It sometimes seems as if modern bidders have all but abandoned the penalty double. Many low-level "business" doubles were long ago replaced with conventions that improved the accuracy of competitive bidding. That trend continued with the development of dual-message doubles that are popularly known as "Do Something Intelligent" (DSI).
The DSI term is relatively new, but the treatment has been around a long time under other names, including re-takeout, card-showing, action, cooperative. It's a low-level double that essentially says, "I want to bid, but I have no clear action". It suggests extra values without primary support for partner's suit and asks him to decide whether to defend or declare -- and if the latter, in what strain.
The typical use is in the passout seat at the one or two level, as in this auction:
Partner RHO You LHO
1C 1H DBL 2H
Pass Pass DBL
Your double here is the "re-takeout" variety, showing a hand such as ♠AJ103 ♥743 ♦KQ2 ♣J84 ,
The same meaning applies in numerous other auctions, including some where the double is made at a higher level or in direct seat. If your LHO had raised to 3H, your double would still send the DSI message. Partner could have doubled 2H to communicate extra strength without four spades.
The description of a DSI double may sound imprecise, but that's by design. It's supposed to be useful in a wide range of auctions, and it's impossible to discuss all of them. Instead, you have to define the situations where a double is penalty or conventional, then assume that all other doubles at the one or two level (and sometimes higher) are DSI.
Although there's no universal agreement about the exact conditions that apply to penalty doubles, some are widely accepted as "obvious". Double is penalty if:
An opponent overcalls a natural notrump.
We've made a card-showing redouble.
We've made a card-showing double (double of a Michaels cuebid, for example).
We've established a game-force (a 2C opener or 2/1 response).
We've made an earlier penalty double (or penalty pass of a takeout double).
There are other situations where the standard meaning of a double is penalty, but some enthusiasts prefer to apply their DSI agreements or other conventions. They include auctions where:
We've already found our fit.
We've opened 1NT or 2NT.
We've made a natural notrump response or rebid.
There are no unbid suits.
DSI doubles are popular because they offer a flexible way to compete with hands that can't be described with any other call. There are pitfalls, though. One is the potential for misunderstandings, just some of which can be seen in the list above. Another is that there will be deals where your hand is "perfect" for a DSI double, but you're destined for minus 200 or 670 because partner's hand offers no safe landing spot.
A different problem can occur if you define too many types of doubles as DSI. It's a given that some of your opponents will overbid, and if they try to push you too high, a penalty double may be the only way for you to hang onto a good score. It's important to retain the penalty meaning in some auctions, especially those where the opponents haven't confirmed a fit.
More about uses and abuses of DSI doubles in the next issue.
© 2013 Karen Walker