The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (May 2013)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

In previous issues, we looked at situations where an opponent's preempt forces you to choose between actions that seem either too conservative or too aggressive. With some types of hands, the odds favor stretching a bit. With others, it's important to resist being bullied into overbids.

You'll often have the same dilemma after partner enters the auction. Advancing a takeout double can be especially difficult because you have so many options, one of which is making the opponents pay when they bid too high. As preempting styles have become more aggressive, passing for penalties has become a more frequent choice.

Before you make that decision, it's wise to remember the words of the late Edgar Kaplan, who advised, “Takeout doubles are meant to be taken out." Partner will try to avoid doubling when he holds very offense-oriented values (long suits and/or a void in their suit, for example). There will be some hands, though, where he has no choice but to make a takeout double and pray that you won't leave it in with a marginal trump holding.

So how do you know when it's right to "go for blood"?

The "Rule of 9", popularized by Mel Colchamiro, offers some advice. It suggests that you add up your number of trump cards, number of trump honors (ace through 10) and the level of the contract. If the total is nine or more, you can safely pass partner's double for penalties. If it's eight or fewer, you should bid.

This can be a handy general guideline, but like most bidding "rules", it's a simplification that shouldn't be a substitute for good judgment. There are several other factors that affect your decision, including vulnerability, whether you're over or under the bidder, your length and strength in other suits, the form of scoring, even your partnership's competitive bidding style.

Suppose, for example, that you hold  ♠J864   KJ109   J85   ♣72  and hear the auction go 2H by LHO, Double by partner, Pass by RHO.

Your hand meets the Rule of 9 guideline for passing the double (4 trumps + 3 honors + 2-level = 9), but few players would choose to defend. The main reason is that you can't see where six tricks will come from. Partner will typically have around three defensive tricks for a direct-seat takeout double of a weak two-bid, so you need to contribute at least three or four tricks to be confident of a set. Your hand has only two tricks because your trumps, though strong, are onside for declarer.

Another argument against passing is that you have spades, the suit that partner probably most wants to hear about. Most pairs will make a comfortable retreat to 2S with this hand, so go for the same result.

Kaplan's "take it out" advice deserves consideration even when you hold outside tricks and extra trump length. Many experts got this one wrong in a long-ago Blue Ribbon Pairs:

Your LHO opens a red-vs.-not 3C, partner doubles and RHO passes. What's your call holding  ♠6   K   A109863   ♣107542 ? 

It's important to take full advantage when your opponents make reckless preempts or run into bad trump breaks, but even a "sure" penalty won't be a good result if a higher-scoring contract is available.

You usually want to declare when you hold freak hands and big fits, and this hand is no exception, even at these colors. Those who passed the double couldn't resist the lure of a vulnerable penalty, but it was only +200. The top scores went to the 5D bidders, who heard their partners raise to 6D and then took 12 easy tricks.

 ©  2013   Karen Walker