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District 6
Shawn Stringer, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
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Dec/JanArticle by Steve RobinsonJun/Jul
ArticlesBidding over 4 Preempt (Feb/Mar 2013)
I want to discuss what you do when it goes 4 – Pass – Pass to you. Would you do something holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx? Would you do something holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx? Now make it -KxxxKQxxxAQxx? Does vulnerability make a difference? Would you pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx?

There are many experts who play that double of 4 is a takeout double. That means that if you double 4 with hands one and two, partner is allowed to bid 5 which is probably the last bid you want to hear. There are several experts who pass 4 holding a 3=2=4=4 17-count but think that passing with a 21-count is too conservative.


Doug Doub---I think that the first hand should pass, and the third hand should double. Spade void and QJxxxx of hearts should bid 5 if partner doubles. With the 3=2=4=4 21 count, I think that partner will pass the double or make what he bids often enough to make double percentage. I don't think that the vulnerability matters much in the decisions.

Jill Meyers---I would pass 4 holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx. I would double 4 holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx. I think the most likely action by partner will be pass, and I know I am beating 4, or so I think, unless leftie has a magic hand such as KJ10xxxxxAKxxx-, but partner could have a heart trick and I feel I have to protect equity with this hand. I would double 4 holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx, a hand which contains more offense. Vulnerability does not make a difference. I would probably not pull 4 doubled holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Jeff Rubens---I would pass 4 holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx. I’d need to have nearly slam in my hand not to pass with a doubleton heart. I would double 4 holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. Imperfect, but what can one do? Perhaps vulnerability matters on whether to overcall or pass, but it seems not between double and pass. I certainly would pull 4 doubled holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx to 5 though I would call it "taking out," not "pulling.”

Eric Greco---I play double of 4 as takeout(ish).
1. On the first hand, I am just fixed. I don’t have enough strength to compensate for my lack of shape. 
2. On the second hand, I would double and hope for the best. I just have way too much to pass it out. Of course, when partner bids 5, I won’t be too happy, but such is life.
3. On the third hand, I would double. Of course it would not be crazy to be forced to bid 4NT on this type of hand. I actually think that is very reasonable, maybe correct, where double promises at least one spade.
4. Vulnerability does make a difference in that the more favorable the vulnerability to us, the fewer points I might have to double, as I could be looking for a cheap save. 
5. Pulling the double is a complicated question. Do you pull with hands where you hope to make or hands which would be more likely to save? There is no clear answer, but I would pull with most offensive hands regardless of points. I would certainly pull with the example hand as it has way too much offensive value to pass, even though I will likely go down in game or slam. One thing to possibly play is that a direct bid of 5 over a double is a better hand, and you start with 4NT and pull to 5 with the weaker hands such as this. The key to pulling is to have some offensive potential/shape. 

Lastly, if we are playing against players who aggressively open 4, then the double becomes more towards cards rather than takeout.

Barry Rigal---Holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx, I would pass. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would double and cross my fingers. I would double holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx and feel happy. I would pull 4 doubled to 4NT holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx and then remove a minor to 5, which is weaker than a direct 5 by partnership agreement. Mark Lair---Holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx, depending on the state of the match, I would pass or double but leaning towards a pass. With AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would double and hope partner uses 4NT with two suits. Holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx I would bid 4NT. I used to double with scattered results, but most often I regretted not bidding 4NT. Vulnerability does somewhat make a difference. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Mel Colchamiro---Holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx, I would pass and hope to go plus. To me, double here is basically still takeout. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would double, unless 4NT here is to play, which I suspect not many of us play. This hand is just too strong to pass, and 4NT which is a two-suiter too weird for me. I would double holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx with no regrets. Vulnerability does make a difference. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Chuck Berger-----I would pass with AQxxxAKJxQJxx but double with AQxxxAKJxAKxx and -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. Vulnerability does not make a difference on these hands. I would not pull 4 doubled holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx. I have too many losers. Pull for make or clear sacrifice,

Danny Gerstman---I would pass with AQxxxAKJxQJxx. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would bid 4NT. Too much to pass. I realize I'm well on the way to a 4-3 fit when they were going down plenty, nonetheless too much to pass. I would double with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx, the ideal hand. No, the vulnerability doesn't matter. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx. In summary: when I double I promise transferable values or a fit and as such when I have a long suit and promised one of those two things (as in the last choice) I bid 5 with alacrity. By the way with 3=2=4=4 21 count I bid 4NT; I would have doubled had it included three hearts and if the corresponding hand were the one with the QJxxxx of hearts and out I would still bid 5 over that, which is almost certainly down when 4 was going down.

