Main     Lesson 5B by Richard Pavlicek    

Penalty Doubles

It may not seem important to have a lesson on penalty doubles, but there is a lot more to this topic than most people realize. Knowing when and when not to double often marks the difference between winning and losing.

I will first explain some general principles that pertain to all competitive bidding. Later I will cover some specific areas.

Takeout or Penalty?

The average partnership often has misunderstandings whether a double is for takeout or penalty. This is usually a result of inexperience, but it is also caused by the vagueness of most textbooks.

A Takeout Double
A Penalty Double

I recommend this rule:

A double is for penalty if

Partner has bid or doubled (excluding situations in which the negative double applies).

or if

There is no unbid suit.

or if

The doubled suit is artificial.

or if

You passed after an enemy bid, then later double any game bid, any notrump bid, or an unraised suit bid of 3 C or higher.

To better grasp the last part, think of the corollary: After passing an enemy bid, you might later make a takeout double of a suit at the one or two level, but not higher unless the enemy suit is raised.

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Whose Deal Is It?

During a competitive auction the distribution of the deck’s 40 high-card points greatly affects when and when not to double. Is it your deal? An even deal? Or their deal?

Your Deal

If your side holds 23 or more HCP, you should never allow the enemy to play undoubled.

1.
S K Q J 4
H A 7 4
D Q 10 7 5
C J 2
TableS A 8 2
H K 10 8
D J 8 2
C Q 9 7 4

West
1 D
North
1 NT
East
Dbl
South

East has 10 HCP and he figures West for 13 by his opening bid. This makes it “your deal” so the opponents must be doubled. It would be foolish for East to bid since his hand is very suitable to play in notrump.

2.
S 4 2
H A K Q 10 5
D A K 4
C Q 4 2
TableS 5 3
H J 9 8 2
D 8 2
C K J 10 7 3

West
1 H
4 H
Dbl
North
1 S
4 S
East
2 H
Pass
South
2 S
Pass

West assumes East has at least 6 HCP (though he is a point short this time) to account for 24 HCP. Therefore he must double 4 S, else push to 5 H which would be poor judgment with such a flat hand.

Even Deal

If each side holds 18 to 22 HCP, you should double only if you expect at least a two-trick set.

This “two-trick cushion” allows for the likely outcome that one of your tricks will go sour because of the enemy distribution.

In order to apply this rule you must count tricks that you expect partner to win on defense. The following table is a useful guide.

Point RangeShould Win
6-9 points1 trick
10-12 points2 tricks
13-15 points3 tricks
16-18 points4 tricks
19-22 points5 tricks

3.
S 2
H J 5
D A K J 8 2
C K J 8 5 2
TableS Q J 9 7
H A 10 8
D 9 6 4
C 7 4 3

West
1 D
3 C
North
1 S
3 S
East
1 NT
Dbl
South
2 S

East expects to win three tricks and he estimates West for the same, hence 3 S rates to fail by two tricks.

4.
S K Q 2
H A 4
D A J 8 2
C Q 9 6 4
TableS A 10 7 5 4
H 8 2
D 9 7 6
C 10 8 2

West
1 NT
3 S
North
2 H
4 H
East
2 S
Dbl
South
3 H

East is looking at one trick and he figures West for four, so 4 H should go down two.

Their Deal

If your side holds 17 or fewer HCP, the most common kind of penalty double is lead directing.

When it is “their deal” it is dangerous to double just because you think you can set the contract. The declarer will be tipped off and play the hand to better advantage. Also, an opponent may wise up and run to another contract he can make.

5.
S J 10 4 3 2
H 3 2
D 3 2
C 10 8 7 4
TableS 9 7
H K Q J 10 9 7
D A 4
C Q J 2

West
Pass
Pass
North
1 D
3 NT
East
1 H
Pass
South
2 D

East is sure to beat 3 NT with the H K lead, but it would be poor judgment to double — North or South would surely run to 4 D or even 5 D and make it.

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The Trap Pass

The use of negative doubles may seem to shield the opponents from a penalty double. Not so. A good partnership can have both:

If you have a normal penalty double of an enemy suit overcall, you should pass, even with a strong hand.
If a suit overcall is passed back to opener, he must reopen if he has two cards or fewer in the enemy suit. He should usually double (for takeout) unless his hand is freakish in shape.

