Partnership Matters in Bridge
Welcome. In this new blog, I plan to put forth for discussion a number of topics relating to the partnership aspect of the game of bridge. Today’s post will be about how to agree on the meaning of below-game doubles. Bidding methods will keep us occupied for a while; later posts may also visit defensive card play and how to make your partnership the best it can be.
When I sit down with a new partner to discuss methods, I find it essential to come to an agreement about low-level doubles. I suspect there may be no more dangerous area for unfamiliar partnerships. Scores like +1100 and -670 matter a lot.
In my early days of bridge one could assume that, in the absence of agreement to the contrary, the meaning of "double" was that expounded by Goren. The only takeout doubles were those of a suit bid below game, made at the first opportunity, with partner not having made any bid; all other doubles were for penalties. So
1 club (1 spade) double
was for penalties, since partner has bid. It’s not that negative doubles were unknown; they were just not standard.
Now, of course, it is normal to play negative doubles, responsive doubles, game try doubles, snapdragon doubles, support doubles, and so on. These bids are by and large useful, but a modern problem has arisen. When is partner’s double for takeout, when is it for penalties, and when is it something else? Mistakes are likely to be costly; firm understandings are essential.
Many partnerships today have a very simple rule: all doubles below game are for takeout. If my partner in a pick-up game suggests this, I tend to go along, for I am delighted to have a firm, all-encompassing, clear rule. However, I think a serious partnership can do better. Suppose the opponents bid like this:
1 spade – 1 notrump; 2 spades – 2 notrump; 3 spades
If you were to suddenly come into the auction with "double", wouldn’t it have to be for penalty? Is anything else remotely possible? I think most experts would take that double as penalty, whether they had any agreement or not, and even if they had the "all doubles takeout" agreement. But if the double was of two spades (in the same sequence), there might be doubt.
One view that appeals to me is that doubles of suits below game are for takeout "until we have finished bidding". The idea is that low-level doubles are used to help us find our fits and determine what level we should bid to. If the opponents want to bid after that, we can double them for penalty if we so desire. I think there may be something to that, but I don’t know how to define "until we have finished bidding". Does anyone have an answer? In the next post, I will explore some more low-level doubles and how we might agree on what they mean.