Friday, July 8, 2011

Doubling One No Trump

Most experts will agree that the hardest contract to make is One No Trump. The reason is that if someone opens 1N and partner passes, it means that opponents probably have an equal number of points or better because Opener's partner will bid with 8 HCP. If partner passes, the odds are that she has 5 or less. That means that the points are pretty evenly split between declarer and defense. 

If opponents' bidding goes 1 of a suit-1 of a higher ranking suit-1N-pass-pass-?, it also indicates that points are pretty even between declarer and defense because declarer has 12-14 HCP and partner has 6-9. Add them up. Probably each side has 20 HCP; sometimes Declarer has as few as 18.

Because of this, defense has just as good a chance of taking seven tricks or more than declarer, probably a better chance because defense has the opening lead. Yet one rarely sees 1N doubled. Recently my partner and I had enormous success doubling 1N. The first was in a team game where we doubled an auction of one of a minor-one of a major-1N. That one went down four after I doubled in the pass out seat and my partner sat for it. Here's the second, a hand I picked up in second seat in a game less than a week later:


I was in second seat and my RHO opened One Club. Even though I had 13 HCP, I have no call. I can't double because if partner bids hearts, I don't have a rebid, so I passed. LHO bid 1D and my partner bid 1H. My RHO rebid 1N and then I doubled in direct seat. I knew partner had enough to make an overcall, at least eight HCP and either had a good heart suit or six hearts. Either way, knowing we have at least 21 HCP between us, I'm doubling with my opening hand, especially since I had the queen of her suit. By our agreement, this is for penalty. Since my partner knows any time I double 1N I'm hoping to defend, she passed. Here's the entire layout:


I led the queen of hearts, which Declarer took with the Ace. He led a diamond and finessed my King. He led a spade to his king but East put up the Ace to lead another heart, which South took with the King. He led to the Ace of diamonds and then led a Club. Partner played the Queen, which he let ride. East then took four heart tricks with me discarding the Queen of Spades, asking for a spade lead when she got finished cashing her Hearts. I discarded one Club and my two remaining diamonds on her last three hearts, leaving me with the Jack-Ten of Spades and the Ace of Clubs. 



The only Club I had besides the Ace was the six and that would be hard for her to decipher. Since I had to discard judiciously to make sure I had the last two tricks, at least, I wanted to be certain she returned a Spade. If I asked for a Club with the six and discarded my Spades, and she misunderstood the six as discouraging instead of encouraging, I could envision him taking an extra Spade trick if I discarded my two spades, for only down one. So instead of taking a chance and asking for a Club and retaining two diamonds and no Spades, I took the sure way to make certain I got two of the last three and asked for a Spade, which enabled me to protect my Spade winner and my Ace of Clubs. She led a spade and Declarer took his King and the last two were mine with the Jack of Spades and the Ace of Clubs, for down two doubled.

A word about carding: in a perfect world, once my partner got in with the Queen of Clubs, we can take the rest of the tricks for down three. If I play my six of Clubs on her Queen, then discard the three of Clubs on her first Heart, it would tell her I wanted a Club return. If I were sure of her seeing this, I could discard all my Spades on her last three Hearts, one of which was a loser, and be down to two good diamonds and the Ace of Clubs. 

However, this is not a perfect world and everyone is fallible. There is a good possibility that my partner will be so intent on winning her Queen of Clubs so she can run her Hearts that she will not notice my six of Clubs. Then when I play my three of Clubs on her first Heart, it will look discouraging and she'll lead a Spade. If I discard all my Spades, relying on her seeing my high-low signal, Declarer will win two of the remaining three tricks and only be down one. If I clearly ask for a Spade return I'm sure they will be down two as we will take two of the last three tricks. So I opted for safety, choosing down two and 500 in lieu of risking only getting 200 on the outside chance of getting 800. I knew 500 would be a top and it was. Two other pairs defended 1N for down two but not doubled. So 200 would have tied two others for top. Playing it safe and not succumbing to greed got us a 500 top.

The key to the hand is that my partner knows I want to play 1N doubled if at all possible and she passed with a weak six-card heart suit opting to defend with two ways to get in if we can set up her hearts.

Here are the rules for doubling 1N. I want to emphasize that these are my rules alone. You can't play these unless you have a firm understanding with your partner that this is the way you are going to play. Not many others play this besides my partner and me to my knowledge. But I get more high boards defending 1N doubled than on any other contract.

1. If the bidding goes 1N-P-P_?, you double with 10 HCP or more and pass with 9 or less . If partner has a good 8, I want her to sit for the double. If not, she bids her longest suit and I pass. I'm not promising support for any suit she bids, so she knows we might be playing in a bad fit, like 4-2, but we're unlikely to be doubled. We might get a bad board, but 75% of the time when we defend we get tops because even though nobody is making 1N we are the only ones who doubled.

2. If the bidding goes 1 of a suit-1 of a higher ranking suit-1N-P-P-?, the person in the pass out seat doubles with a 10+ point hand and passs with 9 or less. In this auction, it's likely that declarer's team has an even weaker hand than the 1N-P-P auction. Partner passes with a good 8 or with less points but both of opponents' suits (so no suit to bid to rescue the hand). Once again, the likelihood is that declarer will be down one or two at every table, but you'll be the only pair to double.

3. In the auction of the hand I describe above, after partner has made a call and then opponents bid NT, a double in the direct seat is penalty. Since Partner has described her hand, she should have a very good reason, indeed, not to sit for it. I can't think of one. Here is where she must trust her partner.

Playing 1N doubled is probably the most competitive contract you can play but it will reward you because it will be the most fun you'll have at bridge, especially when you are successful. If you are too successful, if your percentage is too high, then you aren't doubling 1N enough. It never bothers me to double and have the opponents make it. You must be unsuccessful occasionally. But if you're only successful 50% of the time, you're too aggressive. The only way to know is to start doubling 1N when the bidding indicates. As you get used to it you should slowly learn when to double and when to pass and you will start to climb towards the 75% success level. Bridge is not a game for the faint of heart. Try doubling more; you'll like it.

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