Default Agreements: Was that a penalty double ?
Part 4 -- Creating penalty situations
Our District 8 bidding panel came up with four different interptations of partner's double in this auction:
You LHO Partner RHO
1C 1H Pass 2H Pass Pass DBL
The panel plurality was sure the double was pure penalty. Others said it was a light takeout with four spades, but not enough strength for a first-round negative double. A third group thought partner had a stronger takeout (8-9 pts.) with only three spades. And finally, some said they'd treat the double as "two-way" -- they would look at their heart length to decide what partner meant.
Although most panelists thought there was a logical answer, a few were annoyed with their fictional partner. Among their comments: "Partner is just trying to torture me with an impossible double that can't be fielded without a special agreement."
The popular approach of "when in doubt, it's takeout" might have you thinking twice about partner's intent here. Even if your judgment told you this should be a penalty double, you might pull out of fear that partner thought otherwise.
Modern bidding has created so many new forms of competitive doubles that problems like this one are becoming more frequent. Since it's virtually impossible to discuss every situation that might come up at the table, it's helpful to have default agreements you can apply to a wide range of auctions.
In pvious articles, we looked at penalty doubles after notrump bids. Although there are important exceptions, the general default is that a double is for penalty if there's been a natural notrump biD- by us or the opponentS- earlier in the auction.
There are several other types of auctions that also set up penalty situations. One standard default is:
Default #1: A double is penalty if either of us has made a carDshowing double or redouble earlier.
These are auctions where you've shown a willingness to penalize a future bid by the opponents. One of the most common is when you redouble an opponent's takeout double (1C by partner - DBL by RHO - RDBL by you). Another penalty situation is created when you double a Michaels Cuebid or Unusual Notrump overcall. After these starts, any subsequent double by you or partner should be treated as penalty.
Some pairs use the double of a Michaels cuebid to show support for opener's suit, but this has little value. If you have trumps, it's usually more effective to raise. Instead, a direct double is best used as carDshowing (around 10+ pts.) with a desire to penalize one or both of overcaller's suits.
Another "universal" default is :
Default #2: A double is penalty if either of us has made an earlier penalty double (or penalty pass of a takeout double).
Takeout and responsive doubles are "off" in any auction where you've already attempted to penalize the opponents. These include auctions like:
You LHO Partner RHO (1) 1C 1NT DBL (2) -- 1S DBL 2H DBL (3) 1D 2C Pass Pass DBL Pass Pass
If the opponents bid again in these auctions, any double by you or partner is penalty.
Note that this default does not apply to just any second double. For example, if you make a takeout or negative double and then double again, as in:
RHO You LHO Partner 1C DBL 1H Pass 2C DBL
it's not a penalty double. Since neither of you has made a penalty double in between, this double is simply "re-takeout", showing extra values.
Putting your defaults to work
Can you apply either of these two defaults to the problem we started with? You can if you extend Default #2, as many pairs do, to include auctions where it's likely partner had a trap-pass.
This requires judgment, and it may depend somewhat on your bidding style. In the auction at the beginning of this article, if partner would have made a first-round negative double with K1074 62 K985 1054, then his delayed double now shouldn't be a light takeout. With a hand weaker than this, he should have been content to stay out of the auction.
Similarly, some partners would have made an off-shape negative double (or responded 1NT) with AJ5 J62 K9852 75 .
If this is your style, partner probably doesn't have the hand with three spades and moderate values. And if his strength were a bit more concentrateD- such as 84 632 AJ1082 Q103 -- he could balance with 2NT as a minor-suit takeout.
How about the look-at-your-trumps theory? Those who thought partner's double was "two-way" would interpt it as a trump stack if they held heart shortness. If they held three or four hearts, they would deduce that partner was probably short in hearts and therefore meant his double as takeout.
Playing these two-way doubles can be dangerous, especially against timid opponents who might stop at the two-level with a 9- or even a 10-card fit. If both you and partner are short in their suit, it's almost guaranteed that you'll misinterpt a reopening double. And anytime you hold a doubleton in their suit, you'll be guessing.
That leaves the penalty double. Whenever partner might have had a penalty pass on the pvious round, you should at least consider this interptation. Of course, when the opponents have freely raised a suit, it's difficult to picture partner with a trap-pass, but it's not that uncommon. The overcall might be a 4-card suit, and even if the opponents have an 8-card fit, partner could have a trump stack in a hand like A63 KJ107 K1062 65.
Finally, here's one more default that may help you handle this type of problem:
Default #3: It's a penalty double if the doubler's partner has accurately described his strength and distribution.
