Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Negative Doubles, Part III: The Reopening Double

Before getting into the Reopening Double, there’s one last item to cover. You may use a Negative Double to show minor suits if partner, for instance, opens 1H and your Right Hand Opponent (RHO) overcalls 1S. If your hand is like the following:


A negative double shows two four card minor suits and at least 8 High Card Points (HCP). This is a perfect hand for a minor suit negative double.

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, not vulnerable v. vulnerable, 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 3 No Trump, but wouldn’t you like to double 2 Diamonds for penalty? Alas, you can’t double it because that would be a negative double, which you can’t make because you don’t have four spades. 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 Left Hand Opponent (LHO) passes, your partner should “reopen the bidding” with a double if she has 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 originally because you don’t have much.

Requirements for a reopening double are as follows:

1.   A reopening double may be made only by opening bidder (you, in this example);
2.   After LHO has overcalled and there are two passes by your partner and your RHO.
3.   Opening bidder has two or less cards in overcalled suit.
4.   Opening bidder must have tolerance (at least 3 cards) for all unbid suits.
5.   Opening bidder’s hand cannot be distributional.

As to the last rule above, if opener has a long suit , six cards or more, without support for all unbid suites, 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

Bidding is as follows.
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:

1.   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.

2.   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:

1.   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.

2.   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 all the  requirements set forth above in addition to shortness and the appropriate bidding after your open

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Negative Doubles Part II

In the last column we covered a negative double when partner opens a minor and RHO bids a major. Those are the easy ones. It gets a little more complicated.

Negative Doubles and Five card majors at the one level

If you have a five card major and sufficient points you must bid the suit.  If you have a four card major and a five card major, don't use a negative double to describe this hand, bid the five card major.  Your partner will be relying on you to bid a five card major at the one level if you have it.  If you're using negative doubles, bidding the suit at the one level over an intervening bid promises five cards unless both majors are unbid.  A double promises four cards.

Only one four card major

If your partner and your RHO have both bid minor suits, and you only have one four card major, you cannot use a negative double to describe your hand, because a negative double promises four cards in each unbid major suit.  Look at the following hand

ª KQ75
© Q73
¨ 872
§ 983

Partner opens 1 Club, RHO bids 1 Diamond.  You can't make a negative double.  Your only bid is 1 Spade.  If you made a negative double you would be promising four Spades and four Hearts.  Since you don't have four Hearts, you can't make a negative double.

To repeat, if the bidding goes 1 Club by your partner, 1 Diamond overcall by your RHO, you must have 2 four card majors to make a negative double. As a result, an auction of

Partner   RHO  You
1§         1¨      1©

does not promise a five card heart suit. You bid as if there had been no overcall and your heart bid only promises 4 cards in the suit. Partner must be aware that the bidding of a major suit over 1C-1D does not promise at least five cards in the suit, and may only show a 4 card suit.

Two Level Negative Doubles With A Five Card Major

If you have five cards in an unbid major in this situation, but not enough points to make a suit bid at the two level, you can utilize the negative double.  Look at the following hand:

ª J97
© KJ852
¨ 73
§ QT6


Partner   RHO  You
1¨          1ª       ?

You can't bid 2 Hearts because you only have seven points.  But you do have five Hearts.  What to do?

 In this situation, I will make a negative double.  You don't have eight points, but you do have five Hearts.  So you can amend the rule a little to say that you can make a negative double which forces partner to bid your suit at the two level in the following circumstances:

1) Four cards in the unbid major and at least eight points, or
2) Five cards in the unbid major and at least seven points.

Upper bidding limit for Making Negative Doubles

 Negative doubles are generally played through bids of 2 Spades, but this is purely partnership agreement. I like to play them through 3 Hearts. But if you play them only through 2 spades, any double of an overcall over 2 Spades is for penalty.  So, look at the following hand you hold:

ª 86
¨ A763
§ 874

The auction goes:

Partner   RHO  You
1ª          3§      ?

You cannot double the 3 Club bid here to show that you have four Hearts if you only play negative doubles through 2 spades (which is why I like to play them through 3 hearts).  If you double 3 Clubs, partner will leave it in, probably, as a penalty double.

However, the upper limit for negative doubles is by partnership agreement. Many advanced players play them through 3 spades. I had a partner who liked to play them through 4 diamonds. Whatever you choose, just be sure you and your partner agree.

Partner opens 1D, RHO overcalls 2C:

Here’s your hand now:

ª Q86
© KQJ6
¨ 76
§ 8742

The auction goes: 

Partner   RHO  You
1¨          2§      ?

Since a negative double over 1C-1D promises two four card majors, you might think that you cannot make a negative double with this hand. You would be wrong. Why can you make a negative double here without 2 four card majors but not over 1C-1D?

The answer is because you have a bid if you are 4-3 in the majors at the one level. You may bid your four card suit. At the two level, however, if you cannot make a negative double you cannot show your four card major. So over this auction, with enough HCP (8) and 4-3 in the majors, you may make a negative double. If partner bids your three card suit, you pass and she’s playing it in a 4-3 fit. Worse things than that have happened in bridge. In fact, Alphonse Moyse Jr. liked playing in 4-3 fits so much that it is named after him, “a Moysian Fit.”

That’s not all, folks. This negative double primer concludes with my next column.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


At its basics, a negative double is a double by you when your partner has opened the bidding with a minor suit (clubs or diamonds), and your Right Hand Opponent (RHO) has overcalled a major (hearts or spades). Your double tells your Partner that you have exactly four cards in the unbid major and a certain number of High Card Points (HCP).   It also implies support in the other unbid suit, but this is not an absolute requirement.

