The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (July 2013)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

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: 

   2013   Karen Walker