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Left hand opponent opened 1 heart. Partner doubled for takeout. Right hand opponent passed. I "had to" bid 2 clubs with something like (S) xxx (H) xx (D) Jxxx (C) Jxxx.

We were doubled for penalties, and went down five, (vulnerable) after partner partner laid down:

(s) Axxx (H) Kxx (D) Kxx (C) Qxx

In defending the takeout double, partner said, "I had 12 points and four spades. That's a standard takeout double."

I said, "I need 14 points for a vulnerable takeout. I don't even consider your hand worth 12 points (even though technically that's the case), because of the 4-3-3-3 distribution." What bothered me most about the double was not the minimum point count, but the "stranded" king, and three cards in the opponents' suit.

Give partner a better distribution by changing her hand to something like: (s) Axxxx (h)--- (d) KQxx (c) Kxxx, and I wouldn't have complained. Because all her "values" would have been OUTSIDE the opponents' suit, for offense, not defense.

Was partner right to make the double? Or was I right to protest it? Is vulnerability the deciding factor? In either case, why?

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Related meta question -… –  Pat Ludwig Jun 14 '11 at 15:31

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Nearly all American experts would not make a takeout double here, and my impression is that most Europeans would not as well. Having 3 cards in their suit is a flaw when deciding to try and declare the hand rather than defend, and points outside their suits do matter: with only 9 points outside of their suit, your offense-to-defense ratio is low.

If opener has 6 hearts, and partner 3 or 4, your K will not take a trick on offense (it will be ruffed). And if partner has 1 heart, the K could be useless as well. But it will always take a trick on defense, so the heart K should be discounted slightly when considering the takeout double. Qxx of hearts would discounted heavily because it would be useless on many hands.

There are several ways to lose by doubling here: partner has 3 hearts, partner gets you into a 4-3 minor fit, partner competes over 2H and gets you too high, partner drives to game expecting more.

Partner is still there. He will reopen after 1H P P if he has one of the hands you want, and I would recommend playing a pre-balancing style where partner can double light after 1H P 2H... then he will protect you from having passed this hand.

In all, too many flaws: only 9 points outside their suit, poor shape, no spots, bad vulnerability. If opponents were vulnerable that's another flaw since you might be able to get 100 or 200 by setting them.

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@drew: I like your comment about low offense to defense ratio, and your reply generally. –  Tom Au Jun 15 '11 at 19:40
At Matchpoints, I think you should consider doubling 1H... –  Aryabhata Jun 15 '11 at 21:25
It's a very borderline hand for the takeout double, but I maintain that, if you're in the mood to compete, there's nothing wrong with bidding on a borderline hand. Yes, you've listed a bunch of ways this bid can (and did!) go wrong. If we didn't ever make bids that could go wrong, Bridge would be a much less interesting game. In any circumstance where the opponents can really punish you for the bid, they stand a strong chance of making game anyway. Sometimes, psyching them out with an aggressive bid pays off. Having said all of that, no one ever claimed that this double wasn't iffy ;) –  thesunneversets Jun 16 '11 at 21:52
@aryabhata: Fair enough regarding match points. But it's a version I barely understand. –  Tom Au Jun 17 '11 at 16:57
@thesun: "If we didn't ever make bids that could go wrong...", that is not an argument: It can be used to justify any silly bid one makes! The point is how much do you stand to gain vs lose by making that bid. For instance, not making a takeout double could also go "wrong". You might miss a 4S contract when partner has the right hand. The statement that almost no expert would make a takeout double with that hand at IMPS is quite accurate, IMO. –  Aryabhata Jun 17 '11 at 21:51

Double by this hand is unwise in any scoring system. Best to pass.

Note that to double on an offshape hand like this requires you to check a special box (minimal offshape takeout doubles) on an ACBL card.

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Re: ABCL card, this is a little misleading. To double by agreement with a hand like this requires checking that box; that agreement may either be explicit, or implicit because you frequently open hands like this. However, if partner's not "in on the joke" (that is, partner has no reason to think you'd have a hand like this), you're permitted to double with this hand. –  ruds Feb 22 '14 at 21:16
Yes, sorry if anyone got the opposite impression! Just using this as an example to explain to OP that this double is not standard, not to explain acbl bidding rules. –  hunter Feb 22 '14 at 21:45

Entire books could be written (and have) about how to evaluate your hand beyond a simple count of High Card Points, so a full treatise on this subject is outside the scope of this site.

