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. (FWIW, Kaplan and Rubens evaluates this hand as 15 points, and the actual hand at 11 points because of the flat distribution and stranded honors. That's true, even though the traditional Milton Work count for both hands is 12 points.)

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


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.

  • @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
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    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 ;) 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
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    @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.

  • 1
    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
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    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.

  • Are you seriously suggesting that Mike Lawrence would in second seat double a 1H opening with: (S) Axxx (H) Kxx (D) Kxx (C) Qxx? It seems so by linking to his book, and I highly doubt it myself. Mar 18 '16 at 18:51
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    Quote from Hand Evaluation by Mike Lawrence, page 89: "Minimum balanced hands in the 10 to 15 point range do not lend themselves to voluntary action except when in the thirteen to fifteen point range." I see no reason to believe Lawrence adjusts the strength of that ugly flat hand up from 12. Mar 18 '16 at 21:43

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...

  • 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! 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
  • 3
    Downvoted because 5 down doubled would be far worse than a game, and lack of analysis about why takeout double is good or bad. 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! 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

Nobody forced you to bid 2 Clubs; you chose to because you weren't listening to the auction. Alarm bells should be going off in your head after the sequence:

1H  Dbl  Pass  ?

Partner ostensibly has short hearts, you have only two, and RHO declined to make a bid also suggesting short Hearts.

Who's lying?

If the answer is that Partner is the likely liar, just bid 1 Spade. You have the doubleton heart and a possible ruffing trick. Opponents are likely to play you for a 4-card Spade suit and thus an 8-card fit with partner, plus you are a level lower. It is much more difficult, in consequence, for them to double this contract.

Further, if Partner is making this Takeout Double based on a strong minor suit and 17+ points, the last thing you want to do is encourage him by bidding his suit. That's asking for trouble. Don't take the chance of doing so. Just bid the suit that signals a mis-fit.


When responding to a Takeout Double with an absolute bust hand, make the cheapest possible call that can be excused. Make it as easy as possible, and as tempting as possible, for the opponents to re-enter the auction.

  • Here is a Frank Stewart example showing a doubler with Q86 of spades. baronbarclay.com/product/bridgecolumn07-12-12/July2012I was taught not to bid 1 spade with three little ones (maybe AKx) but to bid my cheapest four card suit. Given my four to the jack, (seven cards and two low honors in the suit between us), we can still hold our own in "our" suit.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 10 '19 at 15:51
  • @TomAu:That's the difference between doubling 1D and doubling 1H. Assuming a shape double rather than a super overcall of 17+ and a strong suit, the first promises 4 in the one unbid major, while the other promises 4-3 or 3-4 in the two of them. Apr 10 '19 at 19:09
  • Speaking of "shape" doubles, after all these years (eight), I still feel that partner had the wrong shape for a double. Her 12 hcps met some people's minimums, but her 4-3-3-3 distribution made her hand more like 10-11. M y own standard is 13 hcps with a doubleton in the opponent's suit, and 14 hcps with a tripleton (12 with a singleton and 11 with a void).
    – Tom Au
    Apr 10 '19 at 20:37
  • @TomAu: Of course she had inadequate shape - that's no excuse for you to hang her out to dry on the hand. That's a fast way to needing a new partner. The opponents can make 3NT and possibly 4 of a major on the hand - which Partner's Double might just have talked them out of if you just bid a nice simple 1S. Apr 10 '19 at 21:40
  • 1
    I'd probably bid one spade (on your say so) the next time this happens. But eight years ago, I did what I had been earlier taught to do.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 10 '19 at 21:43

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.)

I'll admit to "resulting" earlier, when I complained about the actual (unfortunate) result, down five, vulnerable, minus 1400. But this stricture does not apply to the theoretical result, down three, vulnerable, minus 800, which is worth more than the value of any vulnerable game. Only in favorable vulnerability (not vulnerable versus vulnerable) would it have made sense to go down three to head off an opposing game (minus 500 vs. minus 620).

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.

  • 1
    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. Sep 20 '15 at 13:08
  • 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. Sep 20 '15 at 18:07
  • @ForgetIwaseverhere: I just realized that partner had a lousy 4-3-3-3 distribution, so her "12" hcps were actually worth quite a bit less. That, of course, was the basis of her "strong" defense and few "trumps" (under the law of total tricks). Is that why she shouldn't have doubled? If partner's heart holding were A or even Ax, it would be good for both defense and offense, but this wasn't the case here.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 2 '18 at 21:56
  • Even worse, the hand had no tens, no nines, no eights, no sevens, no sixes, and one lonely five. (That's is what all those "x's" mean in a hand diagram - the lowest card in the suit not yet identified elsewhere.) Truly worth only about 9.5 to 10 points. Remember that QT2, or even Q92 or Q82, is a significantly stronger holding than Q32 or Q42. A hand without its share of T,9,8 must be downgraded - and those holding must be reported when describing the hand. Oct 3 '18 at 3:48

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