One level negative doubles

Let's say you're in third seat and the bidding has gone 1 Diamond by your partner, 1 Heart by your RHO and you hold the following:


        Not wonderful, is it?  But you do have four Spades and you do have six HCP.  If your RHO had passed, you would just bid 1 Spade and let it go at that.  But how does your partner know how many Spades you have?  You could have five Spades, or you could have four Spades.

        When your RHO overcalls in this situation, the Negative Double takes care of that problem for you.  If you have at least five Spades and this hand, you bid 1 Spade.  But if you have this hand, with four Spades, you Double!

        This is a conventional bid that doesn't mean what it says.  It is not a penalty double.  You aren't saying to your partner, "Hey, pard, we got 'em.  We can set this baby, so I'm doubling!"

        No, it doesn't say that at all. Instead, it says, "Partner, I have at least six HCP and exactly four Spades in my hand.  Not five Spades.  Not six Spades.  Not three Spades.  Exactly four Spades."

        The requirements for a one level negative double, that is, a negative double that allows your partner to make a bid and stay at the one level, are as follows:

1) At least six HCP;
2) Exactly four cards in the unbid major;

Two level Negative Doubles

        The requirements become more stringent as you force your partner to higher levels of bidding.  So, look at the following hand:


Bidding goes like this:

P              RHO     You
1            1        ?

        Now, you know you can't bid a new suit at the two level without at least ten HCP.  If you were to bid a new suit with this hand at the two level you would be lying to your partner.  And you don't want to have one of those conversations when she takes action on your promised strength only to find out you lied.

        So what are you to do?  Your hand isn't bad and you do have four Hearts, which your partner might like to know about.  What to do?

        Ah, you're probably way ahead of me.  Negative double!   In this hand you have four Hearts and eight HCP, exactly what you need to make a negative double which forces your partner to bid at the two level.  The Negative Double is a terrific way to tell your partner what you have without lying to her.

You might have more than six HCP when you make a negative double at the one level and more than eight HCP when you make it at the two level, but you are promising that you have at least six HCP at the one level and at least eight HCP at the two level.

        Again, I am going to stress that you cannot lie to your partner.  If, instead of the hand above you had the following:


and the bidding went as above, 1 Diamond by Partner and 1 Spade by your RHO, you may not make a negative double because, if you did, you would be forcing your partner to bid at the two level and you do not have eight HCP.  Your bid here would be to Pass.  Partner has another bid so you have no obligation to keep the bidding open.  You can't bid a new suit at the two level because you don't have ten HCP and you can't bid 1 No Trump because you don't have Spades, your RHO's bid, stopped.  So all you can do is pass.

        I know a lot of players who would be tempted to make a negative double with this hand, even though they don't have enough HCP.  But I hope you are not one of these.  Don't lie to your partner.

Following is a chart showing point requirements for negative doubles:

Level         HCP
1              6
2              8
3              10

To recapitulate,
1) If your negative double will allow your partner to bid your suit at the one level, you can make a negative double with only 6 HCP in your hand.
2) If your negative double will force your partner to bid your suit at the two level, you must have at least eight HCP in your hand. 
3) If your negative double will force your partner to bid your suit at the three level, you must have at least ten HCP in your hand.

That's a start. We'll get into more variations next time.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to Respond to a Reverse

A reverse is when opener for her second call bids a suit at the 2 level that is higher ranking than the suit that she opened at the 1 level. Example: You open 1 Club. Your partner responds 1 Spade. You bid 2 Diamonds. Diamonds is higher ranking than Clubs, and you have bid them at the 2 level, so you have reversed. It also promises more cards in your first bid suit than in your second, either 5-4 or 6-5. 

A reverse promises that you have at least 17 HCP and is forcing on your partner for one round. In other words, if you reverse, your partner must bid again, no matter how weak her hand. In today’s modern bridge, almost everybody plays reverses.

As a caveat, if your hand is 6-5, you need only an opening hand to reverse and you show your hand by bidding the second suit twice, for example

South             West   North             East
1C                   P         1H                   P
2D*                 P         2N                   P

**shows 6 clubs and 5 diamonds and at least 13 HCP

When inexperienced players have a five card major and a six card minor, they often open the bidding with the five card major. This is a mistake because once you do that, you can never accurately describe your hand. Although there might be a few rare exceptions, you should always open the bidding with your longest suit.

The difficult question is, what do you rebid when your partner has reversed (and most reverses involve a 5 card suit and a 4 card suit)? Here’s a hand that arose recently:


♠ 853
♥ KJ5
♦ AJ7
♣ T953

Here’s the bidding:

South        West         North        East
1C             P               1N              P
2D*           P               ?

What’s your call? You have to bid again and you have a pretty good hand. Partner has reversed, showing at least 17 HCP and you have 9 HCP. You should have game somewhere, but where? Obviously no trump is where you want to be, but you don’t know where partner’s points are.

This is where communication in bidding arises. You should show partner that you have a stopper in hearts with your KJ5 by bidding 2H. Even though you only have three hearts, partner knows you don’t have 4 or more because you bypassed hearts to bid 1N.

If partner has the other suit stopped (spades), she can bid 3N.

Here is the actual hand:

West         East
T6          AQ972
QT964    8732
T843      Q5
KJ         84

With this holding, South can confidently bid 3N because she’s got a spade stopper but would be worried about a heart lead if you had not told her that you had hearts stopped.

Here’s the correct bidding:

South        West         North        East
1C             P              1N            P
2D             P              2H            P
3N            All Pass

In the actual hand, North did not bid her heart stopper. Instead she bid 3C. South invited with 4 clubs and North went to 5, for down 1 when it sails 3N.