Troubles with Redoubles -- Part X   (June 2004)

“Business” redoubles of penalty doubles

Years ago, one of the more colorful players at our local club was Brian, a college student who had a reputation for overbidding. When we saw a four-digit number on a traveling score slip, we all guessed it was from Brian’s table.

One evening, Mike, an experienced player, mentioned to Brian that he had seen improvements in his game. Anxious to hear more, Brian pressed for details.

“Do you mean it’s because I’ve stopped going down so much?” Brian asked.

“Not exactly,” Mike replied. “But I have noticed that you’ve at least stopped redoubling.”

Brian’s penchant for “sending back” doubled contracts came partly from youthful exuberance. Some of his redoubles were misguided attempts to turn a good score into a top. Others were SOS (rescue) redoubles that his partner didn’t field, or they were bluffs that he hoped would scare the opponents into running.

Often, though, Brian’s errant redouble was a purely emotional reaction to the “insult” of the double. We’ve all experienced the same feeling when we hear an opponent make an unexpected penalty double. At the table, it’s easy to fall victim to Brian’s faulty logic: “If this goes down, it’s going to be a zero anyway, so let’s up the ante.”

The scoring odds favor redoubles at rubber bridge, but penalty redoubles are rare at duplicate because the risk-to-reward ratio is so great. If your doubled contract is making, a redouble is seldom necessary to earn a good score. More often, it turns an average-minus into a zero or a small IMP loss into a big one.

Necessary redoubles

There are, however, some situations where you must redouble to protect your “par” result  – the score you would have earned in a higher-level, undoubled contract. Suppose, for example, you’re in second seat, none vulnerable, holding  S-A65   H-J102   D-872   C-KQ64

After two passes, your LHO opens 1D, partner overcalls 1NT and your RHO makes a penalty double. You’re fairly certain the opponents have erred (perhaps a psychic opening bid), and since you were intending to raise to 3NT, your instinct may be to pass happily.

If you consider all your possible scores, though, you’ll realize that you may need to redouble just to insure at least an average result. If you pass and partner takes 10 tricks, all is well, as you’ll score 480, beating the pairs who scored 430 after “normal” auctions to 3NT. But what if partner makes only nine tricks? Your score for two doubled overtricks is just 380, which loses to pairs who scored 400 in 3NT.

Beware the stripe-tailed ape

Another mandatory redouble comes when you’re presented with a ruse known as the “stripe-tailed ape”. This is a sacrifice of sorts, where the opponents double your game or slam bid in an attempt to keep you from reaching a higher-scoring slam.

The term is attributed to the late John Lowenthal. According to his story, a visitor to the Amazon jungle met a group of bridge-playing natives who employed a strategy of doubling opponents who were in the process of bidding a makeable slam. When the visitor asked what happened if the opponents were clever enough to redouble, the natives replied, “Oh, then we run like a stripe-tailed ape.”

Here’s an auction that demonstrates the ploy:

  You        LHO     Partner    RHO
   1D           2H          3H          4H
   4NT       Pass         5D         DBL

If this is a true stripe-tailed ape, RHO expects you to make 5D, and he’s hoping you’ll pass. If you can make 6D -- and if you were originally planning to bid it -- you must redouble to avoid a poor result.

Assuming you’re red vs. not, if you pass 5D doubled and take 12 tricks, you’ll score 950, losing to all the pairs who bid 6D and scored 1370. If you redouble, which would score 1400, your RHO plans to run to 5H, perhaps going down five for 1100.

There is, of course, the possibility that RHO has a trump stack and a “real” penalty double. So how do you know when a double is the stripe-tailed ape? You don’t, which is why it’s so diabolical. All you can do is be aware of the tactic, know the scoring charts and use your judgment.

Or, if you’re Brian, just go for the gusto and redouble every time.

In the next issue: SOS redoubles

 ©  2005 Karen Walker