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"Pass" is what an expert (Frank Stewart) advocates with the following hand, at rubber, at favorable vulnerability, in response to a one diamond opening bid by RHO.

Spades QT4
Hearts KQ3
Diamonds Q64
Clubs KQ62

Specifically, Stewart wrote, "I would be ashamed to table a hand like that, after forcing my partner to bid." I (the OP) am a conservative bidder (perhaps overly so), but "Pass" seems overcautious even to me. Especially when non vulnerable vs. vulnerable.

The worst case for partner is a "Yarborough" and a 3-3-4-3 distribution (with the four in opponents" diamonds). But as a practical matter, the worst likely scenario is that partner will have only Jxxx in his "best" suit. This would play relatively well opposite KQxx, KQx, or QTx in the three unbid suits. A three pointer, with all three non-diamond jacks, could play very well. I don't see the shame in that, even for a forced bid.

I would rather double with the above hand than Stewart's other offerings, hand one, which had three cards but no honors (or even a T, 9, or 8) in the spade suit, or hand two, which had a "side" suit with only two cards (clubs).

Is a hand that meets the description in the title a clear double? Or are there 14 hcp balanced hands (regarding both cards and honors) that should be passed?

3 Answers 3

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100% pass. "Not even think" pass. If you're worried about "what happens if", this is the hand to worry about it. No, you're not likely to go 800, but you are likely to go minus on a "nobody can make anything" hand. At rubber, that will cost you tiny bits that will add up over the year. At matchpoints, -50 when you could have been +100 is almost as big a loss as -50 when you could have been +400.

All my arguments from the previous hands apply here:

  • ⋄Qxx is not only wasted values, it's valuable on defence.
  • If they have a fit, partner will do something ("short hand acts"), and you will be happy to support whatever she does. If they don't have a fit, you're losing 3 diamond tricks, either straight up or A,K,ruff.
  • It's more likely that opener is balanced than if he opened 1 of a major. Therefore, it's more likely that there is no fit at all (which you want to defend).
  • It's now screamingly clear that this week's course is "if you double 'because I have 13 points', stop."
  • specifically on this 14, look at which finesses are (potentially) on. To me, it looks like just the ♠J. That means any card LHO has is working to pick off your cards. On defence, the KQx is likely two tricks. On offence it could not be, if that's their fit and partner is short.

All of Forget...'s arguments on other of your questions also apply, in spades:

  • downvalue 4333s.
  • downvalue aceless hands. They're better on defence anyway.
  • you have a partner.

If it goes 1⋄-p-p to partner, she will likely have the hand that knows what to do. If it goes 1⋄-p-2⋄ (whether the opponents play that as "single raise" or as "limit or better"/"GF"), partner definitely will know what to do (at least if she adheres to "short hand acts" at all). If it goes 1⋄-p-1NT, this might be fun.

Alternatively, if it goes 1⋄-X-2NT/3⋄ (whichever is limit raise), partner has nothing and declarer can see the entire hand (although he might play for partner to be ⋄Qxx). Same for 1⋄-X-1♥-p; 2♥-p-4♥, with the benefit that trumps split better than they hoped. Sure, if you pass, the same auction happens, but now maybe there's a misguess.

On the off chance that it goes 1⋄-X-XX, pull out your wallet. I know, paranoid, but again, if it happens, the opponents know exactly what to do.

I'm more aggressive than Joe; with perfect shape, I'll double on a good 10 or less with no wasted values. My partners know to double-check with a good hand. I'll balance with even less and perfect shape, especially into 1m-1M; 2M-p. But flat hands are a danger when they've opened, no matter how many eyes are looking at you.

Now, with my regular partner, I will act with this hand. Because I'm playing something weird. But:

