PENALTY DOUBLES AND SACRIFICES
By Larry Matheny
In this lesson I will focus on the double used for penalties and how to deal with high-level sacrifices.
The original meaning of the double was to inflict punishment on opponents who bid too much. Today, doubles fall into two basic categories: 1) Informative, which are generally for takeout and (2) Penalty. The informative double provides information that allows the doubler to add something constructive to the auction. Informative doubles include takeout doubles, negative doubles, re-opening doubles, balancing doubles, responsive doubles, support doubles, and lead-directing doubles. There are many more and any contemporary book on the topic will contain dozens of different applications for the bid. In fact, the original use of the double as a way to penalize the opponents is no longer its most frequent use.
Most players don’t use the penalty double enough. Some things to consider before making a penalty double are: 1) your holding in the opponents’ suit, 2) the vulnerability, 3) the form of scoring, and 4) whether you can defeat the contract for more than the value of any contract you could bid. Also, you must remember that high card points don’t always mean defensive tricks. And, a question you should ask is “Do I have any surprises for the opponent?” Here is a list of general rules:
(1) The double of an opening strong No Trump bid at any level is penalty except when made by a passed hand or when you’ve adopted a convention to the contrary.
(2) The double of a No Trump overcall at any level is penalty except when made by a passed hand or when you’ve adopted a convention to the contrary.
(3) If either you or your partner has made a natural strong No Trump call in the auction, doubles of opponents’ bids are penalty. Unless you have agreed to play negative doubles in these auctions.
(4) If either you or your partner has made a preemptive bid and the other doubles, it’s penalty. (IT IS NOT NEGATIVE). Example: 3♦ 3♥ DBL is penalty.
(5) Generally speaking a rule to remember is that in competitive auctions if the double is over the bidder (or behind), it's for penalty. If it's under the bidder (or in front of), it's takeout.
Let’s look at some penalty double auctions:
1. S-KQ3 H-AJ108 D-10932 C-Q7 PARD OPP YOU OPP
1NT 2H DBL
This opponent is in big trouble. You and your partner have the values for game but not slam. The only time you might consider 3NT instead of doubling is when you are vulnerable and the opponents are not. Even then, you are likely to be +800 (or more) instead of the 600+ in a 3NT contract. The deciding factor might be if you know your opponent or not. Note: some partnerships use a negative double in this auction.
2. S-K4 H-J103 D-AJ76 C-QJ43 PARD OPP YOU OPP
1H 1NT DBL
Since a 1NT overcall is so easy for responder to double, it may be the most dangerous bid in bridge. A hand with a good 9+ hcp is usually enough for responder to double.
3. S-A7 H-K104 D-QJ3 C-KJ1097 PARD OPP YOU OPP
1S 2C P P
DBL P P
Your right hand opponent is about to learn how important it is to have a good suit for a 2-level (or higher) overcall. It is important you pass in tempo when your opponent overcalls.
4. S-A952 H-K94 D-109 C-AK87 YOU OPP PARD OPP
1C 1S P P
This time you know partner didn’t “trap” pass so he is broke.
Let’s get partner involved:
5. S-AK1064 S-86 no vul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
H-Q95 H-AJ8 1S DBL RDBL P
D-3 D-AK874 P 2C P P
C-QJ109 C-542 DBL
The redouble sets up a force. With no obvious bid, East passes the 2C bid around to
West who must take action.
6. S-3 S-QJ98 no vul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
H-Q4 H-AJ10 1D 1S 1NT 2S
D-AK1073 D-954 3C 3S DBL
East must trust his partner’s bidding and punish these overbidders. Too many players holding the East cards will not double so the opponents just keep stealing their contracts.
7. S-KQ4 S-A9532 both vul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
H-A9 H-74 1NT 2H 2S 3H
D-AJ76 D-1084 3S 4H DBL
East must tell his partner he has a trick.
8. S-A9 S-976 no vul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
H-AKJ9 H-1054 2C P 2H* 2S
D-KJ5 D-8743 P P DBL
Opener’s pass is forcing so even as ugly as the East hand is, he must take action. This bid doesn’t qualify as a penalty double but it may turn into one.
WEST EAST both WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
9. S-Q876 S-J92 vul 3D 3H
H-A1075 H-43 DBL
This was good for +1100. A double after partner preempts is for penalties.
WHEN THE OPPONENTS SACRIFICE
Up to now we have looked mostly at doubling partscore contracts. Now let’s examine some higher level contracts. Let’s lay some groundwork before we look at some example hands. While it is not always clear who “owns” the hand, here are some guidelines:
1. You bid a vulnerable game.
2. It is obvious the opponents have preempted.
When either of these two conditions has been met, a FORCING PASS situation exists. This means that if you pass, your partner must bid or double depending on his hand. This is particularly important when your side bids game or higher and the other side sacrifices at the 5-level. There are five options at the 5-level:
1. A cue bid is the strongest action.
2. PASS AND PULL is also a slam try.
3. Bids at the five-level show a preference for declaring.
4. Pass leaves the decision to partner.
5. Double is the weakest action.
10. S-AK876 H-Q65 D-A103 C-109 vul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
vs. 1S 3H 4H 5H
West tells his partner he has a minimum hand.
11. AKJ10932 H-3 D-AJ10 C-KJ vul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
vs. 1S 3H 3S 4H
nvul 4S 5H P P
East would have doubled with a weak hand. His pass leaves the decision up to West. Holding a good hand and a long suit, West is not eager to defend.
12. S-3 H-AKQ876 D-A8 C-AQ103 nvul WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
1H 3S 4H 4S
West continued by bidding clubs. He is interested in slam.
13. S-KQJ1043 H-KJ7 D-AK82 C- WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
1S 3C 4S P
West is making a slam try by showing a first round club control, very likely a void.
14. S-AKJ1093 H-KQ2 D-A C-Q102 vul EAST SOUTH WEST NORTH
vs 1S 2D 3D 5D
nvul P P DBL P
This Pass and Pull auction shows a very good hand suggesting slam.
As always, you need to discuss these auctions with your regular partners.