Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

How do you know what to signal when partner leads against no-trump and dummy wins the queen or king from a doubleton holding? If you cannot beat dummy, should you signal count or attitude?

Semaphore Sam, Edmonton, Alberta

If dummy wins the king you should signal attitude — your partner will need to know if you have a minor honor. If dummy wins the queen, the position is far more complex. Sometimes partner needs count (when declarer has a doubleton honor); sometimes he needs to know attitude (Do you possess the jack?) You need to guess well — and to try to make your play in tempo!

What is the best way to use double negatives after a two-club opening? I know that some people use the first step; others use the lower minor or two no-trump.

Ain't Got No Clue, Grand Junction, Colo.

After a negative or waiting two-diamond call (methods I prefer to an immediate two-heart double negative), it makes most sense for responder to use three clubs as the second negative when opener rebids a major. This typically shows 0-4 points. Similarly, three diamonds by responder is a second negative over three clubs. This way, no-trump tends to be declared the right way up.

At pairs, vulnerable, what is the best first call with ♠ K-4,  Q-10-8-7-6-4,  5, ♣ Q-7-3-2 after my partner opened one diamond in second seat and the next hand overcalled one spade? Should I double, bid hearts, or pass and come in later?

Overbidders Anonymous, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Passing is rather feeble here – you do have some nice shape after all, if you can find a fit. If you want to act, doubling gets both unbid suits into play. You plan to correct partner’s next bid of two diamonds or one no-trump to two hearts to show this sort of hand. A direct bid of two hearts would be an overbid (though you might do this as a passed hand) and it might also lose the clubs altogether — particularly if the opponents raise or repeat spades.

One of the problems I have at pairs is when to compete again with extra high-cards, but uninspiring trumps. Recently with both sides vulnerable I sat in third seat with: ♠ J-7-4,  Q-9-5,  K-9-6-5-4, ♣ A-2. My partner opened one spade, and after a two-club overcall, I raised to two spades. Now my LHO bid three clubs, and I felt obliged to double when this came back to me. We could have set it a trick, but declarer made it for a cold top.

Last Mistake, Roanoke, Va.

When your partner did not compete to three spades himself, he was quite likely to have only five spades. Doubling to show extra defense is an excellent gamble at pairs – partner can always retreat if totally unsuitable. I am sure letting through three clubs would still have scored badly, so I think you made the right pairs play, assuming you were going to defend correctly!

Am I right in saying that when the opponents bid and raise a suit, sandwiched around my partner's double, my double in fourth chair would now be responsive, for takeout. If so, do responsive doubles apply after the opponents pre-empt and raise that suit?

Warts and All, Philadelphia, Pa.

You are right in that responsive doubles do apply after an opening bid at any level is doubled and then raised. Your double should be takeout at low levels but optional at the four-level or higher. One other thought: When they bid and raise hearts after partner has doubled, you normally bid spades if you can. So here a double might deny biddable spades.

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Jane AJuly 6th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Hi Bobby,

Regarding responsive doubles as mentioned by the last person in your column today, does it matter if you are a passed hand? Recently I held this hand- KQxx, QTx, Ax, xxxx. I passed in first seat, LHO opens one spade, partner doubles, and RHO bids two spades. I doubled for penalty (I hoped) and we would set them three vul for a top if partner passes but she bid three hearts. I passed, (could have bid four hearts, I know) but at that point was not sure if she thought I held the minors and she might not have. I could have bid two NT instead of the double also, and probably should have as we do have game, but minus 800 is luscious. How do I make a penalty double with a hand like this, or is it even possible or right? Pard and I do play responsive doubles, so it might not be possible. To compound the problem, partner should have overcalled two hearts to begin with because she had a heart mixed in with her diamonds, but my RHO will still bid two spades, I think. Now what? Seems like if she does overcall hearts, LHO bids two spades and I double, this would be responsive for the minors for sure. Knowing it is our hand, I imagine getting to our heart game is the best course of action. And you say?

ClarksburgJuly 6th, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Overbidders Anonymous’ hand, with 7HCP, was:
♠ K-4, ♥ Q-10-8-7-6-4, ♦ 5, ♣ Q-7-3-2
Supposing it were 2623 such as
xx AQ10876 xx J73.
In the same auction, what call (s) would be appropriate / acceptable here?

