Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 17th, 2016

I understand that one should have a good suit to overcall at the two-level, but is that requirement increased or decreased when in sandwich seat? For example if you hold ♠ A-7-2, A-3-2, A-J-9-7-4, ♣ Q-10, and the bidding starts with one club on your left, one heart on your right, how do you stand on the issue of passing, as opposed to a double or a call of either one no-trump or two diamonds?

Weevil Empire, Saint John’s, Newfoundland

Although I normally do not use ‘too dangerous’ as an excuse, I would not try one no-trump here. With only a single stop only in both the suits bid by my opponents, a slightly off-center double (buoyed by the extra high-cards) is acceptable. Even a call of two diamonds is not out of line; when opponents cannot double you for penalties because of the ubiquity of support doubles, you can occasionally take a few liberties in this seat.

I know bridge is a timed game, more or less, so I wonder after the bidding is over and the opening lead is made, how long is declarer allowed to take (or how long should he take) to study his hand and dummy’s before play should start?

On the Clock, Pleasanton, Calif.

While we should all try not to delay the game unnecessarily, it is hard for me to criticize any reasonable length of time taken at trick one to plan the full hand. Even if as declarer or defender you imagine that your problem will come later in the hand, your opponents should not be misled if you think before playing from dummy or following suit at trick one. Third hand is not only entitled to think about the whole hand before following to trick one, it is good policy for him to do so.

Can I ask whether transfer responses to one no-trump are now considered to be part of the basic system used in Standard American? I note that sometimes transfers are annotated in your auctions, and sometimes not.

Footnote Phil, Nashville, Tenn.

I am aware I am sometimes inconsistent about annotating the bidding to focus on the play. My impression is that currently transfer responses to one or two no-trump are taught as part of the basic system. Even if this is not universal, I’m expecting that this is almost the first convention we would all be taught today – after Stayman but before Blackwood.

Last week my LHO opened two hearts, and my partner bid two spades. My RHO raised to three hearts, and I passed with a flat sixcount and jack-third of spades. The opponents seemed to have the balance of high cards; they might not make three hearts, we were probably not going to make three spades. When my partner doubled, I took this as penalty, because in my opinion overcaller’s doubles are not for takeout at this level. I was wrong, and we conceded 10 tricks for a zero.

Behind the Times, Portland, Ore.

Your assumption was wrong. I’d expect your RHO’s raise to be semi-preemptive and for it to be our hand as often as theirs. I’d still pass, but when partner doubled at his second turn, the rule is that there are no early low-level penalty doubles of agreed suits by opponents. When you overcall and face a passing partner, reopening doubles are take-out. So you should simply bid three spades now.

Since one of the targets of the game is to locate a 4-4 fit, which is why we have the Stayman convention, why are four-card majors not in common usage? Isn’t this often a better fit than a 5-3 fit and doesn’t playing four-card majors facilitate getting to the best strain?

Los Lobos, Natchez, Miss.

If you use four-card majors, you may find your side’s fit fast, but you often lose precision. This is because when you have three trump in response you may raise and find a 4-3 fit, or not raise and lose the fit altogether. Five-card majors provide extra information by comparison to the bid of a major in a four-card major system, but they may be less precise when you open a minor. Basically, you win some, you lose some.

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Iain ClimieMay 1st, 2016 at 10:33 am

Hi Bobby,

While “Behind the Times” may not have been familiar with modern trends about low-level doubles showing values not trumps, his question also revealed he had more information. If he had a flat 6 count, can partner have a penalty double if you have 2 or 3 hearts? There seem to be an awful lot of them in the pack.

This can be a useful principle, although there is a flip side. If I were to assume that an ambiguous double must show some trumps as I’m short, there will be days when partner is short as well – ouch!



bobby wolffMay 1st, 2016 at 11:37 am

Hi Iain,

While you are as knowledgeable as can be, my take is that sure there will be times when partner has perhaps 3 hearts tricks and a pair of aces, but I’ll give that up in order to just assume the chance that he does not and is a bit heavy for only his 2 spade overcall: Perhaps: s. KQ10xxx, h. x, d. AQx, c. KJx, not quite worth a double and then spades, but still a tad too strong to just pass the 3 heart bid by LHO. In that way, and of course depending on the exact fit, we figure to take 8 or 9 tricks with normal lies. Four good cards from partner could be the jacks of spades and diamonds along with the mighty queen of clubs and of course an isolated ace any.

We both know from playing our game so long that there is no possible way to know what Dame Fortune is planning for us, so at least IMO just be consistent with this type of judgment and then even an inexperienced partner will learn the relative easy way what is expected of him (or her).

Of course, if we wind up down 1 and the opponents were also going down 1 (not an unusual result) it may feel bad on the surface, but in reality we need to take those results in stride and not feel a duty to leave a reopening double in just to show who is boss.

