In the last issue, we looked at guidelines for judging when and how to compete after an opponent opens 4H or 4S. If you choose a takeout double, the next -- and perhaps tougher -- decision will be partner's. Here's a common dilemma:
LHO Partner RHO You
4S DBL Pass ?
Neither side vulnerable, what's your call holding ♠53 ♥K8754 ♦J853 ♣Q4 ?
If you play the double as takeout, you can find good reasons for bidding. You might actually make 5H if partner has a powerhouse and a good fit. Or their 4S could be cold and 5H will be a good sacrifice. If not, they might not double, or maybe they'll take the push to 5S.
However, there are stronger arguments for passing the double. The most important is that you want a plus score, and you shouldn't be expecting one if you declare. You won't make 11 tricks on offense opposite most of partner's hands, so your best chance for a plus is to try for four tricks on defense.
Another is that although the double is takeout, it's not necessarily a classic
at this level. There's no guarantee that partner has four hearts or extreme
spade shortness. He may hold
♠72 ♥A106 ♦AQ76 ♣AKJ9
Preempts often force you to settle for a sensible action rather than a perfect one, which is why 4-level doubles are passed more often than pulled. Here are some factors to consider when making these decisions. Choose to pass a takeout double of 4S if:
You have a semi-balanced hand with fewer than 13-14 points. The best hands for advancing partner's double are those with slam values or extreme shape. A flat 13-point hand doesn't have enough playing strength for you to be confident of making a 5-level contract. Plus, you'll often need extra power to survive the likely bad breaks.
You have a doubleton in their trump suit. Control of their suit can be critical at the 5-level. On average, you and partner will have four cards in opener's suit. A doubleton in your hand is a warning sign that partner may also have a doubleton and you'll have two quick losers or perhaps suffer a ruff. If you hold three or four cards in their suit, it increases the likelihood that partner has shortness.
You're so broke that bidding or passing rates to be a disaster. When you judge that there's no safe action, your goal should be to limit your losses, especially when vulnerable. If you pass, partner might just surprise you and come up with four defensive tricks. If he doesn't, you may save a few matchpoints or IMPs by going minus 590 instead of minus 800.
Partner's takeout double of a 4H opener is a slightly different situation because you have a 4-level contract available. As with a double of 4S, though, partner won't always have four cards in every unbid suit, so you'll usually want to have at least five spades to pull to 4S, no matter what your strength. If you would have to go to the 5-level to bid your long suit, follow the same guidelines for passing a double of 4S.
If you decide your hand is right for advancing partner's double:
Don't push too hard for slam. With perfect distribution, partner may have stretched his high-card values to double, so don't hang him.
Use 4NT to show "two places to play" -- both minors after 4H-DBL, any two suits after 4S-DBL. When your suits are unknown, partner will scramble by bidding his cheapest suit of 4+ cards. If you bid the next higher suit, you've pinpointed your two suits.
With a very powerful hand, you can search for your best slam by cuebidding opener's suit (you may want to agree this promises the ace or a void) or bidding 5NT (asking partner to pick a slam).
© 2013 Karen Walker