Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



The take-out double

covers a number of situations, but the underlying rule is that its primary purpose is to show shape.

I firmly believe that many partnerships will be able to add greatly to their bidding repertoire by refining their use of the take-out double - in particular clarifying the various specific hand-types on which it may be used.

I have included a number of sequences even for the near-beginner which extend well beyond the methods usually taught in the early stages.  This is deliberate.  A sound basic definition of the take-out double and the versatility offered by various extended sequences provides the cornerstone for the whole structure of competitive bidding over the opponents’ one of a suit.

Note that those who do double on the hand above will probably rebid 1NT over a 1 response.

Again, this is a workable method but you will find yourself with no way of showing a strong (say 19+ point) no trump overcall.

A K T 9 6

7 6 3

J 3

K Q 8

Opponents opened 1.

The first message given by a take-out double is that you are inviting partner to choose a suit.  Here you do not wish to offer such an invitation - you have a perfectly good suit of your own.

Bid 1.  It is limited as we shall see, but it does not deny opening values.

A K T 9 6

K 7 6 3

J 3

Q 8

Opponents opened 1.

At one time everyone would have doubled on this hand, showing the opening strength and bringing both majors into play.  Modern style is to bid 1 - emphasising the excellent five-card suit.

You may get a further opportunity to double in search for a heart fit.

A Q 9 6


T 9 5 3

A J 6 4

Opponents opened 1.

Only eleven points, and not an opening hand, but the shape is perfect for take-out.


A Q 6

9 7

T 9 5 3

A Q 6 4

Opponents opened 1.

Twelve points in a balanced hand with a doubleton in the opponents’ suit.

I double at pairs, and in other situations with some partners.

Other partnerships might require a little more before entering the fray.

Variations on the simple rule

I will suggest two possible variations on this simple rules above, although I stand by the basic concept.

Raising to the two-level on an eight-card fit

If partner responds to my take-out double at the one-level and I have four cards in that suit then I will raise to the two-level without promising any additional strength - this is subject to partnership agreement.

Modern usage

You will not find  the method above in the repertoire of the better modern-day players.

It is not that this is an unplayable system, but it is severely limited.

It stems from a time when the priority of the overcalling side was to locate a making contract their way.  This has not been the first or only priority when overcalling for many a long year.  It is more often important to suggest a suit for a competitive sacrifice, or to suggest a defensive lead to partner.  The immediate overcall will usually be your only opportunity to give such information.


So when do we double?

Short in the opponents’ suit

This is the basic take-out double, inviting partner to bid in any one of the other three suits.

It is also the hand-type which partner should assume initially when responding to the double.

Appropriate hands will have no more than two cards in the opponents’ suit and at least three cards in each of the other three suits.

Ideally they will contain a four-card major as this will be your primary means of searching for a fit in such a suit, but it will not always be the case.

4-4-4-1 hands are ideal for this treatment.

With this perfect shape I double on slightly less than opening values (perhaps a minimum of about ten) and all points North.

4-4-3-2 and 5-3-3-2 (no biddable five-card suit) are slightly more debatable.

Being balanced they are inevitably rather more defensive in nature.  Many pairs will be happy to sit back and defend with these shapes when in the weak no trump range.

At pairs scoring I will double with twelve points and a doubleton in the opponents’ suit so as to introduce a little low-level disruption.

Some partners - and this might also be your choice at imps scoring - will prefer to hold rather more to increase the chances of a constructive auction your way, or possibly a subsequent penalty double.  If so you will agree a minimum of something like fifteen points.

Beginner and above

The second piece of misinformation is the suggestion that any overcall other than double suggests less than opening values.

Many hands are better described by the bid of a suit rather than by a double, even when they contain opening values.  This is particularly the case when they contain a decent five-card major or a suit which you would like partner to lead in defence.

A 9

A Q 3

Q T 6 3

A K 8 5

Opponents opened 1.

If a 1NT overcall shows 15 to 18 (say) and double followed by 1NT does not promise additional values then how do you show this hand?

Double first, planning to rebid 1NT.

A 9

7 6 3

J T 5 3

A K Q 6

Opponents opened 1.

You would not hesitate to open this hand, but you do not have a bid in the immediate overcall position.

No five-card suit for a suit overcall, and what do you do next when you double and partner responds 1?

Pass.  This hand is defensive - sit back and defend.

Beginner and above

Old..old..old style

Many beginners are given grossly oversimplified advice regarding the use of an immediate take-out double when they first learn, and it can be difficult to remove the shackles of such an early misconception or limited view.

Broadly speaking this dubious advice goes along the lines of ‘If you have an opening hand then you must double - any other lowest-level bid in a new suit or a pass denies opening values’.

It is oversimplified in two ways.

The first of these is the suggestion that you should always double if you hold an opening hand.

