When you add any bid to your repertoire, you give up something. When you play negative doubles, you give up the ability to double some low-level bids by opponents for penalty.
Even a lot of experienced players aren’t aware of the fact that the reopening double is an integral part of the negative double system. What if you’re in third seat and the bidding goes 1 Heart by your partner then 2 Diamonds by your RHO? It’s now your bid and you hold the following cards:
You could bid 2 No Trump, but wouldn’t you like to hit 2 Diamonds? Alas, you can’t double it because that would be a negative double, wouldn’t it? And it won’t do you any good to make a negative double for two reasons. First, you don’t have the bid. You don’t have four Spades. Second, you want it to be a penalty double, not a negative double. So how can you defend 2 Diamonds doubled in this hand? You clearly cannot double because your partner will respond as she has to in the negative double system.
The answer is that if your partner opens the bidding followed by a bid at the 2 level by your RHO, and you pass and your LHO passes, your partner must double with shortness in the suit bid by opponents and tolerance for the unbid suits. Shortness, in this context, means no more than a doubleton. So if your partner has two or less of your RHO’s suit, she should double. To be specific, here’s how the bidding goes.
Partner RHO You LHO
1 Spade 2 Diamonds Pass Pass
In the previous situation, your partner should protect you by doubling when it’s her turn. Then you can either let it sit for penalty, which you would do with the above hand, or pull it by either bidding your partner’s suit at the 2 level if you can, or making the best bid you have under the circumstances.
This is called a reopening double because it’s made by the opening bidder, and she’s reopening the bidding by doubling since, with two passes to her, if she passes, the bidding will stop. If she doesn’t bid or double, the auction is over.
Of course, you might have a legitimate pass, too. You might not be passing because you have opponents’ suit. You might have the following:
If you have this holding and your partner makes a reopening double, you should just pull the double and support your partner’s opening suit, in which she’ll have at least a 5–2 fit. Your partner anticipates this. Her double is just inviting you to let it stand for penalty if you have a lot of opponents’ suit. If you don’t, just retreat to the best contract. If you retreat, your partner will know you passed because you don’t have much.
Requirements for a reopening double are as follows:
A reopening double can be made only by opening bidder;
After LHO has overcalled and there are two passes by your partner and your RHO.
Opening bidder has two or less cards in overcalled suit.
Opening bidder must have tolerance (at least 3 cards) for all unbid suits.
Opening bidder’s hand cannot be distributional.
As to the last rule above, if opener has a long suit, six cards or more, or is 5–5–2–1, she should either rebid her six-card suit, in the former, or bid her second suit in the latter. Look at the following two hands:
1. ♠ J5 2. ♠ J75
♥ AQT864 ♥ AKT864
♦ 8 ♦ 8
♣ AQT8 ♣ AK9
♥ AQT864 ♥ AKT864
♦ 8 ♦ 8
♣ AQT8 ♣ AK9
You LHO Partner RHO
1 Heart 2 Diamonds Pass Pass
How do you, as opening bidder, respond with each?
Hand 1: 2 Hearts. This is not a hand with which you should use a reopening double. True, you have a singleton in your LHO’s suit. And, true, your partner is almost certainly sitting behind your LHO with a lot of Diamonds. But your hand has two shortcomings that make it inappropriate for a reopening double:
You don’t have tolerance for all unbid suits. Your Spade doubleton is insufficient for support if your partner responds to your double with a bid of 2 Spades. Remember, your partner might be short in your suit. So if you double and your partner doesn’t want to sit for the penalty double at the 2 level, she has to either support your suit if she has two cards in it, or bid her longest suit. If she has five Diamonds but not enough to sit for the double, her longest suit might be Spades. She could be 4–1–4–4, so she would be forced to bid Spades, and you can’t support her.
Your hand isn’t strong enough. You really only have two fairly certain tricks, your two Aces. Remember, you have to take six tricks to set them. Otherwise they’re going to get a terrific score, making two or more, doubled!
Hand 2: Double. This is a very good hand with which to make a reopening double for two reasons:
You have tolerance for both unbid suits, so if your partner can’t support your Heart bid you have at least three cards in the unbid suits. The worst that can happen is that your partner will be playing in a 4–3 fit at the two level, not a disaster.
You have a good hand, with two Ace–King combinations. In a defense you have good trick-taking capability.
Remember this: Just because you have an opening hand and shortness in LHO’s suit, you don’t automatically make a reopening double. Your hand must fit the requirements in addition to shortness and the appropriate bidding after your open.