ACBL
District 6
Shawn Stringer, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
District 7
Zero Tolerance, D6 policy
Oct/NovArticle by Steve RobinsonFeb/Mar
ArticlesDouble of a Weak NT (Dec/Jan 2008/9)
I asked my expert panel, “Right Hand Opponent (RHO) opens a weak notrump and you double for penalties. If partner doubled a natural 2 by Left Hand Opponent (LHO), what would that mean? If partner doubled LHO's natural 2, what would that mean? If partner doubled LHO's 2 meant as Stayman what would that mean? If partner passed 2 or 2 could you also pass? What are your understandings of the follow-ups after a penalty double of a weak notrump?”

Here is another subject where we have no clear answer. Half of the experts play double of a natural bid as penalties and half play it as takeout. There is also no agreement about which bids by the opponents can be passed out and which bids are forcing. What’s important is that you know what your partner’s doubles mean and which bids are forcing. You don’t want to let them play a contract when you are cold for game.


Drew Casen--- We like to play that the first double by either of us AFTER we have doubled a weak NT is for takeout. Thereafter our doubles are penalties because we have BOTH shown values. However, we are only in a forcing pass situation on the player that is short in their suit. If I double a weak notrump and they run to an AKJx suit, and my partner cannot double it for takeout, then I know he is very weak and I can pass it out. They can trick us by bidding their short suits.

I suggest having the first double be a takeout double or a strength showing double. This way if Advancer passes and Overcaller is long in their suit, he knows partner is broke or the opponents are playing in a poor fit. Unless you have a game, having them play in one of your fits will get you a good score. What’s important is getting to game when you belong in game and getting a plus score if you don’t have a game. If you happen to get a number, that’s a secondary concern. If double of 2 shows three or more clubs, what do you do with AxxxKxxxxxxxx? This is a hand where you want to compete for the partscore. Add a king and you have to take some action because you don’t want to miss a game.

Kerri Sanborn---I have a simple rule with my partners. All doubles are takeout until the weak hand shows values. That means that once the card showing or penalty double occurs, the "weak" hand cannot make a penalty double at its next bid. With what amounts to the typical penalty, it must wait for partner to reopen, much as with negative doubles. Once this hand has acted to show some interest in competing or defending, now either side's new doubles are for penalty.

Neil Chambers---We play a negative double/forcing pass and treat all bids as natural. We're forced through 2 except a bid of a suit at the two-level breaks the negative double/forcing pass scenario.

If you hold KxKJxxKxxAxxx and 2 is passed back to you, why would you disturb it?

Kit Woolsey---If the partner of the original doubler doubles any suit bid at the two-level, regardless of meaning, that typically shows a doubleton in the suit doubled and some values. With a yarborough and a doubleton in their suit, the partner of the original doubler may pass. If the partner of the original doubler has done nothing but pass and the 1NT bidder bids two-of-a-suit, the original doubler's double shows typically a doubleton in the suit. It does not show any extra strength. The original doubler is required to double with a doubleton in their suit. With more length, he may pass and we can sell out if his partner has a yarborough. Thus, the auction: 1NT - Double - 2 - all pass is quite legal provided the original doubler has three or more cards in clubs. If he has a doubleton club he is required to double, so we can't sell undoubled.

Once either partner has made the "short-suit double" that puts us in a force even if the double did not show extra strength. Subsequent doubles are all penalties. If fourth seat passes the double of 1NT and opener runs, the same rules apply. Sometimes we will wind up being in a force whether we like it or not; sometimes we will be able to sell depending on how the auction comes up and the relevant suit lengths.

If responder does not pass or double, two-level bids by him are to play. Three-level bids are natural forces.

With Fred Stewart, I play that the double of the weak NT is penalties but denies a four-card or longer major. 2 shows a strong hand and promises a four-card major. Same follow-up principles are involved, but of course we have a more accurate decision-making process with this kind of pinning down of the doubler's hand.

Bart Bramley---My usual agreement is that we are forced through 2 only. We don't have to act when we might be doubling them into game. I've had various agreements about the meaning of doubles of two-of-a-minor and higher doubles. My current agreement is that the first double after the initial double is "takeout". Of course, some doubles are "more takeout" than others; when a force is in effect a direct double should really be takeout, but a balancing double has to cover more ground. When there is no force a double may be pure takeout or a hand with enough extra values to get involved. A double of an artificial bid shows cards. Bids by doubler's partner are natural. I don't like "our notrump system on", which works poorly if doubler is unbalanced.

Mel Colchamiro---If partner doubled LHO’s natural 2, it would be a takeout double. If partner doubled LHO’s natural 2, it would be a takeout double. If partner doubled LHO’s 2 (Stayman), it would show a good hand, values, typically at least eight HCP, what Kokish would call cooperative penalty. I could pass if partner passed 2 but I couldn’t pass 2. Partner's pass is forcing through 2.

After 1NT – Double – two-of-anything, double = takeout, new suit is not forcing, jump in new suit is "almost" forcing. 2NT by the doubler shows 18-20.

