The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders    (August 2006)

5.  They are not slaves to their systems.   (Part 6)

No matter how exotic or complex your agreements, the heart of your system is a set of basic guidelines that just about everybody accepts as “good bridge”. They range from simple advice like “never rebid a preempt” to more complex principles like the Law of Total Tricks.

Theories change over time, and some ideas that were accepted years ago are now considered old-fashioned or, in some cases, even bad bridge. Today’s players use the old rules as guidelines, but they rely on their judgment to tell them when it’s wise to make exceptions.

“Mandatory” reopening doubles

The old advice:  In an auction such as 1D - 1H - Pass - Pass, opener should reopen with a double if he’s short in the opponent’s suit.

New:  The negative double is one of the most valuable of all conventions, but it can sometimes create complications when partner does not use it. As opener in the above auction, you always suspect that partner’s silence may be based on a desire to penalize the overcall. A widely held view is that you should cater to that possibility by reopening with a double if at all possible.

To some, “if at all possible” means any hand with shortness in the overcalled suit and support for unbid suits. Others play the double as virtually mandatory with shortness, no matter what your outside distribution.

A common misconception is that you’re doubling “for” partner, as if he were always in a position to make a unilateral decision to defend. It’s true that he could have a monster trump stack and want to double no matter what you hold. More often, though, partner needs information from you. Even with strong trumps, he may not want to double a one-bid unless he knows your hand is suitable for defense.

A reopening double should tell partner you have that hand. An ideal holding is at least 2 ½ quick tricks and three or more cards in the unbid suits – a hand such as   KJ64  10  AJ872  A103 . You won’t always have the perfect hand, so you have to decide how closely your actual hand matches the one partner will expect for a reopening double.

Which of the following hands would meet your standards for a double after 1D - 1H - Pass - Pass ?

KQ105  Void   AJ872    KQ73
    This is stronger than the example above, but it’s not a good candidate for a double. In general, you should avoid defending with a trump void, especially at the one level. The void and the extra length in unbid suits make your hand more suitable for offense, so bid 1S  with this pattern.
    Another reason to reject the double is that you won’t be able to help on defense. If partner passes the double, it’s often important for you to lead a trump through declarer. When you can’t, partner may be endplayed in the trump suit.

1072   3   KQJ1065    AQJ
    This meets all the “if at all possible” criteria that some players advocate for reopening doubles, and you even have a trump to lead. However, if you stop thinking about the rules and instead focus on evaluating your whole hand, you should be convinced that it’s better to send a “we should declare” message.
    This hand has “slow” quick tricks whose defensive potential is weakened by the long suit.  Your long, topless suit and concentrated values argue for offense, so rebid 2D.  Partner may be disappointed if he had the killer trump holding, but he’ll understand when he sees your hand.

QJ62   J2    AJ104   A97
    Only two defensive tricks and lots of jacks, but what else can you do but double? Pass is far too timid, and 1Ssuggests an offense-oriented hand with at least nine cards in your suits.

Higher overcalls

The level of the overcall should affect your decision. Doubling a two-level bid offers greater rewards, so it can pay to take more risks with reopening doubles. Voids and long suits are less of a liability because the contract is a level higher.

Weak support for unbid suits, however, is a greater liability at higher levels. Keep in mind that on most deals, partner isn’t trap-passing. He’s just weak, so you’ll want to avoid doubling with a hand that will have you saying “Sorry, partner” when you put down the dummy.

©  2006  Karen Walker