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Shawn Stringer, President
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Aug/SepArticle by Steve RobinsonDec/Jan
ArticlesOne-Suited Negative Doubles (Oct/Nov 2009)
I asked my expert panel the following question:

You hold ABxxCDxxxxxxx. Partner opens 1, RHO overcalls 1. With what values of ABCD would you make a negative double and with what values would you pass? Assume double shows four spades and 1 shows five.

You hold EFxxxGHxxxxxx. Partner opens 1, RHO overcalls 1. With what values of EFGH would you make a negative double and with what values would you pass? Would vulnerability and type of game make a big difference in your answers?

There are four reasons to pass. The number one reason is that you have enough strength in their suit to pass. You hope partner reopens with a double and you can pass for penalties. You have K1098x of their suit and eleven HCP. The second reason is that partner has to bid something over your negative double. You might not be happy if partner doesn’t have the other major and has to bid a minor. Let’s say opener has ªxxx©xx¨AKxx§AJxx and opens 1¨. After the negative double, he will bid clubs. If the negative doubler is 4522 after a 1© overcall or 5422 after a 1ª overcall, you could end up playing in a 4-2 fit. The third reason is that if partner passes, you would be happy to defend. If opener has ªxx©xxx¨AKxxx§AJx, he will pass out 1© and the opponents will be playing in your 5-3 fit. The fourth reason to pass is that LHO who is short in overcaller’s suit might feel compelled to bid and you’ll get to defend at a higher level. If you double, LHO doesn’t have to bid if he is short in overcaller’s suit.

There are two reasons to double. The number one reason is that you have enough strength that you want to be in game and would not be happy defending. Holding ªAKxx©AJxxx¨Kx§Qx, you wouldn’t be happy if partner did not reopen after a 1© overcall. The second reason to double is that if you pass, partner will reopen with a double with three of the unbid major as well as four. Passing and then bidding your four-card major increases the chances of playing in a 4-3 fit. ªAxxxx©Qxxx¨xx§xx. If you pass and partner reopens with a double, you’re stuck bidding 2© and partner could easily have only three hearts. He would reopen with a takeout double if he held ªx©Jxx¨AKxxx§AJxx If you make a negative double, partner doesn’t have to bid 2© when he holds only three hearts.

Bobby Wolff---You present a very icky problem, at least to me. On the first hand, if I held ªAKxx©Axxxx¨xx§xx, I might double. Since I would take out partner's reopening double because of poor heart spots, I would double right away, to ensure we are not defending a one-level contract.  

On the second hand, a slightly different philosophy. If EFGH were all high honors, including the two aces, such as ªAKxxx©AKxx¨xx§xx, I would double so as to probably get to 3NT and at the same time show four hearts. Otherwise I would pass, but am reluctant to say I would stand for a reopening double of 1ª. I don't remember ever holding precisely anything very similar to your proposed distribution.

Jill Meyers---In the first example, at favorable vulnerability I would bid on a four-count if all in spades, such as ªAxxx©xxxxx¨xx§xx; at other vulnerabilities I would pass unless I had a useful six or seven HCP, such as ªAQxx©xxxxx¨xx§xx. On the second hand, I would have seven or eight HCP with decent hearts, such as ªxxxxx©AKxx¨xx§xx.

The problem with doubling 1ª holding ªxxxxx©AKxx¨xx§xx is that partner sometimes bids 2§. You then have to bid 2¨ and possibly play a 4-2 fit. On good days partner has four hearts.

Steve Bloom---Good question. Let’s start with 4-5-2-2 after 1¨ – 1© overcall. First off: When will it be right to defend 1© doubled? As a practical matter, never!  Partner won’t reopen unless short in hearts, and playing at the one-level when they have seven or eight trumps will seldom pay any dividends. Just a week ago, I went for them in 1© doubled, and cost a bundle of IMPs when we could only collect 200, and we had an easy game. I am sure there are exceptions, but if you never sit out 1© doubled, you will do just fine.

Partner often has a weak notrump for his 1¨ opening, and if you pass 1© that may end the auction. This is fine, and rates to be our best spot, if you are not very strong, so passing 1© around to partner is probably okay. If you want to get to a game opposite a weak notrump, then you must act initially.

If you pass and partner reopens with a double, then you can bid 1ª or 2ª, depending on strength. In other words, if 1© looks like a good spot for your side opposite a weak notrump, then you should pass, regardless of honor location. I would tend to double on a hand like ªAKxx©xxxxx¨xx§xx, or even ªAKxx©Jxxxx¨xx§xx, where the hearts won’t often produce two tricks on defense, but will pass 1© on most 4-5-2-2 hands with ten highs or less.

