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With the other side vulnerable, your LHO (South) opens one of a suit, your partner (West) doubles (takeout), RHO (North) passes. You (East) have KQJ97 of the bid suit and a bunch of small side suit cards (in a 5-3-3-2 distribution). That is to say, you have no side suit strength whatsoever.

Your suit holding is stronger than opener's likely ATxxx. Still, I can see a scenario where the opening bidder might make the one level contract (but without overtricks) for a score of 160 (50 part score, 60 for doubled contract, 50 for the double itself), meaning -160 to you. With them vulnerable, you will be +200 if they go down one, doubled.

With two suits of xxx (all x's 7 or lower), you fear that the penalty for bidding one of them opposite Hxxx (H is an ace or king honor) and going down will be greater than -160. This is particularly true if the bid suit is spades (or even hearts if your doubleton is in spades), and you need to go to the two level to bid a suit with xxx.

How do the risks and rewards of passing for penalty balance out? Given that they are vulnerable, how might your vulnerability figure in this calculation?

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  • There is no overall answer. Vulnerability is important. I will frequently literally imagine good, average, and poor hands for everyone given the bidding so far and calculate how many tricks will be taken in each scenario, and then calculate scores in each case and average them to make a decision. That's why experienced players can take several minutes to make a bid in some situations. Mar 6, 2023 at 21:24
  • Please give the complete auction and distribution Tom. With just 5 cards in Opener's suit and otherwise a bust, I am going to bid 1H or 1S in a 3-bagger in preference to converting this double. However I will convert rather than bid 2 in a minor suit. Mar 7, 2023 at 0:41
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    @ForgetIwaseverhere: This is a hypothetical, not actual situation. South bids one heart, West doubles, North passes, East has ♠ 42 ♡ KQJ97 ♢ 753 ♣ 642. The question assumes N-S is vulnerable, and asks how and how much it matters if E-W are also vulnerable. Also, suppose the spade suit had a third card instead of both minors. Your comment is already very helpful, "I am going to bid 1H or 1S in a 3-bagger in preference to converting this double. However I will convert rather than bid 2 in a minor suit"
    – Tom Au
    Mar 7, 2023 at 2:44

2 Answers 2

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In regards the commented clarification of the question, as here:

... a hypothetical, not actual situation. South bids one heart, West doubles, North passes, East has ♠ 42 ♡ KQJ97 ♢ 753 ♣ 642. The question assumes N-S is vulnerable, and asks how and how much it matters if E-W are also vulnerable. Also, suppose the spade suit had a third card instead of both minors.

  1. With my spades swapped with either minor I will bid a simple 1S in tempo.

  2. If Opener had opened a minor (and you swapped my hearts with that minor) I will bid my cheapest 3 card suit, again in tempo.

  3. If Opener has opened 1 Spade (and my hearts were swapped with the spades) I have to choose between lying with a Pass or lying with 1 NT. Here game type and vulnerability matter. If opponents are Vulnerable AND the game type is Match Points then I will Pass; otherwise I will lie by a point with 1 NT. On a good day that is the last makeable contract by either side; and we're playing instead of Opponents. (It's not like LHO will have an obvious Opening lead.)

A key point to remember when Partner makes a Take Out Double: Yes, you may at times have other options; but Partner has asked you to make a preference between the suits he has shown. Doing so should be your first priority when no obvious alternative (or danger) exists.

Also: when passing, it's not enough for Doubler's Partner to contribute 3 or 4 trump tricks late - rather, it is imperative that he be able to take 3 or 4 trump tricks early, so as to take Doubler off the perpetual endplay; draw Declaring side's trumps before any ruffs get taken; and tolerate the force to get in with a ruff yourself. Hence it's desirable (at the one level) to have 6 trumps; and ideally a singleton as well.

Finally, I am going to strongly disagree with the comment by Alexander Woo: This is not a situation where breaking tempo is acceptable ethics. The only problem here is with a hand considering a Pass, and any pause identifies the hand as pretty much what you gave - strong 5 card suit in a 5332 hand not really quite strong enough to convert at the 1 level. Such a pause will put Partner in a very uncomfortable position, when I would really like to free his decisions as much as possible. So I would rather make the second best call here than tie Partner up ethically.

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  • FWIW, I consider a KQJxx sequence to be worth seven points, rather than six, and therefore a 1NT bid would not be a "lie."
    – Tom Au
    Apr 2, 2023 at 21:38
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    I took the liberty of amending your hypotheticals, because if you combined them with the original hand, I have easy heart bids.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 8, 2023 at 3:17
  • @TomAu: Thank you for the heads up. That's a good catch. Apr 8, 2023 at 3:21
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The "social contract" is that the passer is responsible for beating the declaring side in the trump suit, and the doubler can handle the other three suits.

Here, East has admirable control of the trump suit, being able to contribute three tricks in it. The doubler should be good for at least three tricks in the side suits. That's enough for "book," or six tricks. The problem arises from the fact that East has nothing to contribute in the non-trump suits.

Where might the seventh trick for E-W come from? It's possible that the doubler has the singleton T, or more likely that dummy (North) has it, in which case it can be finessed by a trump lead from West.

It's worth noting that the doubler sits behind the opening bidder, who will have the bulk of N-S's high card points, meaning that finesses into declarer's hand will likely fail. This factor, plus N-S vulnerability, will lead me to pass rather than bid a weak three card suit the two level, opposite doubler's "average" holding of four high card points and four cards in each unbid suit.

Because you lack side suit strength, you need a slightly stronger trump holding, say KQJ972, or AQJ97 to consider converting if you can escape by bidding a three card suit at the one level, especially if non-vulnerable. In the latter case, if partner leads a singleton trump, you can take the ace and lead the queen to remove dummy's last trump. In the former, partner may not have a trump to lead, but you have prospects for four trump tricks.

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  • The point you've missed is that it's not enough for Doubler's Partner to contribute 3 or 4 trump tricks late - rather, it is imperative that he be able to take 3 or 4 trump tricks early, so as to take Doubler off the perpetual endplay. That's why it's desirable for the long trump hand to have (at the one level) 6 trumps and ideally a singleton. Mar 10, 2023 at 1:18
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    @ForgetIwaseverhere: You might add the comment to your excellent answer. In posting my "self-answer," I finally revealed the key assumption behind my preference for converting, and your comment pointed out why that assumption might be wrong.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 11, 2023 at 1:11
  • Good point; done. Mar 11, 2023 at 19:38

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