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Doubling for penalties


Throughout this site I have emphasised that a double is usually for take-out, at least in principle.


You may or may not have agreed that the double guarantees a four-card major.  In most situations I prefer not, but it is at least highly desirable that the doubling hand should hold one.  It is certainly strongly implied in the first instance, and partner is entitled to bid on this assumption.

In stating that it is primarily for take-out I am suggesting that it suggests a shortage in the opponents’ suit in the first instance, and that it can stand a response in any suit from partner.  However, as the level of bidding rises it is important that the hand contains good defensive values - e.g. quick tricks - as partner is increasingly likely to pass it out.


Still, there must be times when you wish to use the double for its original intended purpose - to punish and to hurt (you are such a sadist).


The first agreement must be that if you play take-out doubles in a wide variety of situations then partner must be prepared to reopen with a take-out double more often than might otherwise be the case.  Such a reopening double suggests a suitable shape for a double and is full value for any bid already made, but it does not promise any extras.


There are however a number of situations in which you can make a direct penalty double yourself.


The specific situations are:-


i) you and your partner have already agreed a suit;

ii) either you or your partner has overcalled in no trumps (but see below);

iii) you opened with 2NT, or an artificial 2NT sequence;

iv) either you or your partner has already made a penalty double or a penalty pass;

v) you opened with an artificial strong two-level bid;

vi) either you or your partner has redoubled partner’s opening one of a suit;

vii) partner doubled an opening one of a suit for take-out, and RHO either changed suit or bid a natural 1NT (but see below).

Beginner and above

J T 6

A K Q 7

8 4

K Q 6 2

Double.

You are not much stronger than your opening bid, but you are full value.

You can stand any new suit from partner, and you have good defensive cards just in case he happens to have a decent hand with diamonds and decides to pass.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO

1

2

-

-

?








Double.

This is for penalties.

You have agreed a suit and so you cannot still be searching for one.

This sequence suggests a flattish hand with a high point-count, and is most likely at favourable vulnerability.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO

1

-

2NT

3

x








This is for penalties.

You have overcalled in no trumps, and in so doing you have declined the opportunity to search for a suit fit.

You also clearly hold some well-placed cards in spades.

Partner has a holding in hearts behind the bid, and is at the top end for a hand which did not open.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



-

1♠

1NT

2

x






I play this bid for take-out by responder but for penalties by opener.

Note that if responder were to pass at this point you would always (certainly at pairs) reopen with a penalty double after opening 2NT.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO

2NT

3

x










This might seem unlikely at first, but this is for penalties.

Partner has already passed your original double for penalties - you cannot still be looking for a suit fit.

Partner holds hearts, you hold diamonds, and life is rosy.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO




1

x

-

-

2

x




This is for penalties, at least in principle.

Following your artificial strong two you will hold either the strong no trump hand, or a spade suit.

This is a favourite situation for psych interference - don’t let them get away with it.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO

2

3

-

-

x








This is for penalties.

An immediate double of an opening no trump is in effect for penalties.

Any subsequent double by either partner will therefore be penalty-orientated.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



-

1NT

x

2

x






This is for penalties.

You have already shown that your side has the balance of points in a non-fit scenario.

Now you have the opportunity to pounce on their attempted escape.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

x

xx

-

-

2

x




This is for penalties.

RHO has bid in one of partner’s suits, and may well have psyched.

Show your spade holding and goodish values.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO


1

x

1♠

x









You made a natural overcall in no trumps and subsequently doubled


As a general rule any double following an overcall in no trumps by either member of the partnership will be for penalties.  Certainly if you have overcalled in no trumps and partner then produces a double it will be for penalties - he knows your strength, he knows that you have a holding in opener’s suit, and he is an excellent position to make such a decision.

On the other hand if you have made an overcall in no trumps which does not promise half the points in the pack and partner has shown no signs of life then you will usually not be strong enough to make a penalty double.  In such a case the double must be for take-out.

