Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



High-level doubles

I have emphasised throughout this work that doubles are in general for take-out at all levels, except in the specific circumstances listed on the previous page.

There are though one or two specialist uses for the double, particularly in high-level auctions, and also in relation to an artificial bid by your opponents.

The Opponents make a high-level artificial bid

At a low level we chose to double the opponents’ artificial bid in general to show length and strength in the bid suit.  The strength was there to indicate a lead in defence to partner and the length was there to suggest the possibility of a preemptive sacrifice together with some safety in case they decided to let the double stand.

At a high-level we will no longer be suggesting length with such a double.

The artificial bid is likely to be a cue-bid or a control-asking bid.  They were surely not suggesting a new suit at this point in the auction - if that was their intention then they should have done so long before.

The high-level double of an artificial bid is lead-directing.  Sometimes it will suggest a holding of the ace or perhaps the AQ combination. More often than not it will show a void when your opponents appear to be on their way to a suit contract.

Sounds sensible, doesn’t it, but beware

The first trap to be wary of is that you do not make a lead-directing double of a contract which your opponents could conceivably make.

Suppose that your opponents were on their way towards a slightly dodgy contract of 6.  On the way you double their cue-bid of 4 to show a void in the suit.  Are you quite sure that one of them does not have a subsidiary holding in clubs?  4x (possibly +1 or +2) could ensure a less than profitable night’s work.

Secondly, do not make such a lead-directing bid unless partner is likely to be on lead.  Otherwise you are merely giving information to declarer.

And thirdly, it is far from unknown for such a bid to drive declarer from a failing contract in a suit to a making contract in no trumps, or possibly a making contract in a different suit played from the other hand.

The moral:- use such high-level lead-directing bids with considerable caution.

Do not remove them completely from your repertoire - but think before you act.

Doubling for penalties in the competitive auction

In this situation the message is different.  To use a business, or gambling, allusion - there is big money to be made with a competitive double.

It is fair to say that most club players in England do not use the penalty double as frequently as they should - perhaps it is that inbuilt reticence - certainly it is the fear that the opposition might make their contract for an excellent score.


In pairs in particular, you can afford to take the risk.  If your penalty double changes +100 into +200 six times out of ten then it does not matter that on the other four occasions you have changed -140 into - 730.  You have still scored six tops and four bottoms - an excellent bargain.

It has often been written by expert bridge writers that if you have never doubled your opponents into a making game then you don’t double often enough.  I could not agree more.  If you think that you are more likely than not to take them down, and that this would score better than anything you are likely to make then at pairs you should double.  Don’t worry when they make the first such contract - in the long run you will show a good profit.


Here the story is very different.

On the example above you might gain 3 imps six times out of ten, but on the other four occasions you are losing 11 imps - a massive net loss.

This time you dare not double your opponents into game.

Once they have reached game-level it is a different story.  The risks are not nearly so great, but equally the gains are minimal if you are only expecting to take them down by one trick.

As a general rule - do not double for penalties at teams unless you have every expectation of taking them down by at least two tricks. On a bad day they might only go down one, but this is not disastrous.  And even then think twice about it at adverse vulnerability when you might score only 500 as opposed to 620 for a making game your way.

However, there are times when they will be going down by at least two tricks.  You must find the doubles in these situations - 500 as opposed to 200, or 300 as opposed to 100 amounts to a significant swing - and if this sometimes becomes 800 these are trophies which you cannot afford to forgo.

The Lightner double

This will be seen far more often in the newspaper bridge column than it will in any normal level of play.  As with several of the conventions in this chapter it will be a rare performer, but when the right hand comes it can more than repay the memory-work involved.

Quite simply, if the opponents have reached a freely bid slam (you might wish to broaden this context) then a double at slam level invites partner to make an unusual opening lead.  This must be interpreted as best possible.  In general it will not be the un-bid suit nor trumps.  Frequently it will be the first suit bid by dummy.  Almost always you will be showing a void and trying to get an immediate ruff before trumps are cleared.  If partner on lead has a sure entry such as a side-suit ace then he should make a suit-preference lead (e.g. lead an honour asking for a spade return), which will ensure the second trick to defeat the slam and might lead to a second ruffing trick.

But beware - if the ‘unusual’ lead is not obvious then the wrong choice can prove expensive (perhaps a doubled overtrick).  For this reason you may wish to confine your use of the convention to ask for a specific suit, remaining discreetly silent when the required lead is something else.

A double of 3NT

When you are on lead there is little point in such a double if it is not to be a straight penalty double.  Usually it will suggest a solid suit, or a near-solid suit together with an outside entry.

Beware though, that you do not drive your opponents from a doomed contract into a safer haven.  Each case will have to be judged on its merits.

When your partner is on lead it is a different matter.

Again, the bid shows a solid or a near-solid suit which will probably take the contract down provided that partner can find the right lead.

Rather than leading from one of his more promising holdings partner should then search for your long suit, which will usually involve the lead of a short suit as the best chance, and will frequently suggest the lead of a suit bid by the opponents.

Beginner and above