The bidding was North : Pass, East : Pass, South (me) : 1D, West : 2C, North : Double.

North had a balanced 10 points including three clubs to the king, four hearts, three spades, and three diamonds. Unless the double is for penalties, it seems that North had no option but to pass. My hand (South) was a balanced 13 points with five diamonds. So was my partner's double for penalties or for take-out?

3 Answers 3


Assuming you are in the US (probably most other countries as well), this is a negative double. In this specific auction, it shows four cards in at least one major and a desire to compete at least to the two level.

Partner's plan may have been to raise your 2H to 3H, or bid 2NT over your 2D or 2S, showing in either case a natural invitation. Alternatively, they may have planned to pass any of these minimal bids. Here it depends on the actual honor structure of their hand, your opening style (eg if you open all 12 counts and some 11s, a 4333 10 count is usually not strong enough to invite), whether you open 1D aggressively in 3rd seat, etc.


Alex's simple rules for doubles - these are not optimal but close enough. They are also not quite the same as standard agreements but close enough.

All doubles are for takeout except the following:

  1. The doubler has already made a pass over a natural bid in the same suit. (Exception: the double is made in the balancing seat at the 2 level.)

  2. Either side has made a notrump bid that promises a balanced hand.

  3. You have agreed on a suit. (Exception: if there is no room for an invitation to game, then the double is an invitation to game rather than penalty.)

  4. Either of you has shown a single-suited hand.

  5. Either of you has made a redouble showing a desire to penalize.

  6. Either of you has made a penalty double or passed a takeout double to convert to penalty.

Note very few doubles are actually for penalty under these rules; they are all exceptions of some kind. Bridge scoring highly favors aggressive bidding; sacrificing is frequently the best result. In particular, you should almost never allow the opponents to play in a 2 level contract unless they have a misfit.

  • I like these. Nice! And as you note: "very few doubles are actually for penalty" has been expert practice for at least a half century, though not always as formalized as you present. You might add an additional exception for doubles that are explicitly lead-directing. These are not strictly penalty, but rather speculative - but certainly aren't to be taken out. Commented May 20, 2023 at 0:47
  • I would also add lead-directing (Lightner) doubles. And don't forget John Lowenthal's "Stripe-Tailed-Ape-Double" (bridgebum.com/stripe_tailed_ape_double.php). Lowenthal doubles opponents game contract when he suspects that they could make a slam - a doubled game costs less than a slam. If either opponent redoubles, he "runs like a stripe-tailed ape" :-) On a more serious note, your last point is exactly the difficulty. If the opponents open 1H and you double, is it a penalty double according to rule 6? How about if the opponents open 2H (weak)? Or 3H (pre-emptive)?
    – AlDante
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 6:20
  • No - point 6 only applies if someone in your partnership has previously made a double that is penalty according to one of the other rules. Commented May 20, 2023 at 6:22
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    @Barmar: If I had 30 seconds with a pick-up partner at a tournament and we'd agreed 2/1 1430 4th best udca a from ak meckwell over their nt, I would assume maximal doubles. Commented May 21, 2023 at 2:13
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    @Barmar: A maximal double is no longer alertable after the recent changes. (Neither is a support double.) I think we have different definitions of "expert" - I'd define an expert as someone you would expect to make the second day of an NABC+ event, and I would expect that everyone on the second day of an NABC+ event is playing maximal doubles (and almost everyone on the first day). Commented May 22, 2023 at 22:47

First of all, the fact that partner passed initially means that s/he does not have an opening hand.

Second, partner's double on the second chance to bid indicates close to "average" values ( basically, the 10 high card points, actually held.

Third, this double came after two bids (one by you, and one by an opponent). it shows concentrated strength in two suits. It is weaker than a takeout double, (which usually shows strength in three suits, other than the one that was bid by an opponent).

This is a so-called negative double, which means, "I don't like your suit (diamonds), and I don't fancy defending the opponents' suit (clubs). My strength is in the remaining two (major) suits. I expect partner to be 4-4 in those suit (4-3 is close enough).

On both points and suits, you and partner have the balance of power, and you should be able to outbid your opponents (or collect a good penalty). If you and partner can't find a 4-4 major suit fit, two no trump is your best bet, given your preponderance of points and the balanced nature of both your hands.

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