Main   Lesson 5E by Richard Pavlicek  

Balancing Bids & Doubles

When the opponents open the bidding and stop at a low level, it is usually poor strategy to sell out. The fact that they did not try for game makes it apparent that your side has substantial high-card strength.

The term “balancing” refers to the player whose pass would end the auction. This lesson explains how and when to bid or double in the balancing position.

After One of a Suit

The most common situation for balancing occurs when an opening bid of one of a suit is passed. Unless your hand is very weak, or your best suit is the enemy suit, it is usually wrong to pass.

A takeout double may be made with as few as 10 points.

1.
Opp
1 H
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
Dbl
S K 9 7 4
H 4 3
D Q 10 3
C A J 7 4

You would not double 1 H in direct seat, but now you must prevent the enemy from buying the contract too cheaply.

1 NT shows 10 to 15 HCP. With 16 to 18 HCP you must double first then bid notrump later.

2.
Opp
1 S
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
1 NT
S K J 4
H A 8 3
D A 10 8 4
C 9 7 4

You show a balanced hand with a spade stopper, but only 10-15 HCP.

3.
Opp
1 D
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
Dbl
S A 8
H K Q 4
D A 9 7 4
C K J 8 6

In direct seat you would bid 1 NT, but here you must double. At your next turn you will bid notrump to show 16-18 HCP.

Nonjump suit bids show 8 to 15 points at the one level; 10 to 15 points at the two level. With 16+ points you must double first then bid your suit later.

4.
Opp
1 C
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
1 H
S A 8 4
H K 10 9 7 5
D 9 5 4
C 4 3

Your hand is not worth a direct overcall, but in the balancing seat you should not sell out so cheap.

5.
Opp
1 H
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
2 D
S A J 2
H 4 3
D K J 9 7 5 4
C 4 3

Again you are substandard for a direct overcall, but well within the range of a balancing bid.

6.
Opp
1 S
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
Dbl
S 4 3
H A Q J 9 4
D K Q 8 2
C K 3

In direct seat this would be a 2 H overcall, but it is too strong in balancing seat. You intend to bid hearts at your next turn to show 16+ points.

I don’t care what he says. I balance on table feel.

I can see that. How many tables have you felt?

7.
Opp
1 H
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
Pass
S 3
H K J 9 4
D A 6 2
C Q 9 6 4 3

No law says you have to bid. With length in the enemy suit and shortness in the unbid major, the smart decision is to let them play it. If you bid, you would usually regret it.

Responses to Suit Bids

When partner balances with a suit bid, you should use the same responding method as after your direct overcalls, except responder should add two points to all the point ranges.

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Jump suit bids show a self-sufficient suit and within one playing trick of your bid.

8.
Opp
1 D
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
2 S
S A K Q 9 8 6
H A 10 2
D 3
C 9 7 3

By bidding for eight tricks you show the ability to win seven by yourself. This is not a weak bid, as it would be in direct seat.

9.
Opp
1 C
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
3 D
S A 3
H A 2
D K Q J 9 7 6 3
C 4 3

Here you can produce eight tricks in your own hand, so you bid for nine. This way, partner will always know what to expect from your hand.

A jump to 2 NT shows 19 to 21 HCP. (The unusual 2 NT bid does not apply unless you have previously passed.)

10.
Opp
1 S
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
2 NT
S K J 8 4
H A 3
D K Q 10 8
C A Q 9

If you doubled and bid 2 NT, it would show 16-18, so this logically shows a better hand.

11.
Opp
1 S
Partner
Pass
Opp
Pass
You
2 D
S 3
H K 4
D Q 10 9 6 4
C A Q 10 6 4

Since you can’t bid the unusual 2 NT, the sensible plan is to bid diamonds first; this is unlikely to be passed out, then you will bid 3 C next.

Responses to Notrump Bids

When partner balances with 1 or 2 NT, you should use the same responding method as after your 1 or 2 NT opening bid, except responder must adjust for the different point range.

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When a Fit Is Shown

A desirable situation to balance occurs when the opponents have shown a trump fit and stop at the two level. If they have a trump fit, you probably do also.