  • I will make the same call with Kxxx QTxx x QJxx, or weaker at favourable. The wide-ranging, aggressive nature of the call provides some safety.
  • I won't make the same call with most 15s, so partner won't go nuts.
  • That call is 1NT, not double, which takes away the 1♥ and 1♠ responses.
  • We are very prepared for the penalty "redouble" (actually double), and our rescue system is built to expect it. We are much more likely to reach a fit than the regular takeout doublers (albeit at the 2 level).
  • There's a 2⋄ call in the system saying "bid your better major". Now this time, I don't have a 4cM, but partner has that option with many hands that would have to "guess" over 1⋄-X-p.
  • I will take 100% of the blame if, even so, it was wrong to act. And it will be, sometime, sure as apples is apples.
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  • Actually, these articles took place over three months (June-August 2019) of back issues. My "series" of questions was a result of reading "June, July, and August" on different days. It would have been a lot more coherent if it had been concentrated over one week. Also, I'm astounded that the same call can be made with "9" on one distribution, and don't act with "14" on another. I had been using a narrower range;":Never below 11, and (almost) always on 14 hcps. That is a three point range instead of a 6 point range.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 27 at 16:36
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    Interesting. Brilliant of you to spot a pattern, then, if he wasn't putting it in place. That pattern is Bergen's "Points Schmoints. Shape rules." (or my summary of others' answers, "short hand acts". HCP work very well for "relative strength", which is a great guide to "how high" in power auctions. "Fit" and "losers in their fit" are 100% more important in competitive auctions/partscore fights. Which is what takeout doubles lead to, more often than not.
    – Mycroft
    Jan 27 at 16:50
  • I've seen others say that they would "double" with 10 hpcs with a 4-4-4-1 distribution, e.g. with Kxxx Axxx x QJxx,. Does that mean that one could do so with will Kxxxx Qxxx void QJxx? (8 hcps and 5-4-4-0 distribution)? I use algorithms to create grids like: double with 8 hpcs void in the opponents' suit, 10 hcps with a singleton, 12 hcps with a doubleton. In theory, 14 hpcs could accommodate a tripleton, but I would "throw out" many such hands on a case-by-case basis. At least if I subtracted an additional point for the bad distribution, turning 14 into "13."
    – Tom Au
    Jan 27 at 17:31
  • Swap the black suits and I might, yeah. Definitely bidding my 1NT for takeout with that partner. Probably want something more though. Overcalling 1S with the hand you gave (and potentially doubling next round if relevant. Or not, if it feels like partner might pass.) Please pay attention to the comments about "short hand acts" elsewhere to deal with the "3 cards in their suit" doubles - they're awful. Note that every card you have in their suit is not only a potential other loser, but also a card you don't have available for "your fit". Also know which HCPs are "waste paper".
    – Mycroft
    Jan 27 at 21:38
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The issue with this hand is that it isn't very interesting to play on offense. Sure, if partner has a 5 or 6 card major suit, then it might play well in that suit at the 1 level; but unless P has 8+ points, or a very shapely hand, I don't know that we really want to get in the auction here. This is a hand that plays just as well on defense, and you don't need to win as many tricks on defense.

Like the last hand, listen to the answer that talks about the law of total tricks; they opened a minor, so they maybe only have 3, maybe likely 4, and you only have 3 in the "higher" suits (the majors, here). Even if partner has 5 in a major (possible but not terribly likely), you have 8, they maybe have a 7 or 8 card fit at most? So 15 or 16 total tricks in the optimistic scenario, and 7 card fits are probably more likely - 14. LOTT wise, 14 total tricks screams defense - it means maybe each side can make a 1 level contract. Maybe. Wait a bit and find out; if P has a particularly unbalanced hand, P will step in and show you.

Typically, I'd want at least four cards in one major, and really would "prefer" it in both, over 1D in the direct seat. I'd also be more likely to get involved with some shortness in opener's suit. Both of those make it more likely you're in the 16 trick camp than the 14, and more interested in declaring.

Just to be clear, this is a little different than over 1H: there it's more tolerable to have 3 spades, if you have some other shapely attribute to your hand. Here if you have 3 cards in both majors, and no real shape (3-3-3-4), doubling isn't of much use. 3-4-3-3 would be better, but it's still not that good of an idea.

You might want to look at some detailed write-ups of takeout doubles; Bridgewebs has a good one, for example that lays out all of the different options. I suspect you can find others, particularly in book form, that go over this in more detail, but that page is a good start, both with examples and detailed rules to follow.

Most importantly, with 12-14 points, double with classic doubling shape, meaning something like 4-4-2-3 or 4-4-1-4; but pass with a balanced shape. I'm a bit more aggressive than that, so I might bid with 4-3-2-4 for example, but probably wouldn't with 4-3-3-3. Expect 15 or 16 if opener doubles with a more balanced hand (as that makes it more likely you have something on offense, and maybe can play 1NT).

