5

In today's bridge column, this example was given:

North opened with one diamond. East doubled with (s) Qxx (h)AQxx (d) x (c) ATxxx.

This double technically met my 14 point requirement (12 for high card points, 2 for the singleton in the opposing suit). But I would have refrained from it for two reasons:

1) I have only Qxx in the spade suit. 2) My strongest suit is clubs, which partner would have to bid at the two level.

Upgrade the spade suit to Kxx, or Qxxx, and I would double. Or switch the diamonds and clubs, so that I was doubling with a singleton club and Axxxx in diamonds.

North and South bid to four spades. East West took the KA of clubs, and the ace of hearts. But then South's game depended on two "two way finesses" in spades and diamonds. From the double, he could infer that East did NOT have the Q of diamonds, and he DID have the Q of spades. Meaning that the double gave away crucial information (and the spade suit was too weak to withstand a finesse).

Here's another example of what I mean.

In Bridge, Do You Count Defensive Points In the Opponents' Suit When Making a Takeout Double?

In such cases, should one avoid making a takeout double using this level of "granularity"?

2

You state in your title question:

... in borderline situations

This is inaccurate. This hand is far from being a borderline takeout double for several reasons:

  • I would still Double with Heart Q replaced by Heart T, even Vulnerable against Not - but that would be a borderline double.

  • You have the short Diamonds. It is likely that partner has both too many diamonds and insufficient HCP to balance, so it is imperative you act to get your side into what is likely to be a competitive auction.

  • Qxx in Spades is not a deficient holding. It is quite sufficient, especially when you have a strong 4-card holding in Hearts.

  • With both majors Partner will bid Hearts before Spades, which is your preference. The heart suit is likely lost to your side if you fail to Double.

These points are all strong pluses to the given hand, suggesting action rather than inaction.

  • Interesting analysis. My response: 1) I would pass with ATxx in hearts in your example, but today, seven years later, I would double with AJxx in hearts. 2) I still consider Qxx in spades "deficient" (opposite e.g. xxxx) but the strength of the heart suit makes up for it. Change the hand to (s) AJxx (h) Qxx (d)x (c) ATxxx and I might pass. 3) Suits matter to me. I am uncomfortable with the fact that a disproportionate part of my strength is in clubs, and would therefore pass hands with X strength, that I would otherwise double with if strength were better distributed. – Tom Au May 16 at 16:54
  • @TomAu: I strong side suit, which correctly describes the Club suit in this hand, is an asset in both trump and no-trump contracts. In the latter it provides an alternative means to retain control by potentially forcing out a late opposing boss trump. Absolutely do not deprecate a hand because that side suit is a minor. – Forget I was ever here May 16 at 18:56
8

This is in part a matter of style, but I would happily make a takeout double with that hand. In my experience (which I think agrees with prevailing expert opinion), it is better to be aggressive in competitive bidding at low levels, and get more cautious when the bidding reaches the 3 level.

Advantages to bidding:

  • You have the opportunity to find a contract for your side
  • You interfere with the opponents' bidding, giving them a chance to make a mistake and making it harder for them to use their conventions (though this is not a big factor for takeout doubles)
  • You give partner information which may be useful on defense

Disadvantages:

  • You may end up in an impossible contract and go down badly (perhaps doubled)
  • You give the opponents information which they can use if they win the contract (as happened in this case)

If your partner is good, he is less likely to push you to a crazy contract. On the other hand, experienced opponents are more likely to double if you end up somewhere bad.

The most important factor, though, is the possibility of finding a contract where you can make. RHO (North) is potentially no stronger than you, so there is a good chance that you have half the points or more. You should have a shot at making something. However, if you pass and LHO bids, your partner will likely have trouble bidding unless he has a good enough hand and suit to overcall, and he will likely need to bid at the 2 level or possibly higher if South jumps. You are probably the strong hand in this partnership, so if you pass now, there's a good chance you are giving up any opportunity to win the contract.

Naturally, there are no guarantees. Sometimes you make the right bid and it ends up hurting you. Bidding well and playing well are both a matters of percentages -- you should make the play that has the best expected outcome.

  • For me, the key point is the weak spade suit and strong club suit. Switch the two, and I would happily double. You might find a game at 4s but probably not (given North's strength) in 5C. – Tom Au Jul 12 '12 at 15:53
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    @Tom, you don't really have enough information yet to know if your hand will turn out to be good or bad in the play. I think it's much more important to communicate to partner that you might have a competitive balance of the points, than to play it safe because your hand is not as rock-solid in all situations as you'd like. – thesunneversets Jul 12 '12 at 16:41
  • @thesunneversets: I don't mind competing for a game with ATxxx in spades. I do mind trying to do this with Qxx in spades, and the ATxxx in clubs. When I double, I'm promising an "average" of Axxx in each of the unbid suits, and in no event worse than Kxx or Qxxx in the majors. Qxx falls below that standard. – Tom Au Jul 12 '12 at 18:06
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    It's not all about game. Part scores matter too, and are much more likely when RHO opens and you have 12 high card. Also, by passing there is a good chance you are giving up finding a heart fit. You can survive in spades, which for me is enough for a double. But as I said, it is in part a matter of style. – Daniel Gottesman Jul 12 '12 at 19:39
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    @TomAu: If your partner has that hand and you get passed out in 1S, your opponents are missing an easy 3NT. Big win for you, except maybe at unfavorable vulnerability. 1S doubled is a bit worse, but that's rare, and even then you might end up winning. This is not to say you can't find hands where double leads to a worse outcome -- again, it's a matter of percentages. – Daniel Gottesman Jul 13 '12 at 14:15

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