The following experts not only pass the 17-count, they pass the 21-count.

Mike Lawrence---I must pass with hand number one and two since my methods include the standard Double is takeout, and 4NT is a two suited takeout. 4NT is possible, but too rich for me. Also, whichever suit partner bids will be played with the lead coming through my AQx of spades. The cost of bidding rates to be too expensive. -KxxxKQxxxAQxx is an acceptable hand to double 4. If I held -QJxxxxxxxxxxx facing a takeout double, I would pull to 5. Partner will expect more, but I doubt it matters since their side will keep bidding spades. Frankly, this is an impossible hand.

Larry Cohen---Double for me is NOT penalty-oriented. Partner is expected to sit with a flattish hand and pull with shape. If I happen to have good spades (unlikely), I'm stuck. So, I have to pass with the first two hands unless I want to take a flyer with 4NT on the second one. If I double, partner is almost sure to take it out -- maybe to hearts. And yes, on the third hand, I would double since 4NT shows a two-suiter -- and partner should take it out with six hearts and zero spades. He has two ways to bid 5 -- one to show a good 5 bid -- like via 4NT first. Vulnerability does not affect the methods/theory -- just might affect the decision as I need a little more when vulnerable.

Dave Berkowitz---Holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx, you have to pass, life is tough. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I guess I would double, and remove 5 to 5NT. Holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx is automatic to double at any colors. Vulnerability does make a difference. Holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx no other choice but to bid, but you should play 4NT followed by 5 is weaker than a direct 5.

Amazing that Berkowitz and Cohen, who played together for a long time, have diverse meanings of how to show a good 5 hand. I have a different opinion. After partner’s takeout(ish) double, 4NT should be choice of suits. The best holdings for the 4NT-choice-of-suit-call are either minors or red suits. With both red suits, you correct partner’s 5-bid to 5. However, you could have clubs and hearts? With clubs and hearts I’d bid 4NT and pass 5 but correct 5 to 5. I think that 4NT followed by 5 should be a two-suiter and have no relation to strength.

Larry Mori---I play 4 doubled as three-suit takeout and 4NT as two-suit takeout. As people make weaker 4 openers, there is more reason to think about going backwards in time. As it is now, I only double with the third hand. With a strong notrump holding, I stay fixed now. One cannot get all the bids he or she wants to get in.

Henry Bethe---I play 4 – Pass – Pass – double is primarily takeout. Therefore I would pass with the first two hands, double with the third. I agree that it feels funny to pass with a balanced 21. Would I pull 4 doubled with a 0=6=4=3 and a near Yarborough? Yes, at equal or favorable vulnerability, probably also at unfavorable vulnerability at IMPs, but not at unfavorable vulnerability playing matchpoints.

Kerri Sanborn---I would not act with AQxxxAKJxQJxx or AQxxxAKJxAKxx. I think double is still primarily takeout, especially in passout seat. I would double with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx for takeout. Vulnerability does not make a difference. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx, since I have defined it as a takeout double.

Marinesa Letizia---I would not act with AQxxxAKJxQJxx or AQxxxAKJxAKxx. I think double is still primarily takeout, especially in passout seat. I would double with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx for takeout. Vulnerability does not make a difference. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx since I have defined it as a takeout double.

Bart Bramley---Doubles of 4 are takeout. If I can't stand for partner to take out a double, I pass. I would certainly pass your first example. I would probably pass your second example, although I MIGHT double and hope that partner either passes (unlikely) or removes to 4NT (possible) or has enough hearts to make 5 playable. The third example is a clear double. Bidding 4NT over 4 shows an ambiguous two-suiter. With three suits I double. Vulnerability doesn't matter. Bidding 5 on your last example is automatic. As advancer, the first thing I look at is my spades. I'm assuming that partner is short in spades, so with zero or one I bid, regardless of strength. With two I usually bid. With three I bid only with a good playing hand. With four I usually pass. I'm a true believer in this department.