ClarksburgMay 1st, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Is that reopening Double literally for takeout…i.e. Partner must take it out?
Or is Partner free to Pass and defend with the right hand?
In auction context, does it simply say “I have extra, but no suitable descriptive bid. Partner, you decide whether to Pass or bid on” i.e.”card-showing”, “optional”.

bobby wolffMay 1st, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, that reopening double is now, in 2016, and for the last some number of years, basically for TO, covering hands which were slightly or perhaps a little more, underbid the first time.

Also, you are correct in questioning that change since before those above years, after bidding a suit and then eventually doubling on one’s next turn used to be primarily for penalty.

Chalk that change up to the evolution of high-level bridge based on frequency of holding and other tactical considerations. IOW it is thought to be more constructive to play those doubles as added value, if anything more offense than expected defense, but at the same time do not forget that there is also an advantage when partner has some sort of trump stack in the opponent’s suit to be able to convert that double to penalties wherein if the overcaller had just rebid his suit or bid another one that perspective penalty would not be realized and worse, your dummy for him might be much worse than he was hoping.

Just call it progress and evolution of the game, but please understand by so doing it definitely figures to confuse other less experienced players who also love the game, but have not devoted the time required to get as good as others who have had the time to devote.

No wonderful answer such as a win win win, win but possibly better described as a win, lose, win, maybe.

Remember when bridge is described as perhaps the only super game wherein even novices have the ability to play against world class players at the same table, unknown to almost any other well known competition (always physical sports) which demand special training and are usually very dangerous for untrained bodies to compete.

In any event, these from time to time changes in meaning of certain bids will, no doubt, be much more difficult for lesser experienced players to keep up with the constant evolution of tip top bridge.

What is your opinion of where you stand on such a condition, assuming I have described it in a more or less right context?

ClarksburgMay 1st, 2016 at 5:14 pm

My “opinion” is from the viewpoint of an intermediate club-level player. I hope this post and your hoped-for follow up might help other Club-level Intermediates who drop in here.
First of all, I think “doubles” have too many unnecessary names, causing uncertainty / confusion in some players minds.
Seems to me, the meaning of a double (other than known and agreed conventions) can be essentially worked out from the auction context to that point.
I fully buy into the various simple anchor points such as the low-level Double being definitely NOT unambiguous Penalty, and those which ARE unambiguous Penalty, i.e. when we are in a game-force auction, when we have previously redoubled to show “ownership” of the hand etc.
For me, when I have extra, and no other useful descriptive bid available to help Partner, I will Double. Some occasional Partners may say “I often don’t know what your Doubles mean”, as if they’d like it to be in a mass-market Beginner / Intermediate book, with a name!!

bobby wolffMay 1st, 2016 at 8:19 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Whether you meant to or not, you may have created much light to the subject of “out of the blue” doubles and what they should unambiguously mean.

Next, your post shows a positive general knowledge of what is basically the method and goals of what is thought to be the high-level game.

First the simple part, as you have already described, once a double is made by an earlier redoubler no bones about it, but penalty. Of course in a competitive sequence (usually for a part score) a then double, even at IMPs suggests penalties, however if partner has an unduly distributional hand, he, depending on the whole sequence, is entitled to overrule his partner and TO, if only to warn him that likely a couple of tricks he might have been counting on may not cash.

Back to the theory, at the low levels and particularly when the opponents have bid and then been supported by partner, doubles merely, as you have also said, show more than pass and are expected to shout, “With this information do something intelligent” which must be tempered by being conservative at IMPs and stay away from possible doubled contracts being made, but in matchpoints, trying to make +100, +200 instead.

An example after around the table North 1H, East 1S, South 2D, West 2S, North’s double could be:
l. s. Ax, h. KQxxx, d. AK, c. Jxxx or perhaps 2. s. xx, h. Axxxxx, d. Kx, c. AKQ where both hands have extra but no one feature is worth positively showing and asking for help from partner to choose the direction. Of course, with a lesser hand s. x, KQJxx, d. xx, c. AQJxx clubs need to be bid for fear of never to be shown, if not then.

Of course the immediate above is slightly off subject, but mentioned here in order to share the theory of when a forward going double is not meant to be for penalty but only to help partner qualify strain.

No doubt, much more can be said, but likely should be reserved for a full chapter in a bridge book. For now we just want to qualify the use of doubles with modern bidding.

Almost never will a double be for penalties when the level is below 4 and the opponents have bid and supported, particularly doubles by the opening bidder.

Result being is that perhaps once a year, if one plays bridge three times a week, will an opening bidder want to double the opponents at a lower than four level once they have bid and supported as long as neither the opening bidder nor the responder has severely limited his hand. However once the partner of the opening bidder has responded 1NT to an opening bid and then the opponents intervene then, of course, a double by him is definitely for penalties but opposite any 6-5 or possibly even a 5-5-3 hand it may become close as to whether that distributional hand should take out.

Perhaps the above plus your post will shine some light, and if not now, perhaps a little later with some, just learning the game. I’ll drink a toast that it has!

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