Things are trickier after 1¨ - 1ª overcall. The same principles apply, but if you pass with some ten-count and four hearts, do you bid 2© when partner doubles? 3©? I double with some of those hands initially, but can’t say that I am thrilled when the bidding goes 1¨ – 1ª – Double -- Pass -- 2§ which partner might well bid with a hand like ªxx©Jxx¨AKJx§Kxxx. If I wanted to play in 4© opposite some 1-4-5-3 13 count, then I’d have to double. I will often bid 1NT, despite the four hearts on some of these nine or ten counts. That at least shows some values, and avoids the rebid headaches if I pass or double.

Part of the problem about defending one-level doubled contracts is the number of cards partner has in their suit. If partner doubles with a void, he’ll never be able to lead trumps and you’ll have problems defending. If partner reopens with a singleton, at least he’ll be able to lead trumps once and they have only seven trumps.

Eric Greco---Problem 1: I am very cautious with five hearts and four spades as partner is always going to overbid with short hearts in this auction. I would tend only to double with weak hearts and great spades like ªAKxx©Jxxxx¨xx§xx or with a good hand that I did not want to seek a penalty on based on the vulnerability. Something like ªAQxx©Axxxx¨xx§xx. At vulnerable VS not, I would not go for penalty without good spots.

Problem 2: Here it is simple. I am going to double only on good hands that I don't want to go for a penalty based on the vulnerability. Something like ªAxxxx©AQxx¨xx§xx at any vulnerability. Throw in the ªJ and I would go for the penalty, although at vulnerable VS not, I would need good spots to go for penalties. You must have a good (say nine+ working points here) because you may well have no fit, and it is so ugly to have to correct partner’s second bid of clubs to diamonds on xx.

Mel Colchamiro---ªAxxx©xxxxx¨Qx§xx is good enough for me over 1© ªxxxx©Kxxxx¨Kx§xx is my minimum over 1ª. Vulnerable and scoring of game not too important.

Marty Bergen---I don't like one-suited negative doubles with five cards in their suit. I’m not well placed if opener bids 2§. ªAKJx©xxxxx¨xx§xx is about my minimum. After a 1ª overcall, my minimum is slightly higher, because opener can't bid my major with three at one-level. Vulnerability and type of game would not make a big difference.

After 1¨ - 1© double, I think that Opener should be able to bid 1ª with three spades. Holding four spades and 11-14 HCP, Opener should bid 2ª. This means that after 1¨ - 1© doubled, opener can bid 1ª if he holds ªAxx©xx¨AKxx§Jxxx. Bidding 1ª would allow opener to avoid playing the 4-2 diamond fit.

Kit Woolsey---This is a difficult question to answer as posed, since there are so many variables involved. My honor holding in the four-card major isn't too important, except as far as overall strength is involved. My honor holding in their suit is, of course. In addition, if I am considering passing, and then passing a re-opening double, my spot cards in their suit may be important. And obviously, vulnerability and/or form of scoring come into play. Let me try to give a more general answer. I would make a negative double, unless either: 1) I would not be unhappy if partner passed it out, or 2) I would be planning on passing a re-opening double.

Lynn Deas---Holding ªK10xx©KJxxx¨xx§xx I would pass 1© and pass the double. Holding ªK10xx©AJxxx¨xx§xx, I would double. Holding ªKJxxx©Jxxx¨xx§xx I would pass 1ª and then pass the double. Holding ªK10xxx©Q10xx¨xx§xx I would make a negative double. Vulnerability would make a difference, but type of game is not as important.

George Jacobs---With QJxx, and at least KQxxx, I would pass over 1©. Any less than that in hearts seems overreaching. If partner can re-open, we probably have a good fit. Now KJ109x is okay too.

Eddie Kantar---I would need something like AKxx of spades and no more than Jxxxx of hearts to double 1©. If my spades were Axxxx or xxxxx, I would double with AKxx of hearts. With any other spade holding I would pass, even with AKxx of hearts. Vulnerability and type of game would not make a difference.

Henry Bethe---I am perhaps iconoclastic in that I do not generally make one-suited negative doubles. With the given shape: four cards in the other major and five in overcaller's suit, I would not make a negative double without the values to bid 2NT over partner's two of a minor. A minimum would therefore be a ten-count, preferably 11 in either case. I would certainly consider 1NT with less over either, preferring to bury the major rather than getting partner excited with a minor two-suiter since partner has, in my partnerships, the right to expect support for one of them or the ability to cope with the rebid after a negative double.

With enough to bid at least 2NT over any of partner’s bids, you are safe making a negative double. With fewer points, you have to pass opener’s rebid or take a preference with only two.

Kerri Sanborn---It would depend on the vulnerability, but not the form of the game so much. Specifically, I would need to think that I could not do as well defending as bidding to make the negative double. If I think there could be a game, I would most likely bid unless I also thought that I could penalize the overcall for more than the value of that game. As to specific hands, the texture I held in the overcalled suit obviously makes a world of difference. Holding ªAKxx©KJxxx¨xx§xx, penalizing is not as attractive as with ªAQxx©KJ98x¨xx§xx. These two hands illustrate the way I look at whether to pass for penalty or double negative.

