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ArticlesWhen Should you Double a Weak NT? (Feb/Mar 2009)
Your RHO opens a 12-14 notrump. Holding Kxx/Kxx/Kxxx/Kxx, I think you would pass. Assuming you're playing penalty doubles of weak notrumps, what are minimum additions you would need to make a penalty double? What are your thoughts on when to make a penalty double vs. making a shape showing bid?

My thoughts on the subject: When an opponent opens a 12-14 notrump the chances of your side making 3NT is slim. I gear my bidding to compete for the partscore and to get distributional games. Therefore I play double shows three types of hands. The most likely hand is a four-card major and a longer minor. My minimum is a hand where I would think about opening. The second type of hand is a minor one-suiter. I could also show a one-suiter by bidding the suit at the three-level. Bidding a suit at the three-level preempts the opponents and makes it more difficult for them to find their best fit. Doubling allows you to play at the two-level if the opponents have the balance of power. Sometimes you can get them on hand types one and two when partner can stand the lead of either minor and passes for penalties. The third type of hand is any strong hand. Over the double, Advancer bids 2 to play in my minor and 2 to play in my major. Two-of-a-major by Advancer shows a six-card or longer suit. If I have a strong hand, I make an unusual bid over 2 or 2. If I have a diamond one-suiter, I pass 2. If I have a club-one suiter, I bid 3 over 2. I lost a tournament when I doubled with a club one-suiter, Responder redoubled and Advancer bid 2 asking for my major. I had to bid 3 which got doubled and went for 300. To avoid this disaster, if Responder makes a strength showing redouble, then pass asks for the minor and 2 asks for the major.

Most of the experts play double is penalties.

Jeff Rubens---I assume that the first question means "what agreements would you prefer to make about strength to double for penalty." I prefer very strong penalty doubles. The reason is that if the auction continues responder has a strong clue to his partner's distribution and advancer does not. It takes a lot of strength to compensate for that disadvantage. For example, one might want to play that advancer's pass of a two-level rescue is forcing. To support that, doubler needs a very high minimum. Furthermore, how can advancer tell whether to compete with a moderate shapely hand since he has no guarantee of minimum support? If doubler must be very strong, advancer has more protection if he pokes in with a decent suit. There is also a small residual advantage in that having narrower ranges increases the chance of having decent constructive bidding (though it is still very hard in general). On top of all that, if the final contract is 1NT, undoubled or doubled, declarer has a huge advantage. I'd much rather have a good opening lead than a lot of HCP to double 1NT in direct position. A lot of experience as a weak notrumper confirms all these influences.

(2) When not sure, show your shape. Defending 1NT is bad percentage, and if responder has shape (and any strength) he can get an edge various ways if you double. Better not to be involved with a marginal hand.

Jeff Rubens has a lot of experience since he played weak notrumps. The weak notrump side has an advantage. The partner of the opener knows how much strength their side has. Since weak notrumpers know that they will be doubled, they should have good methods to escape to their best fit. Doubling might let the weak notrumper get to a better contract. If you hold QxxKxxxxJ1098x you would want to play 2 when partner opens 1NT but you can’t. The double allows Responder to play in 2. Another problem is what does Advancer do with four HCP? If doubler has 14, the opponents have the balance of power. If doubler has 18 you have the balance of power.

Eddie Kantar---With a balanced hand: 14+ with a good lead, otherwise 15+. With a strong one-loser suit and at least one certain outside entry or any hand I would have opened. With a two-suiter, show the shape and then bid again to show extras.

One of the problems with doubling with a strong balanced hand such as AxxAxxxAxxKxx, is that you don’t know which is the best suit to lead. Doubling 1NT with the above hand works well when you have a good partner. (A good partner is one who holds the balance of the strength). It doesn’t work well when the notrumper has a good partner who holds the balance of the strength.

Jon Wittes---We play penalty doubles of weak no trumps in direct seat start at a good 14, a little lighter in pass-out seat. The problem with not doubling on these balanced hands, is partner might also have a balanced minimum opening bid, and be unable to act in the passout seat, allowing the opponents to steal from us, especially when they are not vulnerable. As for bidding rather than doubling, as a general rule, I would tend to bid the more unbalanced I am, however, the stronger the hand, the more inclined I would be to start with a double.  

Mike Lawrence---My rule of thumb for a penalty double is the equivalent of their max with a GOOD lead or at least one more point. Generally speaking. If I have easily biddable shape, I prefer that route.

Your methods might influence whether you double or bid. If you have AKxxxAKQxxxxx and 2 or 2 show both majors, you could go that way. If 2 shows both majors, partner could easily pass 2 and you would very likely miss a game.

Marinesa Letizia---I play double shows a strong notrump or better. I guess I would double for penalty with a strong balanced hand and bid with an unbalanced hand. 