Grant Baze---After the double of a weak notrump, the first subsequent double by either partner of a natural bid is takeout. The double of an artificial bid shows the suit doubled. The partner of the initial doubler may bid a suit at the two-level without showing strength, but a responsive double or any bid at the three-level shows at least seven HCP, and any jump by responder is forcing. We are on a force until the opponents bid 2 or higher.

Dan Morse---First double is for takeout.

Eric Greco---I play the next double by either hand is takeout/cards. If their bid is a transfer or is artificial then the double is just cards. If it is natural or could be natural then it is takeoutish/cards. I would likely not double with a singleton and certainly not with a void. I would play invitational Lebensohl where say bidding 3 over 2 is invitational. To force you must double first or cuebid as Stayman. When they pass I play 2 as a scramble and anything else as natural.

If LHO bids two-of-a-major, it makes sense to treat the auction as if it went 1NT (by you) - two-of-a-major by LHO.

John Carruthers---After 1NT - double by us, the first subsequent double by either of us is takeout. All subsequent doubles by us are penalty. We cannot let them play in two-of-a-minor undoubled, however, we can let them play in two-of-a-major.

Jill Myers---Over natural bids, double is takeout. Over artificial bids double shows cards. Can’t let them play undoubled below 2.

Jon Wittes---Ross Grabel and I play after a penalty double of a weak 1NT, our first double over any natural bid is negative, and doubles after that are penalty. So, doubles of 2 natural or 2 natural are negative. The double of 2 Stayman should show clubs. If we double a weak notrump, we cannot sell out to anything at the 2 level or below, so if it goes 2 natural or 2 natural – Pass - Pass, doubler is obligated to reopen with a double with club shortness, or something else with club length.

Roger Bates—Double of 2 and 2 are for takeout. Double of 2 Stayman shows values. Can’t pass 2. Can pass 2 with length unless unfavorable.

Henry Bethe---After 1NT - double we are forced as long as there is something to bid at the two-level. That is, we are forced if the opponents bid 2 or less. We are not forced over the opponents' 2. If we are forced, doubles of natural bids are negative. Doubles of artificial bids show length in the suit doubled and create a force to the three-level. If we are no longer in a force, e.g. over 2 or higher, double is cooperative showing high card values and typically about three-card length in the suit doubled. Over 2 specifically I play Lebensohl.

Zeke Jabbour---If partner doubles a weak notrump and the opponent runs, I proceed on the assumption that we own the hand through the two-level. If I double a natural 2, or any natural bid through 2 it shows cards and is primarily for take-out but partner, of course, is free to convert to penalty. If I pass, partner cannot pass but must protect my own penalty potential and double again, allowing me to pass for penalty. Unless his hand indicates otherwise, e.g. he has length in the opponent's suit. If I double 2 Stayman, it shows clubs, and if I double a transfer, it shows the suit called. The rub comes with that natural 2 bid. A forcing pass propels you to the three-level if you don't have spades, and double--unless you make it penalty--forces partner to the three-level if he doesn't have spades. I suggest you treat a natural 2 call as if partner opened a strong notrump and double would mean whatever you play over notrump interference, including Lebensohl. i.e. double is negative, if that's what you play when partner opens a 1NT; or it shows cards (equivalent to a raise to 2NT) if that's what you play; or, it's penalty, if that's what you play. Utilize Lebensohl with a long suit and a weakish hand; and show a strong hand if you bid on the three-level directly.

Dave Berkowitz---Double of a natural 2 would show values and be for takeout. After 2 has been doubled all subsequent doubles are for penalty. If partner doubled LHO’s 2 Stayman it would be the same showing values and be for takeout. After doubling 1NT I could not pass 2. They could play 2 but not 2.

Adam Wildavsky---Doubles of natural runouts are loosely defined as negative, say five or six HCP or more with support for the unbid suits. Doubles of 2 and 2 mean the same thing, though with a little more required to double 2. A double of Stayman shows cards. By choice I play that Advancer's passes are non-forcing, though some of my partners prefer otherwise. I certainly don't play "Front of card" when responder passes -- I don't think it's sound.

Jeff Rubens---If I doubled a natural 2 it would show clubs and values. If I doubled a natural 2 it would show spades and values. If I doubled 2 meant as Stayman it would show clubs and values. If prefer to play partner’s pass of 2 and 2 as forcing. My requirements for doubling 1NT are much higher than most--under the more popular treatment(s), I imagine that it is inappropriate to treat such passes, especially over 2, as forcing. My choice of high requirements to double 1NT is based largely on long experience as a weak notrumper; these indicate that doubling with a hand at least as strong, or even at least a little stronger than that, is a losing strategy. The apparent reason for this is the great advantage that responder has over Advancer--responder knows his partner's approximate distribution; Advancer knows very little about his partner's distribution. That means that unless the defensive side can extract a penalty, which is much harder than it might sound, in view of the distributional consideration mentioned, the difficulty of the defensive bidders knowing how many trumps they have, and declarer's advantage when the contract is 1NT doubled, the offensive side is much more likely to find its correct contract when it has one than the defensive side is to find its correct contract when it has one.

