Sanjoy Bhattacharyya is a Partner at Fortuna Capital, a Mumbai based investment advisory firm. He is an alumnus of Loyola College, Chennai where he pursued Statistics and Mathematics at the undergraduate level and subsequently earned a post-graduate diploma in management from IIM Ahmedabad. He was the erstwhile Chief Investment Officer of HDFC Asset Management Company prior to which he was associated with UBS Warburg. Despite having played competitive bridge for almost 25 years, he remains a keen student of the game and believes it has much in common with investing and statistics. He has a keen interest in psychology and literature apart from his passion for bridge.
Bidding theory has evolved significantly in the last couple of decades. Even the humble pass has received tremendous attention from the “scientists” considering the creation of a bidding system called Forcing Pass. Yet a bid that is used fairly frequently – Double – remains relatively neglected in bridge literature. Perhaps, this derives from soccer psychosis about the “red card”. Apart from Mike Lawrence’s treatise on the balancing double and some incredibly insightful comments by SJ Simon (Why You Lose at Bridge), the meaning of the bid in different situations remains surprisingly ambiguous. Also worth mentioning is that the confusion created by misinterpretation is typically very expensive! What follows is an attempt to suggest some ground rules that are based on fairly elementary reasoning and lead to profitable outcomes!
Most advanced players are familiar with the territory covered by negative, balancing, support and penalty doubles. Announcing extra values via a double is also fairly typical. However, using it as a tactical weapon in deciding whether to commit to a high-level contract is a nuance that escapes most players at the table. Playing Standard American Yellow Card (SAYC), partner opens 1♦ and right hand opponent (RHO) comes in with 4♠. You hold ♠Kx ♥J1098x ♦K10x ♣Kxx. What action should you take? 11 tricks in a 5 level contract in either red suit is not ruled out. But it is equally likely that partner has 2-3-4-4 or 3-2-5-3 shape in which case a contract at the 5 level would be in serious jeopardy. A double suggests decent values and at least 4 good hearts, or 5 if the suit quality is poor as well as tolerance for diamonds. Partner is now in a good position to judge what leads to the best result! Quite often, it is tricky to figure out which suit provides the best fit and whether a part score is the limit of the hand or not. As dealer you get the ball rolling with 1♥ based on a holding of ♠Kx ♥A10xxxx ♦xx ♣AQ10. LHO bids 2♦ and partner 2♠. RHO competes with 3♦ and you wonder what next? Is partner 5-2-2-4 which would make hearts the right suit to compete in or has he been dealt a 6-1-2-4 shape in which case spades work best. As you debate your options, it strikes you that 5-1-2-5 with partner is not ruled out. A double at this point by you tells partner that you wish to compete but are not sure which suit offers the best chances. Partner should comprehend that you have 6 hearts, tolerance for spades and possibly a secondary club suit.
Playing a local Teams event, I picked up ♠AQ9xxx ♥Axx ♦KJx ♣x as dealer. My LHO chose to make a 2♣ overcall on hearing me bid 1♠. Partner and RHO chose to pass. Obviously, partner does not have 4+ hearts and most probably holds less than 3 spades. Given my shortage in clubs and values in the 3 other suits, I chose to keep the auction alive with a double. Partner was delighted to defend since he held ♠x ♥Qxx ♦Qxxx ♣ K1098x! A low level double can suggest you are happy to choose between 2 different suits while keeping the NT option open.
You hold♠109x ♥K9 ♦AJ10xx ♣Qxx and the auction goes:
Bidding diamonds may deter partner from re-bidding a mediocre 6 card heart suit but might work wonderfully if he has 4 diamonds or three to the King. A double at this point shows length in the un-bid suit and tolerance for hearts. Partner cannot misconstrue your bid as a spade stack since you would choose to pass in that case. As a corollary, if opponents find a suit fit it is obvious you do not want to double for penalties at a low level. You hold:
This is a situation where 3♥ should hint at a weaker type of hand with a desire to compete. Since low-level doubles after opponents establish a fit are not for penalties, the only meaning a double can have in this context is to suggest a game try.
2♠ by LHO is a Michaels cue bid denoting at least 5-5 with hearts and an unspecified minor. 3♣ by RHO asks the Michaels’ bidder to pass with clubs or bid diamonds if that is his suit. This a classic example of the double turning into a winning 2 way bid. If LHO passes the double, partner knows he must take out. In case he bids 3♦, partner knows your second suit is clubs. Exactly the same logic applies when your LHO opens with a Multi 2♦ bid and RHO bids 2♥.