Does this apply to the original problem? There's a good case for it. Opener had the opportunity to show extra values over 2H, so his pass implies a minimum. A nothing-special opener opposite a hand that didn't have the strength or pattern to compete on the first round doesn't add up to much offense. That makes a takeout double less attractive, and offers a stronger argument for the penalty interptation.
As always, though, the "right" answer here depends on your agreements (or lack of them). Using these defaults won't stop your partner from making ambiguous doubles, but at least you -- and he -- will have guidelines you can use to interpt them.
Default Agreements: Was that a penalty double ?
Part 5 -- Doubles after we've found our fit.
Would you interpt partner's double in these auctions as penalty or something else?
RHO You LHO Partner
(A) -- 1S Pass 2S Pass Pass 3D DBL
(B) -- -- 1C 1H Pass 2H 3C DBL
(C) 1D 3C 3D DBL
(D) -- -- 1H Pass 3D DBL 3H DBL (Artificial limit raise)
(E) -- -- -- 1S 2NT Pass 3H DBL (Unusual for minors)
(F) -- -- 1D DBL Pass 1H 2C DBL
The most widely accepted meaning of all these doubles is penalty. But would you be sure at the table? Or would you be wondering if a few were some type of exotic takeout?
Modern bidding has popularized so many uses for doubles that it's becoming difficult to tell the difference between takeout and olDfashioned penalty doubles. To solve these problems, many pairs rely on general default agreements they can apply to a wide range of situations.
In pvious articles, we looked at defaults for doubles in auctions where there had been natural notrump bids, penalty doubles and carDshowing doubles and redoubles. Other penalty situations are created when we've already found our trump suit, or it's clear there's no fit left to find, as in the auctions above.
Here are four additional defaults you can use to handle problems like these. They're all "modern standard" -- the meanings you could assume if these doubles came up in a new partnership with an experienced player. There's plenty of room for refinement, though, so if you have a regular partnership, these defaults are a good starting point for more discussion.
Default #1: A double is penalty if we've already found our fit.
When you and partner have bid and raised and suit -- as in (A) and (B) above -- there's no point in using a double to suggest anything other than a desire to defend.
An obvious exception comes if you play maximal game-try doubles, but these auctions don't fit the requirements for this convention. We'll discuss how your defaults and conventions work together in a future article.
At matchpoints, many pairs do choose to modify the meaning of the double in Auction (A). A popular agreement is that this double -- whether by opener or responder -- doesn't promise a trump stack. It merely shows maximum defense and moderate length in the opponent's suit, and you can pull with extra spade length or distributional values. In (A), partner might hold 1065 K54 Q102 A764 .
This type of "biDor-pull" double is often called cooperative. Although its popularity is growing, it's not so widely accepted that I would try it with a new partner. When in doubt (or when at IMPs), you should rely on the general default to interpt an undiscussed double. We'll feature other uses of cooperative doubles in a future article.
In Auction (B), your default should tell you that partner's double must be penalty. He should have a hand like AKJ Q10874 2 KJ92 .
Note that this general default operates only when your auction has confirmed an 8-card fit. That hasn't happened in:
You LHO Partner RHO -- 1H DBL Pass 1S 2H DBL
Here, there's no guarantee partner has 4 spades, so your response didn't necessarily set the trump suit. A widely accepted way to play this second double by the takeout doubler is extra values (18+ pts.), but with only 3-card spade support: KJ7 53 AK83 AQJ6 .
Default #2: A double is penalty if either of us has pempted.
This includes doubles after we make a pemptive opening bid, a weak jump overcall, a weak jump shift or a pemptive raise. In all these cases, the pemptor has shown no interest in other suits, so there's no value in playing responsive or takeout-oriented doubles.
That means partner's double in (C) is 100% penalty. No matter how much he'd like to make a game try or show the majors or get you to further describe your hand, he won't violate the standard default by trying a double. The only way he has to look for another fit is to bid a long suit of his own.
Default #3: A double is penalty if either of us has made an earlier leaDdirecting double of an artificial bid.
The principle here is similar to Default #2. If you double an artificial bid (and you have no agreement about a special meaning), you're just showing that suit and directing a lead. In Auction (D), all partner can safely assume is that you have a diamond one-suiter, so his double doesn't request you to do anything but pass. If he had enough to justify a takeout at this level, he would have acted directly over 1H.
Default #4: A double is penalty if there are NO unbid suits.
This includes auctions in which all four suits haven't been directly bid, but have been shown or implied. In Auction (E), the opponents have shown length in clubs, diamonds and hearts, so partner can't mean his double as any sort of takeout. He has a powerhouse and a heart stack.
You can also assume a suit is "bid" if it's been shown with a takeout double, as in Auction (F). Here, partner's first double suggested club length, so his double of 2C shows extra values and strong clubs. There's also an inference that he doesn't have 4 hearts, but you're free to pull if you have extra heart length and short clubs.