Bobby WolffJuly 6th, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Hi Jane A,

In case you appear on Jeopardy in the future and you are asked on the subject of bridge (fat chance), “Who invented responsive doubles?”, the answer is Dr. Fielding Reed (from Iowa), only known by a few like me since I read his article (written in The Bridge World magazine), I believe sometime in the early 1950’s, promoting his new invention and I, a young enthusiastic bridge lover, absolutely loved both his toy and his presentation.

And now to business. Responsive doubles in definition only apply through the 3 level when the opponents have bid and raised their suit sandwiched around a TO double by partner. Yes, responsive doubles emphasized the unbid minor suits with the normal distribution of (with the opponents bidding and raising spades) 2-3-4-4 but with hearts then 3-2-4-4. However it was also suggested if the unbid major had only 2, with the extra card being either a 5 card minor or a 3rd card in the opponent’s suit.

Obviously the intention and execution allowed the responder to the responsive double to bid his best minor, but also suggested that if partner’s double was based on a 5+ card other major and a better than minimum hand to then volunteer the major after your minor suit response.

Definitely a responsive doubler should have a more or less balanced hand, with its prime objective being getting to the right minor suit, especially when the TO doubler would only have a doubleton in one of the unbid minors and without playing responsive doubles might fall victim into at best a 7 card fit (and maybe heaven forbid, only 6).

I will go on to say that, with all the professional bridge players as a group, there are very few partnerships who do not play responsive doubles, at least in some form. Also, when the opponents overcall and then partner raises to the 4 level through 4 hearts, a double becomes optional (you will rarely hold a trump stack) and then the partner of the doubler has to make successful choices as to what to now bid. Good luck!

The reason for playing them is based on frequency of occurrence, hence they have great utility.

With your hand in question, although holding KQxx in trumps, but in front of the opener, it will not always be a success to double, particularly a competent declarer as he will have a roadmap as to how to play the hand. Sometimes, however, playing old style, without responsive doubles may work, but do not bet the farm on not playing them as the sayings go, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “50 million Frenchmen cannot be wrong” (both the Italians and French have a large number of great bridge players).

Next time convince your partner to be more careful in separating her suits so that she will bid hearts and you can then jump her to game with your hand, although double would have resulted in +800 as long as you weren’t playing responsive doubles, which would also apply over your partner’s overcall, but would not be made by you with as many as 3 cards in her major suit.

I hope I wasn’t too long winded for your question, but in any event, you now are prepared to be invited to perform on Jeopardy (just in case bridge is a subject).

Jane AJuly 6th, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Thank you Bobby. I know that systems work most of the time as long as they are played correctly and not forgotten, but there are days when I wish I had never heard of a lot of them. (Just kidding, I do like my gadgets).

So now I can apply to play on Jeopardy, and hope for bridge as a category, but the day I would play, the categories would be something like ancient Greek history or another favorite of mine, world geography. I would have to slither away in shame.

Bobby WolffJuly 6th, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

With your problem hand, there would be, at least according to me, still two choices:

1. A 3 heart bid (preemptive jump shift responses in competition) which, although in truth a small overbid, would combine almost the right values (for book purposes I would give that hand 3 cards in partner’s minor suit opening) with the preemption of making a probable 2 spade raise by LHO, having to either step it up to 3 or decide to meekly just pass or,

2. A negative double, described by various authors as a 1 suit negative doubles which also show less than a stronger immediate and forcing 2 hearts. The theory is that if LHO passes or bids some lower suit, by the time it gets back to you, then venture 2 hearts and every hair is now in place.

Obviously it doesn’t usually go that smoothly, but one thing is certain, later, you will probably want to bid hearts leading to different endings, not all of which are good.

Take your choice, but because of the excellent heart intermediates I prefer 3 hearts the first time.

With 1-6-3-3 and the same hand I would bite the bullet and bid 2 hearts, but then, if possible, rebid 3 hearts which would limit your hand and not be forcing. Keep in mind that funny things happen on the way to nirvana and there are no guaranteed happy landings.

Bobby WolffJuly 6th, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Hi Jane,

I could never imagine you slithering since your posture is excellent, matching your competitive bridge ability.

And do not worry about being asked a question about either ancient Greek history or world geography.


Zeus from Atlanta, Greece