Generally you should balance unless you have secondary strength (Q-J-x, K-J-x-x, etc.) in the enemy suit. There are no specific point-count requirements; whatever you lack, partner should have.

Double (for takeout) if you can support at least two suits.

12.
S K J 7 3
H 7 2
D A J 7 6
C J 9 2
Table S A 8 4
H 6 5 4
D K 10 8 4
C Q 8 4


Pass
2 S
1 H
Pass
Pass
Pass
Dbl
Pass
2 H
Pass

East has a dismal looking hand, but it is winning tactics to balance. Many times the opponents will compete to the three level and be defeated.

13.
S A 8 2
H 3 2
D Q 7 4
C K 10 8 7 2
Table S 9 6
H K 10 8 4
D A J 9 8 3
C 4 3


Pass
3 C
1 S
Pass
Pass
Pass
Dbl
3 D
2 S
Pass

East doubles hoping that West will bid hearts. At his next turn East corrects to 3 D since he lacks club support.

14.
S 10 2
H Q 7 5 4
D Q 8 4
C A 9 5 4
Table S K Q 6
H J 8 3
D A 7 5 2
C J 7 6


Pass
1 S
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 S

East’s strong spade holding is an omen for disaster. It is too risky to force West to bid a suit at the three level.

Bid 2 NT with at least 4-4 in the minor suits.

15.
S Q 8 2
H A 10 7 6 4
D 4 3
C Q J 4
Table S 7 3
H K 2
D A Q J 2
C 10 9 7 6 5


Pass
3 C
1 S
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 NT
Pass
2 S
Pass

East’s bid is a variation of the “unusual notrump” since it could not logically be a natural bid. Note that West must bid a three-card suit to oblige.

Bid your longest suit. Usually this shows five or more cards but it could be a good four-card suit if no other option exists.

16.
S K 10 4
H J 3
D A K 8 4
C 7 5 4 2
Table S J 9 7 5 2
H A 8 2
D 9 7
C Q 8 3


Pass
1 H
Pass
Pass
2 S
2 H

East would not dream of overcalling in direct seat with such a ragged suit, but he backs into the bidding when the opponents show a fit.

17.
S K Q 7 4
H J 8 4
D A 3
C 9 7 6 4
Table S 8 2
H K Q 10 6
D 8 7 4
C A 5 3 2


Pass
1 D
Pass
Pass
2 H
2 D

East does not want to double for fear of a spade bid, so he bids his strong four-card heart suit.

Responding

If your partner balances as described here, you should help out as necessary to find your best trump fit. If the enemy competes to the three level, however, you should almost always pass. Do not forget that partner was too weak to bid the first time, so he was “bidding your presumed values” when he balanced.

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When No Fit Is Shown

If the opponents stop at 1 NT or two of a suit without showing a fit, it is risky to balance. This is a source of many penalty opportunities; the deal may be a misfit. Therefore, the normal course is to pass.

Generally you may bid with a six-card or longer suit. You may also double a suit bid (not 1 NT) for takeout if you have at least four cards in each unbid suit and partner is able to bid at the two level.

18.
S A 8 4
H Q 9 7 4 3 2
D Q 4
C 7 2
Table S K 10 7 2
H J 5
D K J 10
C Q J 5 3


Pass
2 H
1 D
1 NT
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
1 S
Pass

With a six-card suit I would take a chance and bid, especially considering that East is likely to lead a club against 1 NT.

19.
S K 9 8 4
H 7 6 2
D A 10 9 6 4
C 4
Table S A 3
H Q 9 8 5
D Q 8 3
C A 9 7 5


Pass
Dbl
1 C
2 C
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 D
1 H
Pass

Holding both unbid suits, either of which partner could bid at the two level, it pays to be sporting and double. Note that East bids his longer of the two unbid suits.

20.
S Q J 8 4
H 6 2
D K 10 8 4
C K 7 3
Table S 9 2
H K J 9 4
D 7 6 2
C A Q 9 4


Pass
Pass
1 S
2 D
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
1 NT
2 S

Do not confuse a preference bid with a raise. The enemy 2 S bid does not necessarily show a trump fit, so East does not balance with a double.

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© 2012 Richard Pavlicek