Do you Double?

by Paul Barden

On each of the following dozen hands a case could be made for doubling, sometimes for take-out and sometimes for penalty. Decide on your action on each hand and then compare with Paul Barden's perceptive analysis. IMP scoring throughout.
S J5
H KJ873
C 973
West       North       East       South      
P 1s P 2c
P 2h ?

S J5
H KJ873
C 973
West       North       East       South      
P 1s P 2c
P 2h P 3d*
P 3s P 4h
P 4NT P 5c§
P 6h ?
*4th suit forcing  §0 or 3 of 5 aces

S Q96
H 876
D 106
C K10943
West       North       East       South      
2NT 3c* ?

S KJ1042
H KJ1084
D 1063
C -
Game all
West       North       East       South      
4c P P ?

S 10865
H AJ9743
C K5
West       North       East       South      
1h 2c P* P
*Playing negative doubles

S 86
H AQ65
D QJ974
C 103
Love all
West       North       East       South      
1h 2d 3d* 3s
4h 4s ?
*Sound raise to 3h

S AJ42
H AKQ1052
D 6
C 74
West       North       East       South      
1h 1s 3h* 4d§
4h 4s P P
*Pre-emptive raise   §ds and ss

S 3
D -
C A1097642
Love all
West       North       East       South      
P P 1h 4c
P 5c 5h ?

H 62
D K2
C KJ763
Love all
West       North       East       South      
1h 2c X* 3c
P 3d P
3h P 3s P
3NT P 4s P
P ?
*Negative  § Responsive

S Q72
H AKJ10965
D K4
C 6
Game all
West       North       East       South      
1d 2h* 3NT P
P ?

S 85
H KJ62
D K7
C QJ1052
West       North       East       South      
1NT P 2c* P
2h P 2NT P
3NT ?

S QJ983
H 2
D 8652
C A65
West       North       East       South      
1h P 1s P
2d P 3h P
3s P 4h ?

These hands, all from actual play in serious events, illustrate some of my pet theories about doubling - how to gain big numbers and how to avoid conceding them.

Problem (1) is a typical example of a fatuous double. What do you stand to gain by doubling? First, there is no particular reason to expect partner to be on lead. Second, you don't know whether you want a heart lead or a diamond lead. Third, if you double, left hand opponent redoubles and you concede 1240 for 2hXX+3.

Problem (2) is the same hand several rounds later. There's still no reason to double. If you pass you score +100 for two undertricks. If you double you score +100 for one undertrick. Admittedly 6h is unlikely to be makeable even with the heart position exposed, but what about 6NT? The black suits appear to be sitting rather well for them.

Problem (3) is less clearcut. But partner will still be cross if you deflect him from a winning spade lead. And in practice double concedes 840.

Problem (4) is about the penalty aspect of take-out doubles. You'd love to make a take-out double here and have partner choose a major, but do you seriously expect him to do that? Most of the time he will pass and you will score -710. If you must act, take a punt at 4h. At the table, this was worth +620.

Problem (5) is the other side of the same coin. A take-out double on this hand scores +1100. But what if you double, partner bids 2d and you correct to 2h. Does this show extra values? I don't think it should, but some eminent theorists disagree. Discuss it with your partner.

On problem (6), your first action was an overbid. But it's too late to worry about that now; you're in a forcing position and you have to help your partner. The right action is double, since you don't want him to bid 5h and have no reason to expect 4s to make. In this sort of auction, double doesn't promise trump tricks, it just offers an opinion about the best available score. At the table, declarer went 1100 off in 4s when he took what he thought was a marked finesse in spades in an attempt to make his contract. He would have done better of course to play safe for one off.

Problem (7) looks like a juicy penalty double. But wait a minute. How many hearts do you expect to stand up? One at best. How many spades do you think partner has? Probably none. How many minor suit tricks do you expect partner to take? Probably none since they have diamonds to run. How many trumps to you expect to make? Possibly two, since declarer may have control problems on heart leads, but not more. So the best result you can reasonably expect from 4s doubled is one off. On the other hand, 5h can hardly be worse than one off and may make if partner has cK or a minor suit ace. In my opinion 5h is the correct call.

Problem (8) must be one of the best penalty doubles ever seen. But what sort of hand has RHO got? Obviously it's highly distributional, and presumably it's two-suited, since there aren't enough heart honours out for a strong heart single-suiter. If RHO had diamonds he'd have bid them, so he must have spades. If we double he may view to remove. Meanwhile, LHO has very short hearts, and probably not many clubs, so he's likely to have good spade support. It looks to me as if we should be passing and aiming to beat 5h in 100s. In practice, 5hX cost 1700. But grand slam can be made in spades.

Problem (9) also looks like a promising trump stack, and this one I like. Opponents have investigated the other suits, so there's no good reason to assume they've got a much better spot. Double would have netted +1100.

Problem (10) looks like a promising double of 3NT, with the king of diamonds apparently well placed and the heart suit about to run. But of course there's no reason why they should need the diamonds to make nine tricks, and there's no reason to expect partner to have any values. Double will ensure a heart lead, but partner is hardly likely to have an attractive alternative in any case. When the hand was played, this hand doubled, then put in the nine on the heart lead to keep communications open. With the diamond ace in fact in declarer's hand, all 13 tricks were made with the aid of a squeeze. -1550.

Problem (11) is much more the sort of thing. Neither opponent can have much to spare, both majors seem to be sitting badly, and we have a promising club lead. Unfortunately partner had a singleton club, but the major suit positions were still enough to beat the contract; +100 for the double.

I have no recommendation to make on problem (12), apart from advising you to listen to the auction. What you know already is that declarer has 5 hearts (not 6, since he offered dummy the option of playing in spades) and dummy has 3. So partner has 4 hearts. Also, declarer has 3 spades and dummy has 4, so partner has a singleton. Any diamond finesses are failing. So what you need to know is whether declarer has spare values. If not, you should certainly double. You should be making up your mind about this from the moment RHO bids 1s, so you are alive to every inference from declarer's tempo and your final pass or double is made in tempo. At the table declarer went three off undoubled, and couldn't have avoided two off at least.