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  • With this hand, I like the "separation" described in the following. I have all four queens, and two out of four kings (two out of three if you assume that the opponents have K of diamonds. I have 6 out of 16 face cards, and give opener credit for four, something like 2 aces a king, and the jack of diamonds. That leaves something like A, A, K and 3 Js for the two partners, and average o three face cards apiece. If my partner has the worst of it, 3 Js, we're OK at the one or two level. If the "best" (the 2 As and a K), a possible game. Either way, partner knows where we stand.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 26 at 20:47
  • But if I understand you correctly, one should seldom double with a 4-3-3-3 shape and less than 15-16 hcps, Is that what you are saying?
    – Tom Au
    Jan 26 at 20:49
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    The point is, though, what about this hand says "I want to be declarer"? That's the thing about takeout doubles: they're saying to partner "Heya, I think we should be declarer on this hand, pick a suit for us please". 3-3-3-4 14 points doesn't say that. It says "I really don't care who plays this hand or in what suit".
    – Joe
    Jan 26 at 20:50
  • If P has that A A K you talk about, then this will go 1d - p - p - X, right? Or something else? P will balance, and you will then be able to show that game. And if P has a long suit, then P can bid it also. But if P is also balanced, and has few points, and the bidding ends up 1d - p - 1nt - ppp, do you really mind all that much being on defense?
    – Joe
    Jan 26 at 20:53
  • In your answer to my other question (hand one), you seemed to tell me to double rather than pass with the 3-2-5-3 shape, (with hearts being bid and my "three" spades being 532). I have trouble reconciling that answer with this one here.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 26 at 20:59
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This is a long comment, not an answer.

When you learned bridge 50 years ago (directly or indirectly), people thought of scores as follows:

+110 - "Great; we bid the contract we should have."

+200 or +100 - "Ooh we got lucky and the opponents overbid."

-100 - "Bad; we overbid."

-110 - "They had the cards; too bad."

Hence, the psychological evaluation of scores is +110 is better than any of +200, +100, and -110, and -100 is worse than all of those.

Needless to say, that is not how bridge scoring works.

Your reaction to +200 should be "Great; we passed when we should have." and your reaction to both +100 and -110 should be "Bad; we didn't bid when we could have done so for a better score."

You need to change your bidding rules accordingly to account for the fact that knowing total tricks is more important than knowing what you can make.

Actually, instead of changing any of your rules, I'm going to suggest you add another imperfect rule for a year or so: "Never let the opponents play in 2 of a known fit." (That means, when the auction goes (1H)-P-(2H)-P, you alert partner's pass as "forcing unless I smell a rat".) That rule is almost guaranteed to improve your matchpoint scores more than anything else you can do at this point. Then go over your results, figure out when that rule was wrong (or the rule was right but you competed in the wrong strain), and try to figure out how you could have diagnosed as a partnership that the rule was wrong.

I think far more accurate than what you have is doubling with 13 hcp with 3 in their suit, 11 hcp with 2, 9 hcp with 1, and 7 hcp with a void (and 3 fewer in balancing seat). Subtract 1 for an aceless hand, subtract 1 more for a Q or J in their suit, 0.5 point for each vulnerable partnership, and do some more partial hcp adjusting for finesses since RHO is stronger than LHO.

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  • So those "14 hcps" hands weren't really so because of "stranded" honors in the opponents' suit? Makes sense. And I recommended "doubling" with the above hand based on "maximin" criteria, that is, the scattered queens and kings played relatively well opposite a "nightmare" partner hand of one or two Jxxx holdings.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 28 at 2:44
  • The only time you should think "maximin" is if your opponents are hopelessly bad (which many opponents are!) and you're still trying to win rather than get practice for playing better opponents. Otherwise make some attempt to integrate over the whole distribution. Jan 28 at 2:52
  • Also, you're still thinking in terms of "What are my chances of getting -100?" That's the wrong question, because -100 is a good score when the other possibility is -110 and a bad score when the other possibility is +50. Jan 28 at 3:15
  • I'm a "rubber" player. I barely understand matchpoints. "Maxmin" means I won't lose too much money in one session.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 28 at 3:31
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    At rubber, it also means you're leaving lots of money on the table without realizing it. You can keep buying insurance, but when you do you should be aware that the insurance company makes money, which means you shouldn't buy insurance on losses you can afford to eat. (I never play rubber, since I'm personally against gambling.) Jan 28 at 3:39

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