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:


       WEST              EAST

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.

    WEST                   EAST

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

     C-KQ942           C-765


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.


      WEST                 EAST

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

     C-K1065            C-Q84


East must tell his partner he has a trick. 


     WEST                  EAST

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

     C-AKJ6              C-754                              

                                                                      *double negative


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

     D-KQ                 D-AJ109875

     C-AK4               C-2


This was good for +1100.  A double after partner preempts is for penalties.








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

                                                            nvul     DBL


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.