Troubles with Redoubles -- Part XI   (July 2004)

SOS Redoubles

Ask any bridge player about the biggest minus score he ever suffered, and there’s a good chance the story will involve a redouble. SOS redoubles in particular are probably responsible for the loss of more matchpoints, IMPs and money than any other convention.

“Lose ‘em all”

Bridge lore offers many stories of SOS redoubles gone awry. One that has gained “urban legend” status actually happened to Ron Smith’s team in 1973.

Ron, now of San Francisco, was playing an IMP match in St. Louis to determine viewgraph participants for a national event. After the match, as his team was comparing scores, Ron announced “plus 430” on what looked to him to be a routine deal. His teammate, Roger Lord of St. Louis, replied, “Lose ‘em all”. Ron questioned the remark, but was quickly reminded that the team rule was no discussion of hands during the scoring. He had to wait to learn that his teammates had played in a 4C cuebid, redoubled and set 4600 vulnerable, for a 24-IMP loss (the maximum).

“Obvious” SOS redoubles

An SOS redouble is a rescue request, made after you’ve been doubled for penalty, that asks partner to run to another suit. The classic, and most obvious, use is in low-level auctions like:

   You      LHO     Partner     RHO  
    1C        Pass       Pass          Double
    Pass      Pass       Redouble

Partner usually has a hand that can play in any unbid suit:  S-Q765   H-9854   D-10432   C-4

He could also have a two-suiter like  S-Q7652   H-98543   D-32   C-4 . If you run to 1D, he plans to bid 1H, asking you to choose again between hearts and spades.

And the not-so-obvious

Disasters like Ron’s team experienced usually occur in longer auctions where partner’s intentions may not be so clear. A redouble can show either great pleasure or great distress with the contract, and if you can’t work out which message partner is sending, the penalty can be enormous.

Here’s an auction that generated disagreement in a bridge newsgroup:

    You       LHO       Partner       RHO    
     1S          2D            Pass          Pass
     2NT      Double    Redouble     Pass

Is the redouble for business or for rescue? You’ve shown at least 18 points, and it’s possible partner has some undisclosed values. Other clues, though, should tell you this must be SOS, asking you to bid clubs or hearts. If partner thought 2NT was making, he would surely be content to pass and accept what rates to be a top score. There’s no reason for him to ambush you with a greedy business redouble that you might misread.

Defaults for SOS redoubles

Redoubles like this one can be confusing because there are few “never” and “always” rules for interpreting them. The “always” rules are that a redouble is SOS only if:

The “usually” guidelines are that a redouble is SOS if a good combination of these conditions apply:

There are several exceptions to these guidelines. One is when you open 1NT and your LHO makes a penalty double. Unless you play a conventional runout, partner’s redouble should be business, promising at least invitational values.

Another is when partner opens 1NT or 2NT and you make a Stayman or transfer response. If your LHO doubles, partner’s redouble shows a strong 4-card or longer holding and suggests this may be a good final contract.

When in doubt …

If you’ve considered all the defaults and you’re still uncertain about the meaning of partner’s redouble, the safest course is to treat it as SOS. Business redoubles are seldom necessary to improve a result, but SOS redoubles are, and a good partner won’t test you with an undiscussed bid unless he’s desperate.

If you pull the redouble and you’re wrong, maybe you’ll turn plus 920 into minus 200 … but at least you’ll avoid creating your own “lose ‘em all” story.

Next:  Judging when – and how -- to rescue partner

 ©  2005 Karen Walker