Billy Pollack---My hand has to be "worth" the top of their range to double. This is a good poker hand but not necessarily worth many tricks at bridge -- I value it at about a ten count. If my diamonds were KQTx, that would be just enough. Shape bids, particularly white, can be far less; with: KJxxxKJxxxxxx I would show both majors. Against weak notrumps we can act with less because partner knows our hand is limited.

With a good lead such as KQJxx and an outside ace you could even double with a 10-count. You have a good opening lead.

Kit Woolsey---I would want a 14 or 15-count -- strong notrump strength or close to it. If I am in any way distributional (even 5-4-2-2) I always prefer to make a shape-showing bid vs. a penalty double assuming I have a descriptive shape-showing bid available in my methods. To see this, let's suppose we are playing the feared 5-7 1NT-opening bid (about what partner figures to have when I have 15 and RHO has a weak NT). He opens 1NT, 5-7, and RHO passes. I have a 5-4-2-2 15 count with a five-card major. Would I pass or transfer and play the major? Of course I would transfer and play the major. Well, it is basically the same thing. The opponents were the ones who opened 1NT, but if I defend I am still contracting for the same seven tricks in notrump that I would be if we were declaring.

Bobby Wolff---My doubles of all opponent's notrump openings show cards, but is tied to what the notrump bidder has. No I would not double with your example hand, but yes if any of my four kings had a mate I would. As a responder I don't search out penalties, but I do search out getting into the bidding. At least to me, I love to play against players (even some very good ones), who seem to always find excuses to not get in the bidding, rather than vice versa. In any event, this method has worked for me and I seriously think it would work for anyone who tried it. Simply put, a player (partnership) has much more going for it when coming in the bidding, rather than meekly passing.

Doubling does get you in the bidding. The problem is when partner has a bad 4-3-3-3 hand.

Fred Hamilton---I would need two queens in addition or one ace of course. With good shape (ten cards in two suits, I will come in with eight HCP if they are in my suits (AxxxxxKJxxxxx). Players need to understand that RHO being weak (though an opening hand) does not make their hand any better.

Chip Martel---Add a queen

Jill Meyers---My understanding with partner is I don't make a penalty double of a weak notrump unless I have an opening strong notrump (and I play system on by partner over this as if I opened 1NT). I would have a balanced hand unless I had some kind of 5-4-3-1 ­hand that I could pretend was balanced because I didn't have another bid for it. With one suited hands I would not double.

Nick Nickell---Add an Ace to this hand and I would not double. Add an Ace and a Queen and you probably have to double. It is certainly possible that we have a game, but when RHO opens, it is way less likely. The problem with doubling with balanced hands when you have no clear suit to lead, is that the defense can be quite difficult, and the bidding can be strained, as well. We do not need to try to get the maximum on these hands each time. I think that a penalty double of a weak notrump should be a strong suggestion that you think that it is our hand. I bid very aggressively with distributional values and conservatively with balanced hands.

Larry Mori---Generally speaking, penalty doubles of 1NT have a trick source; however, with weak 1NT one has to include 15+ notrump type hands where we are cold for a game or are missing out on a number. Shape showing bids are generally two-suiters.

Russ Ekeblad---With a balanced or semi-balanced hand and partner an unpassed hand pass with all 12's, most 13's, and a filthy spotless 4-3-3-3 14-count. Double with textured 13, at least one 109 combination and a comfortable-will-not-give-up-a-trick, lead. Double with all 14+ hands except per above. When partner is a passed hand, requirement to double is bumped up one point. With 5-4-3-1 or 4-4-4-1, pass with all minimum opening bids and hope to double for takeout later. Double with prime 13+. With 5-5 or more extreme, always take whatever action shows a two-suiter. Since all actions are constructive, I would rather start showing my hand than to double and perhaps be preempted from showing it later. With six-card or longer one-suiter: Again, with a normal hand (12-15) I would rather show my suit immediately than double. Even with a likely beat of 1NT (KQJ10xxx and side Ace) it makes sense to bid the suit. Odds on opponents riding it out in 1NT are slim. If I double and then bid my suit on the second round it shows considerable extra values.

Kerri Sanborn---My view on doubling weak notrumps is that I need the top of the opponent's range or better. However, the given hand would not qualify in any respect. Double is either strength showing or penalty, as with eight solid of a suit being only 10 HCP, but penalty nonetheless. In order for the given hand to beef up to a double, I would need another Queen at a minimum, and I would like some "chunk" to the hand, some 9's and 10's. If we can rearrange the hand, shape-wise, we can come up with good minimums for double. Say we have; KQJ10xKxAxxxxx. I would consider this a reasonable penalty or card-showing double. It has tricks and a lead. Unfortunately, partner cannot know with a very poor hand whether we have enough tricks to defeat the contract on our own. It is often practical to start bidding suits instead of doubling, since the opponents might be able to preempt your side out of finding the best contract. Give a hand such as xKQJxxAQJxxKx. I would show shape rather than strength, so that I won't lose my two suits. Also, on a hand like this, partner may be the one to pull a double to 2, and we have not started to describe our shape and will have to guess which suit to bid.