A Q

Q J 5 3

A J T

K T 2

The 2 rebid by RHO looks misjudged.

Double by you cannot be for penalties - you know of only seventeen points between you and you don’t even hold spade length.

By all means double for take-out - my choice is pass (see next example).

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



-

1

1NT

-

-

2

?




A Q

Q J 5 3

A J T

K T 2

Partner knows about your fifteen to seventeen points.

Partner knows that you have something in spades.

This double is for penalties.

Pass.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



-

1

1NT

-

-

2

-

-

x


A Q 8 5 3

Q 5 3

A J T

T 2

You would like nothing more than to see your opponents play in 2.

You are not strong enough for 1NT.

Double would be for take-out.

Pass.  If partner makes a take-out double you will pass again.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



-

1

?









You doubled - partner doubled


There are two separate situations here.

The first is that responder raised opener’s suit.

In this situation partner’s double is usually played as responsive.  In effect it is a return take-out double.  If your opponents opened in a major then with a holding in the other major and a few points partner would normally accept your invitation by bidding in that suit.  Partner’s double therefore invites you to choose between the two minor suits.  Similarly if your opponents opened in a minor then partner’s double invites you to choose between the major suits.


The second situation arises when RHO responds in a new suit.

He could be in trouble.  For a start he has bid one of the suits in which partner issued an invitation.

Of course, if you can see a certain major suit fit then you will probably bid it, depending on the vulnerability, but otherwise this might well be the time to punish them.  In particular, when RHO responds in a major there is a fair possibility that he is trying to muddy the waters - doing something of a psychic nature.  Double by you should be for penalties.

8 5 3

Q 5

A J T 7

J T 4 2

Clearly you wish to compete in a minor, but which one?

Double - responsive - inviting partner to choose.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO


1

x

2

?








A 8 5 3

Q J T 5

J T 7

4 2

Clearly you wish to compete in a major, but which one?

Double - responsive - inviting partner to choose.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO


1

x

2

?








A 8 5 3

Q T 5

K J T 7

4 2

He’s got to be joking!

Double, with every hope of a lucrative return.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO


1

x

1

?









You opened 1NT


Many authorities will include auctions in which your partner opened 1NT in the list of penalty doubles.

That is up to you, but I much prefer an alternative use for this bid, and that is ‘showing values’.

Typically this would mean eleven or more points (invitational values), but not promising a holding in the opponents’ suit.  It will frequently be passed by partner for penalties but it is not in itself a penalty double.

This bid teams up particularly well with other aspects of the Lebensohl convention.


The opponents open at the four-level


There is one further specific situation in which, by partnership agreement, double will also be for penalties.


Suppose that your opponents make an opening bid of 4.

You might wish to look for a slam - you might wish to double for penalties.

The solution is to agree to double for penalties and to use 4NT as the take-out device.


You may or not wish to extend this to an opening bid of 4, but there is sense in keeping such a double to promise four spades but with sufficient values for a penalty if a fit is not forthcoming.

It is unlikely that you will wish to use a double of four of a minor as anything other than a constructive take-out bid in search of a major suit contract.


This agreement is easily summed up with the guideline that a double of an opening suit bid will be for take-out below game-level.

A 8 5 3

Q T 5

K J T 7

4 2

Choose between a constructive 3 and a penalty double, depending on the vulnerabilities.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO


1

x

1

?









There is, though, a possible exception to the above and that is when your opponents have bid in both minors.

I have found nothing about this in my researches - it is possible that the following suggestion is totally non-standard -  but you might wish to consider playing double for take-out in this specific situation, and particularly if vulnerable against not.  In effect you would be asking partner to choose his better major.  Don’t just accept this as the norm - discuss it and come to a partnership agreement.

A 8 5 3

Q T 7 5

K J T

4 2

You should come to a partnership agreement on the meaning of a double at this point.

My suggestion in this specific situation is that it should be for take-out, inviting partner to bid his better major.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO


1

x

1

?