Not recommended

Advancer’s next bid

This page last revised 21st Jun 2020

Context - overcaller - opponents opened one of a suit (natural).

Too strong for a suit overcall

The definition of too strong for a suit overcall is one of the most significant changes from an earlier time.

As indicated above the requirement for a ‘strong’ hand when overcalling used to be ‘opening values’.  Suit overcalls therefore tended to have a maximum strength somewhere around eleven points.

These days almost all good players will set a higher limit.

In the following I shall a set a top limit of sixteen for a suit overcall, therefore doubling with seventeen or more.  This is consistent with the guideline given by EBED (the teaching arm of the ebu) in their beginner’s course.

But having said that many expert partnerships will set the limit even higher.

Suit overcalls on anything up to eighteen points with double and new suit sequences promising nineteen plus are far from unknown.  (If anything I have a slight personal preference for one of the higher limits.  You will find yourself in the very best of company if you choose to follow such a route.)


a suit overcall will promise at least a good five-card suit (or possibly a longer suit of lesser quality, and up to sixteen points;

a double followed by a pass will show a three-suited hand (as described above) with up to sixteen points;

a double followed by a bid in a new suit will promise at least a five-card suit (or just possibly a four-card suit in a 4-4-4-1 hand) with seventeen or more points (but see scrambling sequences - below).

The requirements for a good suit are discussed in new suit at the lowest level.

Note that ‘a hand good enough for an opening bid’ is not in itself sufficient reason to warrant an overcall or a double.  In particular hands which would open a weak 1NT will frequently pass rather than overcall.

A K J 4

A Q 6

T 9

A Q 6 4

Opponents opened 1.

Twenty points in a balanced hand with excellent heart stops.

Double, then rebid 1NT.

A K J T 4

A Q 6

T 9

A 6 4

Opponents opened 1.

Eighteen points with an excellent five-card spade spade.

Double, then rebid in spades.

1NT is also possible, but I prefer to bring that spade suit into play as quickly as possible.

A Q 9 6


Q T 5 3

A J 6 4

Opponents opened 1.


I will raise 1 to the two-level without promising any additional strength and I will pass partner’s response in either minor suit.

A Q 9 6


A Q J 3

K Q 6 4

Opponents open 1.


I will raise partner’s response of 1 or two of a minor to the three-level, thereby promising a four-four fit and at least seventeen points.

Of course, if you adopt this approach, then you will have to bid in a more vigorous manner when you do have the stronger holding.

Intermediate and above

Scrambling sequences

My second variation on the simple rule (above) comes in the form of ‘the equal-level conversion’.

This is an example of a scrambling sequence which will help you show some of those 5-4 hands which would otherwise be difficult.

It is discussed on its own page

scrambling sequences

Beginner and above

Protective seat

The underlying principles in respect of bidding in the protective seat have already been considered under ‘considerations and principles’.

In the present context of an opening bid of one of a suit from LHO followed by two passes you will double on the three-suited hand with as few as nine points.

This is one particular situation in which the old guideline to ‘borrow a king’ applies.

Note that you should not lower your requirements any further than this - partner might be planning a penalty pass which will require some degree of defence in your hand.


I have suggested that an overcall of 1NT in the protective seat should show about 11 to 15.

The double followed by a rebid in no trumps will therefor show something like 16+ points.


Q 9 7 4

K 8 5 2

A T 8 4

Opponents opened 1 followed by two passes.

Not strong enough to double in the immediate overcall position, but you must double in the protective seat.

A Q 9 6

K 4

K Q 2

Q T 8 4

Opponents opened 1 followed by two passes.

Sixteen points in a balanced hand with an excellent stop in spades.

if you overcall an overcall in no trumps on 11 -15 in this position you must double first and then rebid in no trumps at the lowest level on your rebid.

Other strong hands

With other strong hands in the protective seat agree whichever of the following two methods you and your partner are most likely to remember:-

either play suit overcalls up to sixteen points and double with 17+ (or as agreed) as in the immediate overcall position, or limit your suit overcalls to about fourteen points and double first with fifteen or more.

My feeling is that the second option is a clear winner in terms of logic as you now overcall on seriously weak holdings, but by all means stick with the first if you are happier with it.

5-4 shape

I have bypassed 5-4 hands in the analysis above.

5-4-4-0 and 5-4-3-1 shapes both lend themselves to a take-out double, but would you rather bid your good five-card suit?

The 5-4-2-2 hand with 5-4 in the majors might also climb into this problem category.

The problem is addressed on the page 5-4 shape.

Too strong for 1NT

An overcall of 1NT is typically played on a range of 15 to 18.

With a hand suitable for an overcall in no trumps containing 19 or more points you should double first and then rebid in no trumps.

The shape required for such a sequence will be the same as for a 1NT overcall.

Note that 2NT as an immediate overcall is almost invariably given a conventional meaning.