It is slightly more likely to pass 1ª for penalty, since your side might not have the values for game, and getting the penalty could be the best possible result. If I were to make a negative double, I would have to be able to bid 2NT or take a preference when partner bid the other minor - not always an attractive option. Suppose ªKT8xx©KT8x¨Qx§xx. Here, passing for penalty is a much more comfortable option after a 1ª overcall than the similar hand would be after 1©.

One has to be careful passing the overcall with an opening bid. Opener is not forced to reopen and might not without support for the other major.

Dan Morse---My partners always bid 2§ or 2¨ when I make a negative double with these hands so I would pass with Ace, Queen or Jack in hearts and Ace or King in Spades, and bid 1NT with 7-10 points.

Zeke Jabbour---Vulnerability would definitely influence my choice of actions. Even more relevant may be the spots--the x's. Holding ªAJxx©KJxxx¨xx§xx with good spots, preferably the 1098, I would pass, especially with equal or favorable vulnerability. The KJ1098 of hearts are not of likely offensive value, but they represent four potential tricks on defense along with another one-plus in spades. Vulnerable vs. not, change the values slightly to ªKJ10x©AQxxx; here the heart holding has increased offensive value and the risk to reward ratio changes such that I might opt to look for a vulnerable game. Similarly, in the second example, if the spades are weak, say, J9xxx and the hearts strong, like, AKJx, I would double. With good textured spades and weak hearts, I would pass and wait for the re-opening.

Doubling one of a major is not game and could probably be done with profit more frequently. Recently, playing IMPs against a world-class pair, RHO opened the bidding 1©. I held ªQJx©109876¨AKx§xx and passed; LHO passed and partner doubled for takeout. For better or worse, it WAS a balance, but, as I said, 1© doubled is not game. I passed and led the ©10. We collected 1100. They rejected that opportunity at the other table.

Marinesa Letizia---Would make a negative double on any hand that I would not sit for a reopening double with six or more HCP. Would pass on any hand that I am going to sit for a reopening double unless I had fewer than six HCP. After a 1ª overcall I would make a negative double on any hand with seven or more HCP that I'm not going to sit for a reopening double. I would pass on any hand that I'm willing to sit for a reopening double. At matchpoints, I would be more inclined to go for the +300 than at IMPs. With values for game, I would of course take vulnerability into account.

Chip Martel---Over 1©, roughly ªQTxx©Kxxxx¨xx§xx or ªKQxx©xxxxx¨xx§xx would be minimums. Game and vulnerability are not too relevant, though in close cases I am more likely to bid non-vulnerable. Over 1ª, I would be slightly stronger, say ªKxxxx©Kxxx, or ªxxxxx©AJxx.

Richard Schwartz---I’ve decided that only vulnerable VS not and with a singleton in my partner’s minor would I not make a negative double.

Fred Hamilton---I have a rule regarding these situations, when RHO bids your best or longest suit, the best course of action is almost always to pass. Therefore I would pass in both cases unless I had enough to rebid 2NT when partner rebids his minor over my negative double.

Follows the rule that you are aggressive when short and conservative when long in the opponent’s suit.

Ralph Katz---This is really tough to answer by filling in cards. A few general rules: 1. If you think we have enough for game, considering the vulnerability, double if your hearts are not good enough to penalize the opponents. 2. On a hand that looks like we can only make a partscore, I would tend to pass and then if partner bids, make my decision there. Unless the opponents psyched, it will be a good board if it goes all pass. 3. If either side is vulnerable, and you think it is close whether to bid or not, Pass.

Ronnie Rubin---This depends on vulnerability. To me, the main difference is this: If I hold ©KQ109x, I am far more inclined to pass 1© no matter what my spade holding is. Without the ©109, I would lean towards making a negative double.

Frank Stewart---Certainly, the vulnerability and form of scoring would influence any good player's decision. Moreover, the rank of the spot cards would be a significant factor. Assuming neither vulnerable at IMPs, I might make a negative double over 1© with ªK432©AK432¨32§32. The heart honors would be useful for offense as well as for defense. With weaker spades and better heart spots or with a heart holding such as QJ853 -- an unexpected surprise for declarer -- I would be more inclined to pass and play for a penalty.

It is clear that you should make a negative double with game-forcing hands and with game-invitational hands. It is also clear to pass if you want to defend the one-level contract doubled and are willing to defend the contract undoubled if partner passes it out. The rest of the cases can go either way. On good days, when you make a negative double, partner will have four cards in the other major. On bad days, opener will be 4-4 in the minors and you’ll end up playing in a 4-2 fit. On good days when you pass and partner reopens with a double, he’ll have four of the other major. On bad days only three.
Don Berman, Web Master.