With both sides vulnerable, South opens one heart when I, West, have the following:

Spades 532
Hearts K5
Diamonds KJ753
Clubs AK3

An expert (Frank Stewart) recommends that West doubles with 14 high card points, despite the weak three card spade suit. Switch the black suits so that I have three low ones in clubs, and I would do this. But I have a painful recollection of being forced to bid as East with three little spades, and would be appalled to see the above as dummy.

My choice is to pass, so as not to give away my strength. If forced to call, I would rather bid two diamonds than double. My belief is that South's having opened in hearts reduces my partner's chances of having a heart suit, and increasing his chances of having at least three little diamonds.*

Are either of the above two actions better than "double?"

*My nightmare scenario is that East is forced to bid 1 spade, South doubles, and I am forced to bid 2 diamonds to try a rescue when we are vulnerable.

3 Answers 3


Yes, double can go wrong. It rarely does. Partner averages about 6hcp in this situation. They're usually able to bid a 4 card minor at the 2-level if they only have 3 spades.

2D can go very wrong, and goes wrong more often than X. LHO could show up with AQTx of diamonds. Opener having opened increased your partner's chances of having diamonds, but your having diamonds and not having hearts also decreases them. Note opener almost automatically doubles (for takeout, but convertible) with short diamonds if it goes 1H-(2D)-P-(P) to them.

Also, don't bid 2D opposite me, because I auto-raise on Axx of diamonds, a little bit of distribution, and nothing else, just to get in the opponents' way a little more.

Pass will go wrong half the time. It goes (1H)-P-(2H)-P-(P) to you. What do you do now? Pass again will result in being -110 instead of -100 (or +110) half the time. Double results in -200 instead of -110 the other half. The problem is that you now have to make a unilateral decision at the 2 level when doubling a round earlier would've allowed partner to make an informed decision instead. (If I'm forced into this situation, I think double is slightly better - "Never let opponents play in 2 of a fit")

BTW, I don't know anyone who plays 1H-(X)-P-(1S)-X as penalty. It's takeout.

When bidding, you really have to not worry about the 5% of the time things go very wrong. Especially at matchpoints, because rounder 0s score the same as less round 0s, but even at IMPs, where what you gain the other 95% of the time is still a lot bigger.


Pass is absolutely off the table. Bridge is about communication, and holding that hand and not letting partner know what’s going on is borderline criminal. You could have a game! (Most likely not, but it’s not out of the question!)

I don’t mind the 2D over call, if you would feel uncomfortable leaving partner in 1S. You probably can’t bid X then rebid 2D, though it’s close (usually a 16 count would be okay). 1NT is not a good idea, but it’s not necessarily out of the question there - you do have one heart stopper. Put partner on:

KQx QTxx Qxx Jxx

3NT is not terrible there! One spade two hearts four diamonds two clubs… not saying it’s likely but just pointing out that this is a hand you’d totally miss passing.

Double is perfectly fine though, and in nearly any case will play fine. What if partner bids 1S-PPP? Fine, odds are P has enough points you make 1S. You have a good 14 HCP with plenty of transportation - the tricks will be there. And if not? Down one is a fine result If your side has 18 points and they have a heart fit.

Remember that bridge is a four player game where you have a partner. You are focusing on your hand alone here, and ignoring the other side and your partner.


Echoing Alexander Woo here, but if you play bridge looking at what could go wrong, you will be eaten alive the majority of the time it doesn't.

It could be a 3-3 spade fit you end up in. Sure, and they defend 1S undoubled. Even at 100 a trick, they have to make 2S, defending, on a 7-card fit, to even beat their partscore (whatever that is - possibly 1NT making the same 8 tricks?) That is very hard.

Oh, they might double? Sure. And someone will likely pull, or redouble "for doubt" which partner will pull.

And you're giving up the opportunity to find the right lead against 3H or 4H when partner responds to the double.

Pass just says "partner, I think we defend so much better than the field that I'm willing to give them a free run at their best contract." Even if you get the "best result" and it goes 1H-p-p-X; p to you, what are you doing? (Okay, the actual best result is 1H-p-p-1NT (11-14, may not have a heart stopper; you can bid 3NT and hope Kx is enough, knowing where all the HCP are). But that won't happen. 1H-p-3H (preemptive, they play Bergen)-p; p-? 1H-p-3H (limit raise, but 100% guarantees 4 the way 1H-X-2NT! or 1H-2D-3D doesn't)? 1H-p-2H-p; p-? Now you have the same problem you had last round, and are one level higher. 1H-p-4H (5 hearts and a singleton, <6 HCP; probably in context a spade singleton)? Tell me partner is going to find 4S with 5 (even 6) good and a heart void and little else. Opener could easily have the 20 and you have 3 rather than 14 and 11, or 17 and 6 and nothing makes now.

I have a soft spot in my heart for 2D, but would never do it. No shape - 3=2=5=3 is way too flat to insist on my suit, especially in a minor - and the killer that again Alexander Woo mentioned, your trumps are awful (I'd much rather have QJT9x, even JT98x(x)). Broken suits are a massive flag. It is much easier to work out to defend a 2 level contract than a 1-level, and you have "nowhere to go" if it turns out this time AQTxx(x) is on your left. I promise you, whatever score your 1S on the 3-3 gets you, it will pale before the 1100 that is really likely the times it goes 1H-2D-p-p; X-p-p-p. Okay, maybe the transportation is bad, and they have to play the tapout game rather than "lead trumps through declarer" to take all their tricks, and you do have CAK, so it might only be 800.

There are players at the World Championship level who "get good results with frisky 2-level overcalls", and expert thought is moving toward "okay, this is not quite as dangerous as we all thought all this time", but when it's wrong, it's really wrong, and when it's really wrong, current bidding systems get this one right, almost by accident.

Is double a good call? No. But I agree with Frank Stewart. 2D is dangerous, especially for a weaker declarer, and pass is pusillanimous at best. And his column is aimed at the weaker players, who more often need to be led away from pessimism and conservatism than the opposite. (I have an article in my so far unpublished bridge advice series called You Don't Bid Enough. I'm not Frank's level as a player or as a teacher, but it's the most common flight C failing I see, bar none.)

  • My impression is that expert thought is actually moving away from this overcall. Sure Mark Itabashi is going to overcall against me, but that's because (a) he declares at least a trick better than his client whoever it is that day, partly because: (b) he can read my body language to tell where the cards are; and (c) I'm more likely to get nervous and misdefend if he's declaring. Jan 23 at 18:54
  • I believe the comment was made about Gavin Wolpert. Can't find the quote at the moment, though. Might even have been a throwaway during VuGraph.
    – Mycroft
    Jan 24 at 15:04

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