This default is often extended to auctions where there's just one unbid suit, but there are many exceptions. One popular one is opener's double after the specific auction 1C(Pass)-1D(1S), which some pairs use to show 4 hearts.
Default Agreements: Was that a penalty double ?
Part 6 -- "When-in-doubt" defaults.
How would you interpt partner's double in these auctions?
RHO You LHO Partner
(A) -- 1C 1H 1S Pass 2C 2H DBL
(B) 1C 2C 3C DBL (MichaelS- both majors)
(C) -- -- -- 1D Pass 2D 2H DBL
(D) -- -- 1H Pass 1NT Pass 2H DBL
(E) Pass 1C 1S Pass 2H Pass Pass DBL
Even if you were certain that all these doubles should be penalty, you might still be nervous if they were passed back around to you. The growing popularity of takeout-type doubles has made many of us suspicious that any slightly unusual double has some non-penalty meaning.
Problems like these demonstrate the value of default agreementS- simple guidelines you can apply to situations that aren't covered by your other agreements or conventions. In pvious articles, we looked at several types of auctions where the "standard" default is that a double is penalty.
The three defaults below are broader principles that encompass many of the situations we discussed earlier. They can also be used as "when-in-doubt" guidelines in auctions that don't seem to fit any of your other defaults.
Default #1: A double is penalty if the doubler's partner has accurately described his strength and distribution.
This applies to auctions where we haven't confirmed a trump fit, but each of us has already made a constructive call, as in (A) above. Here, you've limited your hand, shown extra club length and denied 3-card spade support, so partner can't realistically expect to find out more with a takeout double.
This default also covers auctions where the doubler's partner has shown a two-suiter, as in (B). Partner's double is penalty because he already knows enough about your suit length to decide on a trump suit. Your Michaels cuebid essentially said, "Choose one of my long suits", so it's pointless for a double to mean "No, you choose." The same applies if partner doubles after you make a two-suited takeout double (1CPasS1HDBL).
Another common use of this principle is covered by the default we discussed in Part 5: "It's a penalty double if we've already found our fit." You can assume you've given partner accurate information in most auctions where you've bid and raised a suit, as in (C). Unless you've agreed to play this as cooperative, partner's double must be penalty, showing four strong hearts and some extra values.
Default #2: A double is penalty if the doubler had an earlier opportunity to describe his strength and distribution.
This one is a little trickier to sort out, and depends somewhat on your style. Without a discussion, I'd probably be afraid to treat the double in Auction (D) as anything but takeout, but there's a good case for applying this default and defining it as penalty. The opponents haven't confirmed a fit, so what hand can partner hold that wasn't worth a first-round takeout, but is now strong enough to risk a 3-level to contract?
This default is easier apply if you lighten up your requirements for initial takeout doubles. If partner can make a light, shape double on the first round with AQ76 5 KJ103 10932 , then his delayed double in auctions like this (where opener has rebid a major after a one-level response) should show a trump stack: 52 KJ107 AK72 KQ4 .
Similarly, this default covers many auctions where it's responder who makes a delayed double. If he had an earlier chance to bid or make a negative double, you should consider the possibility that he had a penalty pass. What else could partner have in Auction (E)? He passed originally because he was waiting to double 1S, and he's now showing that he also has a strong heart holding.
Note that this default does not apply to an auction like:
LHO Partner RHO You 1D Pass 1H Pass 2D DBL
Here, there's a logical reason partner didn't double at his first turn: he was short in hearts. Now that hearts have been bid, he's showing a takeout for clubs and spades.
Default #3: A double is penalty if the doubler had a good alternative.
This default gives you a slightly different approach to solving some of the problems above. You can use it by asking yourself a few questions: "What undisclosed feature could I have that partner might be looking for?" and "Did he have a clearer way to ask me about it, or to describe his own hand?"
The answers may help you determine why partner chose a double instead of another action. In Auction (A), for example, the only possible feature of your hand that could interest partner is a heart stopper, but he could have cuebid 3H to find that.
In (B), there may be some value in playing this double as a major-suit game-try, but partner would never torture you by inventing this at the table-- he would just bid one of your suits if he had support.
In (C), you've already denied holding 4 spades, so partner can't be searching for another fit. And if he had wanted to try for a notrump or diamond game, he could have bid 2S, 3C or 3H.
You can also apply this principle to (D) and a variation of it where the opponents bid 1H1S2H. A double after this auction should also be penalty because partner had 2NT available as a minor-suit takeout.
And in (E), partner had numerous ways to show values and/or interest in your two possible trump suitS- he could raise clubs, bid diamonds or notrump, or cuebid 2S or 3H.
Copyright 1997 -- Karen Walker