After a penalty double, all doubles are for penalty. If Advancer shows values, new-suit bids or 2NT by either partner are forcing, old-suit bids are not. A penalty double of a suit counts, for later such purposes, as a "bid of that suit”.

Chip Martel---If partner doubled LHO’s natural 2, it would show three or more clubs and cards. If partner doubled LHO’s natural 2, it would be a negative double. If partner doubled LHO’s 2 Stayman, it would show three or more clubs and cards. I could pass if partner passed 2 or 2.

Bobby Wolff---One key to this answer would be: What do we mean by a penalty double? May it be a six-card running suit and an outside trick or should it be either a strong-notrump more balanced type 15+-17 or a maximum weak NT 13+-15. If double is either of the last two types, then partner's double of 2 natural would be penalty and a double of Stayman should be like a redouble of an opponent's takeout double of partner's one-of-a-suit opening.

If the partner of the notrump doubler passes at his first turn then all forces are off, but if partner doubles to show cards or penalty, then if the doubler passes at his second turn and the opponents continue to bid, the partner of the original doubler is forced through the opponent's 2 to do something other than pass it out.

The situation you are now covering is one of the least consistent parts of high-level partnership (HLP) understandings with constant changes and too much room for misunderstandings. Various problems emerge, not the least of which are maintaining ethical tempos, throughout the auction. Add to that the problem of most HLP's playing differently defending weak and strong notrump openings and only then are we beginning to scratch the surface of this considerable problem.

If you, during your survey, can suggest a reasonable, fairly consistent method to handle two types of notrump openings, you will be doing the HLP's a significant service. To deal with all the other players is also worthwhile, but probably all in vain, since very few will take your suggestions to heart and will just hope they never encounter needing to have it all worked out, but we all know that when it comes up it is important.

Bobby Levin---We are in a force through 2 therefore double is penalty when we are in a force and pass is forcing. 2 and higher we are not in a force so double is cards and pass not forcing.

Barry Rigal---Simplest and not clear that it's not best to play: all continuations, whether they run or not, as over your strong notrump opening. Play take-out doubles, transfers, and play double of two-any as Stayman, with forcing passes of two-of-a-minor, and maybe 2 as well. I think, but I'm not sure that negative doubles after forcing pass of two-of-a-minor and take-out double by strong hand is theoretically best. 1NT – double – two-of-a-minor - Pass (forcing) – Pass – Double is takeout.

Ralph Katz---I now like to play, suggested by Michael Rosenberg, that once you double a weak notrump your side is in a force thru 2. Therefore anytime you are in a force, pass is forcing so double is penalty. If the opponents bid more than 2 then doubles are card showing. So if it goes 1NT – double, pass over 2 is forcing and over 2 or anything higher it is non-forcing.

George Jacobs---We are committed to either double them or bid through 2. All doubles are penalty. The double of Stayman is cards.

Eddie Kantar---If 2 is Stayman, double is for penalty. In all other cases, double shows cards. If 2 or 2 natural is passed around, I can't pass. This might work, but it is crazy. If the opponents know what we are doing, they can respond with strong hands and the doubler is forced to bid again.

Marinesa Letizia---I play that we pretend the bidding went a strong notrump by the doubler. Then I play Transfer Lebensohl; and other toys if they show two suits, Landy defense etc. We are not forced if partner passes. Doubles generally show a raise to 2NT or better except doubling 2 may be Stayman.

Larry Cohen---After I double the weak notrump for penalties, we pretend I opened 1NT. So, it is system on as if I opened 1NT. Whatever you play after they interfere with your strong notrump, you use here. The only issue is whether or not pass is forcing and we say YES if they bid below 2.

I play Transfer Lebensohl after 1NT – DBL – Two-of-a-major, regular Lebensohl over 2, and over 2 I play double shows three or more clubs and 2 is takeout.

Mike Passell---I have the understanding that after a weak notrump is doubled, the first double from either side is takeout; then everything is penalty. It seems to create easier situations to compete and easier to double for penalty from either side. We like to play Lebensohl at the three-level as if partner had opened 1NT.

The general rule of competing is to compete strongly when short in the opponent’s suit and be conservative when long. With this in mind, after a penalty double of 1NT, double by Advancer of Stayman or Jacoby should be strength showing. If Responder makes a natural bid, double shows shortness or a game-forcing hand. If Advancer is long in Responder’s suit with a fair hand he waits for partner to reopen. If Advancer is long in their suit and has a good hand he can’t pass. Sometimes they escape.

If Advancer passes Stayman or Jacoby, play double of the response as takeout. If the penalty doubler is strong in the suit that Opener bid and has a minimum penalty double, he has to wait for Advancer to reopen with a double. If Responder makes a natural bid and you have a minimum penalty double you can pass it out if you have at least three cards in their suit. With fewer than three cards in Responder’s suit, reopen with a double. After any second double by your side all subsequent doubles are penalties. Using these methods the opponents could play in your six-card or longer fit undoubled. This would only occur if this is a part score battle.
Don Berman, Web Master.