Zia---I would pass with AQxxxAKJxQJxx. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would pass if they’re vulnerable, guess if they’re not. Holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx I would double with reservations, but would bid 4NT if same shape but much stronger.

The following play a double of 4 as primarily for penalties.

Fred Stewart---I play that a double of 4 is for penalties, so I would double 4 for penalties holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx and holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx. I would bid 4NT holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. 4NT is takeout but one of the suits must be hearts. Vulnerability does make a difference, but on these hands I would make the same bids, although I would be nervous with the 4NT takeout if vulnerable. I would not in a million years pull 4 doubled holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Kit Woolsey---I play doubles of 4 and higher primarily as penalty doubles. Partner will normally pass unless he has some exciting distribution. The double might or might not be on a trump stack. So it’s an easy double holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx and AQxxxAKJxAKxx. I would bid 4NT holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. Vulnerability is irrelevant to these decisions. If I held -QJxxxxxxxxxxx and partner doubled, I would bid 5.

Woolsey and Stewart who play together have different opinions on whether to pass the double of 4 holding the 0=6=4=3 hand.

Billy Pollack---Holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx, I would double and pray. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would double and pray less, better chance for survival. I would bid 4NT holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. Vulnerability does not make a difference. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx. Not even close. Yes, that turns a plus into a minus on the first two examples, but that is what preempts can do.

Frank Stewart---I'm hopeless in these situations. I would double. I believe that most experts now treat the double as for takeout, but to me the primary message is "I'm going to beat it." So I would double with AQxxxAKJxQJxx or AQxxxAKJxAKxx. . I would pass or bid 4NT with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx depending on the vulnerability, form of scoring and the state of my score. Vulnerability clearly makes a difference. Holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx I would pull, but with a bit less distribution I might pass.

If they’re vulnerable and you’re not, it makes sense to play the double as strictly for takeout. Mainly because the opponent’s 4 vulnerable openers figure to be sound and you could easily take nine or ten tricks in your best fit.

Ron Smith---I would pass with hand number one and double with the others. I bid 5 with the last hand.

Bobby Wolff---I would pass holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx since too much of my stuff is in spades. I would say that against all but very conservative 4-bidders, the odds are 75% that we will defeat the contract, and there is too much danger of partner venturing 5 if I double. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx, I would now venture 4NT, expecting five-of-the-right minor suit contract to make 65% of the time. However, some players play that 4NT is a three-suit takeout more subject to example #3, with double being balanced and MUCH more easily passed. With that type of understanding, I would change my bid holding AQxxxAKJxQJxx to double, although there is no assurance that 4 is not making. Holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx, double seems to be the order of the day here, although on all three example hands, disaster is also in the air.

Vulnerability makes some difference, of course, but not as much as knowing the bidder's tendencies toward preempting. Also the difference between IMPs, rubber bridge and matchpoints comes into play with rubber bridge demanding more conservatism in both doubling and sitting for the double rather than venturing out chancing -1100 or some such. However, IMPs against good players should suggest chance taking in not going quietly, and matchpoints should show the most aggression, since the "frequency of gain" rather than the "amount of gain" definitely comes into play.

Holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx I would pull 4 doubled to 5, completing the "up in the air" nature of what is on the table. Along the lines of this discussion, I would not double a 4 preempt or bid holding KQ10xAxAxxx xxx. The learning experience on the above merely emphasizes the frequency of hands usually associated with what is dealt and therefore the defense chosen, and therefore IMO (in my opinion), caters to what I consider that result. And, even going further, perhaps defending against 4 openings, represents a mindset unlike any other situation encountered on a sometimes, but fairly regular basis, suggesting that when behind in a match I would like as many possible 4 openings to appear, because they represent great opportunities to gain IMPs when behind, but conversely to lose IMPs when ahead.