The bare King is not great, but since your LHO opened the bidding and will have length in that suit, he will wind up having the Ace more often than his partner. Thus, you could anticipate the King likely worth a trick.

The double is fine, and rates to gain a lot if you have four spades, or the heart Ace, or length in a minor and shortness in hearts. Sometimes, you go down. Sometimes, things would have worked out better if you kept your mouth shut. However, if you wait to bid until you are certain that you won't go down a packet, you will miss a ton of profitable situations.

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I think you both bid fine and don't really have to over-analyse your loss. Your partner had a bare minimum for a take-out double, with only three card support in the unbid suits; but a takeout double is forcing, and your bare minimum response was also appropriate.

It seems unfortunate that you turned out to have absolutely the worst possible hand on both sides; but on the bright side, 5 down doubled is not necessarily the worst given that your opponents had almost certain game...

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I think I should possibly have edited my answer to add "it depends on the context". By initiating a takeout double with such a borderline hand, your partner is definitely taking an aggressive gamble. If you were playing rubber bridge, were one game up, and had 80 points below the line, then obviously diving in with a risky takeout is a bit crazy. On the other hand, if the opponents were in danger of running away with the contract... sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures! –  thesunneversets Jun 13 '11 at 19:45
good question. We had one game apiece, both vulnerable. I didn't appreciate the 1400 point penalty. Fortunately we were playing tiny stakes, one-tenth of a penny per point, or $1.40. Then we switched partners. –  Tom Au Jun 13 '11 at 21:12
Downvoted because 5 down doubled would be far worse than a game, and lack of analysis about why takeout double is good or bad. –  Drew Hoskins Jun 15 '11 at 19:26
@Drew: 5 down doubled is pretty darn bad, but as I say, giving the opponents certain game, and the 500/700 point rubber bridge game bonus, without even trying to contest it, is also bad. I know a lot of Bridge players who would always rather go down fighting. There's nothing to worry about here: the takeout double was a normal, if borderline bid, and just because complete disaster struck in the actual event doesn't mean that the bidder should be excoriated. Always look on the bright side of Bridge, I say! –  thesunneversets Jun 16 '11 at 16:36
@thesunneversets: "Down five" was a bit unlucky (all the finesses "offside"). But even a more normal "down three" was pretty bad; that's -800 when vulnerable. Maybe the double was acceptable at "favorable" vulnerability (-500 for down three non-vul vs. -620 for a vulnerable game), but not otherwise. –  Tom Au Feb 24 '13 at 20:47

I count on "shape" when making (or responding to) take out doubles. In the actual hand, we had seven "trumps" in clubs, versus eight "trumps" in hearts for a total of 15. Under the law of total tricks, we should be able to make about five tricks, given that the opponents had the values for game. (We actually made only three because of poor "intermediates" and finesses.)

With the hypothetical better hand: (s) Axxxx (h)--- (d) KQxx (c) Kxxx,there are 11 hearts for the opponents and eight clubs for us, a total of 19 trumps. (I also value this hand at 15 points (12 HCP, three for the heart void.) The opponents have the values for a small slam, meaning that we should be able to take seven tricks (19-12). In this example, we'd be risking a small penalty to try to derail a slam.

The idea of a takeout double is not just to "compete," it is to make a "profitable" sacrifice. Minus 800 against a possible 980 small slam falls into this category; minus over 1000 against a 620 game does not.

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You are resulting. Your partner's call is not a bad one because of a (single) bad result, and she is right to reject this argument; Your partner's call is a bad one for various other reasons that you don't address. Having defense is not a reason to reject a takeout double at this level; that call shows defense for the same reason that an opening 1-bid also shows defense, plus an additional one to cover when partner converts the double to penalties. –  Pieter Geerkens Sep 20 at 13:08
"Your partner's call was a bad one for various other reasons that you don't address." Why don't you answer on that basis. I value your informed opinion. –  Tom Au Sep 20 at 17:42
Drew Hoskins has addressed all major points of why the direct-seat double is a bad call with minimum off-shape hands and I have voted up his answer. –  Pieter Geerkens Sep 20 at 18:07
@Pieter Geerkins: I have stopped "resulting" by basing my commentary on the theoretical three tricks I should have gone down, not the five I actually did. –  Tom Au Sep 21 at 1:13

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