NT for takeout?
The value of this default is that it can be applied to so many auctions, but there are some important exceptions. One is a direct double of a 1NT response (1HPasS1NT-DBL), which is best played as takeout of opener's suit. This double promises a good hand, but it's not intended as penalty. Your default agreements should define 1NT responses (both the standard and forcing varieties) as non-natural notrumps.
You can also make an exception for the delayed double in the auction at the beginning of this article. If you prefer to play this as takeout, it would show a decent hand that had the wrong distribution for a first-round double. The obvious reason is that the doubler was short in the suit bid on his left. In the auction at the beginning of the article, partner might hold K1075 84 AK54 K93.
Whether you choose to play the delayed double of 1NT as penalty or takeout, note that it always implies a good hand and at least moderate length in the suit bid on the doubler's right. This means that if you double and partner bids opener's suit (1CPasS1HPass / 1NT-DBL-PasS2C), it's not a cuebiD- he wants to play there.
You should also keep the penalty meaning if the delayed double is made under any other conditionS- after a longer auction (for example, if the opponents bid 1C1H1S1NT) or in the pasSout seat. In the auction we started with, suppose partner had passed 1NT and you had doubled (1CPasS1HPass / 1NT-PasSPasSDBL). It doesn't make much sense to play this as takeout, since you could have shown the other two suits by doubling on the last round. Instead, it should promise a good hand with heart length and strength.
Another common use of the penalty double is in auctions where your side bids notrump. In the next article, we'll discuss standard treatments for these doubles and some popular "expert" default agreements you can use to compete more effectively.
Default Agreements: Was that a penalty double ?
Part 3 -- Doubles after we've bid notrump
Does your partnership have clear agreements about the meanings of these doubles?
Partner RHO You LHO
(1) 1NT Pass Pass 2H DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
(2) 1NT 2H Pass Pass DBL
(3) 1NT 3C DBL
(4) 1S Pass 1NT 2D DBL (or Pass, Pass, DBL)
In the first article in this series, we listed ten standard situations where, absent a special agreement to the contrary, a double is for penalty. The second one was:
Default #2: It's a penalty double if either of us has bid a natural notrump earlier in the auction.
The advantage of this agreement is its simplicity. It applies to any double in any auction where you've opened, responded or rebid a natural notrump. If you follow it explicitly, all the doubles above would be penalty.
However, if this alwaySfor-penalty agreement seems inflexible to you, you have lots of company. Many pairs who follow this general default make exceptions for some doubles. A few of these treatments are so popular among experienced players that they might be called "expert standard".
One common situation is when you open 1NT and an opponent makes a 2-level overcall (Auctions #1 and #2 above). To improve your use of doubles here, you might want to start with this all-purpose default agreement, which can actually be used to interpret ambiguous doubles in almost any type of auction:
Default: When in doubt, if the double is over the bidder, it's penalty. If it's under the bidder, it's takeout.
This is based on the idea that you're most likely to want to penalize an overcall when your trumps are sitting over the long suit. Onside penalty doubles are less attractive, so this agreement gives you a way to compete when you have shortness in the overcalled suit.
If you apply this default to Auction #1 above, opener's double is clearly penalty because the overcall was on his right (his trumps are over the bidder). He should have a maximum with strong trumps: A6 AJ106 AQ93 J102.
In Auction #2, opener's double is takeout because the overcall was on his left. His double shows shortness in the opponent's suit (best is a weak doubleton) and good support for the other three suits. In most cases, he'll also have more than a minimum -- a hand like: AK86 62 KQ103 A108. This extra strength adds some safety if you have trump length and want to pass the double.
The same default applies to responder's doubles. In Auction #1, if opener had passed 2H and you had doubled in the pasSout seat, it would be takeout because you're under the bidder. You might hold Q1054 62 KQ8 10975. In Auction #2, if you had doubled the direct 2H overcall, it would be penalty.
Some pairs have the additional agreement that if responder uses the takeout double, he promises at least a doubleton in the overcalled suit. The advantage is that opener can make a better decision about whether to bid or pass for penalty. The downside is that you won't be able to double when you have a singleton in their suit, which is the hand most suitablefor takeout.
After conventional overcalls:
Natural overcalls over 1NT openers are rare these days, so you need to be ready for artificial and two-suited bids. Some of these conventions add an extra round to the auction, but your default still applies: a double over the hand that showed the suit (even if his partner becomes declarer) is penalty; a double under that hand is takeout.
Here's how your default agreement works if partner opens 1NT and your RHO makes a conventional overcall:
- Over 2C (unspecified one-suiter) -- use double as Stayman. If you pass first and then double RHO's runout, it's penalty since you're over the bidder. If you pass and partner doubles the runout, it's takeout.
- Over a double (unspecified one-suiter) -- play "system-on" (2C Stayman, transfers, etc.). Redouble shows invitational-or-better strength and suggests you might want to penalize the runout. If you pass first and then double the runout, it's still penalty, but implies a hand weaker in higHcard points.
- Over a two-suited overcall that names one of the suit (2C for clubs and another suit, or 2S for spades and a minor) -- double is penalty of the bid suit. If you pass and partner doubles that suit or the overcaller's second suit, it's takeout.
- Over an artificial two-suited overcall (2C or 2D for the majors) -- double shows invitational-or-better strength and suggests you have a penalty double of one or both of the overcaller's suits.
After three-level overcalls:
If you have a decent responding hand, Auction #3 above is a tougher problem. The jump overcall has taken away most of your bidding tools, including Stayman, transfers and Lebensohl. And since the overcaller has a very long suit, you usually don't rate to get rich by doubling.
This is why some pairs use 3-level negative doubles in their notrump systems. If the overcall is 2NT or 3 of a suit, responder's double is similar to Stayman. It shows forcing-to-game values and asks opener to bid 4-card suits up the line. Direct doubles of 2-level overcalls are still penalty, since they allow you room to use other bids to check for majors and stoppers.
Negative doubles are a great solution when you have a game-going hand with a major, but they take away the direct penalty double. If you have a "real" penalty double, you'll have to pass and hope partner can re-open with a takeout double.
After notrump rebids and responses:
Another use of the penalty double comes after your side opens a suit and responds or rebids 1NT. This includes simple auctions like 1D by you - 1NT by partner - 2C by RHO - DBL by you. Your general default defines all your doubles in these auctions as penalty, and that's a good agreement to keep for most situations.
An exception you might want to consider is for opener's direct double after his partner responds a forcing 1NT, as in Auction #4 above. One approach is to use this double to show extra values and shortness (two or fewer cards) in the overcalled suit. This solves opener's problem when he holds a hand like AK863 AQ8 6 KJ65, which would be hard to describe otherwise. If opener instead bids a new suit over the overcall, it promises a "real" 5-card suit and denies extra values.
Some pairs add the requirement that opener's double promises at least a doubleton in the opponent's suit. This makes it easier for responder to pass for penalty, but it limits opener's options when he holds a singleton, as in the hand above.
Whichever approach you choose for Auction #4, you should follow your general default in all other auctions where you rebid or respond notrump. A double is still penalty if the opening bid was a minor or if it's made by the 1NT bidder.
Copyright 1997 -- Karen Walker