The above is very interesting to me, and I suspect the responses you get will show "the character of the experienced good player" rather than necessarily the "truth" of what is the percentage action, which, at least to me, will only indicate the optimism of that particular player.

One big point of this is that partner is allowed to pull your double so you can’t double 4 holding AKQJ. Hopefully, partner will double for takeout and you can make them pay.

Ralph Katz---Would bid on all no matter what the vulnerability is. With the 0=4=5=4 hand depending upon my partner, I might bid 4NT. On the last hand, would likely bid 5, but if I was 0=5=5=3, I would bid 4NT and convert 5 to 5.

Joel Wooldridge---AQxxxAKJxQJxx is a borderline case. I play double as optional here. Usually it says you have enough values that you think the deal belongs to your side, and partner is only supposed to remove with a lot of shape. With this hand I think pass if your side is non-vulnerable, and double if your side is vulnerable. It’s more likely that partner will only remove when he's thinking of a make. I double holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx. Holding -KxxxKQxxxAQxx, I bid 4NT and hope to land on my feet. I think pass is a possibility, but it feels against the odds. Double is something I'd never do. If I held -QJxxxxxxxxxxx, I would pull the double of 4 to 5. Only if the opening bidder is non-vulnerable and our side is vulnerable would I consider passing instead. I think I might pass under those conditions, but I'd certainly pull at all other colors.

The big problem with bidding 4NT for takeout holding the 0=4=5=4 hand is that partner could have the rest of the spade suit. Another problem is that if you bid 4NT partner can’t bid 4NT asking for your opinion. If he’s 4=3=3=3, you’ll end up playing in your 4-3 club fit instead of defending against 4 or playing in your eight-card diamond fit.

George Jacobs---I would pass with AQxxxAKJxQJxx or AQxxxAKJxAKxx. I would double with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx, for takeout. Vulnerability does make a difference. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Marty Bergen---I would double with AQxxxAKJxQJxx or AQxxxAKJxAKxx and bid 4NT with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. Vulnerability does not matter. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Adam Wildavsky---I play 4 – Pass – Pass – double is takeout, so most of the answers are clear. I would pass with AQxxxAKJxQJxx. If I held AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would pass or double depending on vulnerability, state of the match and table feel. I would double 4 with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx. I would pull 4 doubled to 5 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx in a heartbeat.

Kathie Wei-Sender—I would double with AQxxxAKJxQJxx or AQxxxAKJxAKxx for penalty.

Fred Hamilton---I would pass with AQxxxAKJxQJxx. Holding AQxxxAKJxAKxx I would double. I would bid 4NT with -KxxxKQxxxAQxx, and pull to 5 over a double of 4 holding -QJxxxxxxxxxxx.

Steve Bloom---Just a matter of agreement and frequency. We play a double to show, roughly, strong notrump values, so would double with the first two hands, and bid 4NT, takeout on the third. Is this theoretically best? Who knows? That probably depends on the preemptive style of your opponents.

Kit Woolsey ran a simulation of 100 deals. His parameters were: West: -QJ543254325432

South: Fewer than 11 HCP, any hand with eight spades. If seven spades, then not 7-2-2-2 and at least three of top five spade honors.

East: Greater than 15 HCP, at least one spade, no seven-card suit. If owned a six-card suit, at least two spades.

Obviously these parameters won't always get perfect bids, but they are good enough for this sort of thing. Also his adjudications might not always be accurate, but any such mistakes tend to cancel out, and, if there is a clear direction shown from the simulation, that will be correct.

The results were:
Passing the double: +225 IMPs; bidding 5: +649 Difference: 424 IMPs, or 4.24 IMPs per board. That is a total blowout. Bidding 5 is hugely correct on these parameters.

Vulnerability does make a difference. If you’re vulnerable and they’re not, they might be jerking you around. They could open 4 holding as little as Q10987654
xxxxx. Therefore, when they’re non-vulnerable you should double with more balanced hands and pass partner’s double of 4 unless you’re very sure it’s right to bid. In other words holding QJxxxKQxxxxxx or -QJxxxxxxxxxxx, and you’re vulnerable and they’re not, pass partner’s double of 4. On the other side, the more often you open 4, the more pressure you put on the opponents.
Don Berman, Web Master.