6.
S A K J 5 3
H K J 9 7
D 2
C 10 7 3
TableS 4
H A 8 4
D K J 10 7 5
C Q 8 5 4

West
1 S
Dbl
North
2 D
Pass
East
Pass
Pass
South
Pass

West’s reopening double does not promise extra strength, only that he is short in diamonds. East passes to convert the double into penalty.

7.
S 9 6 4
H K Q 8 7 5
D A Q 10 8 4
C
TableS Q J 3
H J
D K 9 5 3
C A K 8 7 2

West
1 H
2 D
North
2 C
Pass
East
Pass
3 NT
South
Pass

West is obliged to reopen but he does not double with a club void and extreme shape. East is slightly disappointed but in reality 2 C doubled would not be a windfall.

8.
S A 8 7 2
H K 8 4
D 8 4
C A K 9 7
TableS J 10 3
H 7 2
D K 9 7 6 3
C 8 6 2

West
1 C
Pass
North
1 S
East
Pass
South
Pass

Here West does not reopen because of his spade length. East could hardly have a trap pass so his silence means he has nothing. Note the opponents belong in hearts.

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The Forcing Pass

When you and partner both know it is “your deal” (your side has 23+ HCP) the rule described previously has an additional benefit. Since you must not allow the enemy to play any contract undoubled, an immediate pass is forcing and allows you greater flexibility in the auction.

If you are not sure whether to double or bid further, and the auction indicates it is your deal, pass the decision to partner.

9.
S A K 10 7 2
H Q 8 4
D 4
C Q J 10 8
TableS 9 6
H A J 9
D A K 9 7 2
C 4 3 2

West
1 S
Pass
Dbl
North
Dbl
2 C
East
Rdbl
Pass
South
Pass
Pass
None Vul

The redouble makes this “your deal” so East can pass 2 C around to West who is delighted to double. Many inexperienced Easts would let the opponents off the hook with a foolish 2 D bid.

10.
S A Q J 8 6
H Q J 6 4
D 2
C K 8 3
TableS K 10 5
H K 10 8 7 5
D 7 5
C A 7 5

West
1 S
4 H
5 H
North
Pass
5 D
East
2 H
Pass
South
4 D
Pass

The two-over-one response makes this “your deal” so East’s pass of 5 D is forcing. West has ideal shape to take the push to 5 H. If West had one more diamond and one less club, he should double 5 D.

11.
S A 4
H A K 8 7
D A K J 4
C K J 4
TableS 7 5 2
H 10 4 2
D 8 6 2
C 9 7 5 2

West
2 C
Pass
North
Pass
Pass
East
2 D
Dbl
South
3 S

The 2 C opening creates an instant “your deal” so West cleverly passes 3 S to East who must do something. Any bid by East would be absurd so he doubles.

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Lead Directing Doubles

Certain doubles, besides being for penalty, are made primarily to suggest a particular lead.

The double of an artificial suit bid (e.g., Stayman, Gerber, or a control-bid) asks partner to lead that suit.

12.
S A 8
H 8 6 2
D 9 7 2
C K Q 10 8 6
TableS 10 9 6 3 2
H J 7 3
D K 10 8
C J 2

West

Dbl
North
2 NT
East
Pass
South
3 C

West wants a club lead against the final contract, which will probably be 3 NT.

The double of any notrump bid by the non-leader requests the lead of (1) a suit bid by your side, or (2) dummy’s first bid suit.

13.
S 5 4
H K J 9 5 4
D 10 3
C 9 7 6 4
TableS A Q 10 9 7
H 3 2
D J 9 7 4
C A 3

West

Pass
Pass
North
1 S
2 NT
Pass
East
Pass
Pass
Dbl
South
1 NT
3 NT

East’s double asks West to lead a spade (dummy’s first suit).

The double of a voluntarily bid suit slam by the non-leader asks for the lead of (1) dummy’s first bid suit, or (2) leader’s longest suit not bid by your side.

14.
S 9 7 2
H A Q J 9 5 4 3
D
C 10 7 6
TableS 3
H 10 7 6
D J 9 5 4 3 2
C Q 5 4

West
3 H
Pass
Dbl
North
3 S
5 H
East
Pass
Pass
South
4 NT
6 S

West’s double forbids a heart lead and, since dummy bid no side suit, it asks for East’s longest suit (surely diamonds).

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© 2013 Richard Pavlicek