RHO opens with 1♣ and you are looking at ♠x♥QJ10x♦KQJxx♣AJx. Should you look for the red card? Not really, since a take-out double tends to promise adequate support for all the un-bid suits. Partner might well possess six spades headed by the KQ and little else of worth. After a double by you, it would hardly come as a shock if you eventually landed in 3/4 ♠ and opponents doubled to get a juicy penalty. Bid 1♦ at your first opportunity. As a corollary to this concept, avoid using the double when you cannot stand a penalty pass by partner. Finally, do not enter the auction with a double when the bid lacks clarity or has not been previously discussed with your partner. You hold ♠Axx♥Qx♦J10xx ♣K98x and RHO starts the auction with 1♠. After 2 passes, partner comes in with 2♥and RHO re-bids 2♠. What is your best bet – 2NT, 3♥or Double? It is true that the double cannot be for penalties and has responsive overtones. But there is definite room for confusion if you opt to double. No perfect bid exists but it is probably best to cheat a bit and bid 3♥.
Sitting South, non-vul against vulnerable opponents, you hear LHO start proceedings with 1♠. East bids 2♣, which is natural and forcing to game, after your partner passes. You are blessed with ♠x♥QJxxxx♦KJ10xxx ♣- . While a double would certainly indicate interest in both un-bid suits, the hand is short on points and defensive value. If partner has 5-4 distribution in the black suits and 10 high card points, he would be well within his rights to double a 3 level partial by the opponents with potentially disastrous results. Once again, both 2♥and 2♦ could turn out to be winning bids but most experts would start with 2NT, showing great shape but limited defensive values. Partner can subsequently decide whether to double or sacrifice in one of your suits if the opponents find the right spot.
Expert partnerships frequently tend to use lead-directing doubles at a low level. However, such bids require great discretion to succeed. You pass as dealer with ♠x♥xxxx♦AQJ10x ♣Kxx and hear LHO bid 1♠. Partner is quick to pass and RHO bids 2♣. What goes through your mind as you get a second chance to enter the auction? There is little doubt that opponents hold the majority of high card points and should eventually buy the contract. Is this the time for some fancy footwork with a lead-directing double? Most definitely not. If you double and LHO is declarer eventually in either a spade or NT contract, partner will be on lead and believe the double suggests values in hearts. You will be off to the worst possible start thanks to your ill-judged double. The only two real options are 2♦ and Pass. My vote is for the former, since partner will now get off to a safe lead. In case the hand is violently distributional, 2♦ might also open up some interesting possibilities in the latter stages of the auction.
Anticipating the consequences of your bid is what separates the men from the boys at the bridge table. I paid tuition fees to get this lesson at a major national event. RHO opened 1♦ and I chose to make a fairly mechanical double holding ♠KQ10♣KQ10xx♦x ♥KQxx. Disaster struck when LHO bid 3♦(pre-emptive in nature) followed by 2 passes. After much humming and hawing, I eventually went quietly. I had just missed a sitter in 4♥ and sold my team down the river! As fate would have it, partner held ♠Axx♥Jxxx♦xxxx♣xx.
A recent holiday in Hyderabad was filled with great pleasure, particularly when I encountered the sinfully enjoyable “Double ka Meetha”. It is hardly surprising that the cognoscenti in Hyderabad have a whiff of contempt for their country cousins who are thrilled with comparatively trivial desserts such as the “Shahi Tukra”! Here is a marvelous hand from the recently concluded Kalani Trophy held in Indore that is the perfect bridge equivalent. With neither side vulnerable, partner North) opens 1♠ and RHO overcalls 2♥. You are looking at ♠x♥xxx•x ♣KQJxxxxx. Given your amiable, peace loving character and lacking adequate high card strength, you pass quietly at your first turn. LHO ventures a 2NT bid and after a pass from partner, East bids 3♥. Since partner might be affronted that you concealed an 8 card suit, you now bid 4♣ - better late than never! But LHO refuses to be subdued by your brave action and bids 4♥. Two green cards appear in a flash and the bidding tray is back to you. What next?
Having fallen in love with his magnificent club suit, the actual expert in the South chair chose to unilaterally bid 5♣. This was enough provocation for the Royal Bengal Tiger sitting West. Had he been allowed to bid in his native tongue, chances are a thunderous “Godah” (translated in English as mace) would have disturbed the peace! Unable to give vent to his true urge, he had to content himself with “Dobol”(the bid which gives Bengali experts maximum joy!) and collect 300. The full deal was -
A double by South conveys a number of important messages to partner. First, the absence of spades. Second, the ability to ruff suggesting the prospect of 3 hearts. Combine this with the 4♣ bid which virtually assures partner of a 7 card suit and you have given him a near perfect picture of your hand. Armed with this knowledge of what you hold, partner is bound to pass as you savour the sublime bliss of wielding the axe!
Just as an aside, readers should know that the most frequently played and loved contract in elite Kolkata bridge circles is 1NT Dobol!!! Not only does it sharpen card-play technique, it also caters to the proverbial sweet tooth.