Eric Greco---When I have approximately a strong notrump or better I make a penalty double. Some hands with clear leads can have less than 15 points i.e. KQJ10x and a 14 count or AKQJ10x and a 13 count etc. To alleviate the problem I think you are getting at, I play 2NT shows an intermediate overcall in any suit (over this 3 is GF and 3 is pass or correct. On the three-level I play Brozel—3 of a minor shows that suit and hearts, 3 is the majors and 3 is spades and a minor. So when you overcall on the two-level, you do not have a hand strong enough to double although I think it should be at least a hand that is close to opening the bidding with.   

Bart Bramley---I want at least a good 14 HCP to double. With flat shape and no aces I'll need at least 15, so I want a fifth king in addition to what I have. I want the same even against smaller notrump ranges. Doubling with such hands is more accurately described as competitive rather than penalty, although I expect partner to pass with his own balanced hand, regardless of strength. With a two-suiter I lean toward showing shape. With a one-suiter I will judge based on my projection of the defense of 1NT; if I can see the setting tricks in my hand I will double, otherwise usually bid.

Frank Stewart---I'd prefer about 15 HCP or so to double. I'd also prefer a potential source of tricks and a reasonable opening lead, but you can't have everything.

The following expert likes to start all good hands with a double.

Larry Cohen---Add two jacks or one queen. If opposite a passed hand, I'd have a bit more. Prefer shape-showing bids to DENY a good hand. All good hands start with double.

Dave Berkowitz---Obviously the lack of a good lead is a real detriment. I would need another Ace somewhere. A scattered queen and jack would not be enough. But, KxxKxxKQJxKxx would be an acceptable minimum.

Barry Rigal---Give me a 14 count and a five-card suit e.g. make a small diamond a queen. When I'm shapely with a two-suiter I'll normally bid, not double unless enticed by the vulnerability.

Ralph Katz---Add a QJ in the same suit so you have a lead and I would double. Knowing whether LHO and partner have passed is a huge consideration. As a general rule, 14 HCP with a source of tricks or a decent 15-count would be needed. Might be a little more lax if it went Pass - Pass -1NT. As far as deciding whether to double or bid, I think if 5-4+ and your shape fits the bid, then bid. Maybe you let them off the hook, but if you double you might never get to your best spot. Bids over a weak NT should resemble something close to an opening bid. If you hold KJxxxKJ10xxxxx, you would normally bid over a strong NT but you need to pass against a weak notrump. By passing you might occasionally be throwing a part score away, and partner would have to know not to overbid if you make a call, but in the long run this is best.

Since I would think about openingKJxxxKJ10xxxxx, I would make a bid showing both majors.

Zeke Jabbour---How about another King?  Failing that I would settle for a Queen and Jack, preferably in diamonds. I would actually even settle for a Queen and three tens. Against a weak notrump I do not have the same requirements for a source of tricks (a good hand with a good lead). The second part is contingent on the conditions of contest (vulnerability, seat, etc.).  In general, with a hand that's distributional, I bid. With a hand that has a source of tricks and entries, I double. I am always careful, however, about doubling notrump with a short, unstopped minor.

Mel Colchamiro---I would need to add a Queen to one of the suits before I would double. Unless you have great strength, say 18+ HCP, I favor making the shape showing bid, whatever my methods would allow. Isn't overcalling a weak notrump tantamount to overcalling a 1 or 1 opening bid? Given that, I try to bid as I would under those circumstances. That's the difference between overcalling a weak notrump and a strong notrump. Their weak notrump is trying to preempt us (and describe), but when they open a strong 1NT(15+), they usually have the balance of power, so we try to razzle-dazzle them, without getting into TOO much trouble (at least at matchpoints).

John Carruthers---With most partners who wish to play penalty doubles of 1NT (some prefer to play double conventional, which is ok with me), I play “top of their range plus". However, I personally am very leery of doubling 1NT with a random balanced hand. I like to have a good lead as well as who does not? With an unbalanced hand, I nearly always make a shape-showing bid as I have found that: (a.) we almost never play in 1NT doubled, and, (b.) when we do, declarer wins the opening lead and runs six tricks in my short suit at me! Even if it's only four or five tricks, discarding can be very uncomfortable.

Mark Lair---I need another high point with some good spots so 13+ would be my minimum. I guess I would always opt to keep an un-passed hand double as for penalties vs. a two-suiter. Even with shape and 14+ HCP values, I would tend to start with a penalty double with a two-suited major hand possibly being an exception.

Most of the experts agree that if you have methods where you can show a two-suiter, you do so no matter what’s your strength. Doubling with a minimum hand with a good lead works better than doubling with a stronger hand when you have to guess which suit to lead.
Don Berman, Web Master.