Friday, October 11, 2002 10:32 PM

Penalty Doubles - Forcing Auctions




          One of the very basics of bidding is to know when particular auctions set up a force on the partnership . There is nothing more discouraging in Bridge then to pass the decision around to partner thinking that the pass is forcing and partner passes !! . Partner just can not do that – for any reason other than an outright psyche ! Regardless of  partner having minimum values or is ashamed of a previous bid or any other excuse that can be thought up , she can not pass if there is a forcing auction. This erodes partnership confidence and trust and will lead to disasters in the long run. Even if the result is right , the means to get that result is wrong and is not worth it.


          There are many ways a forcing auction is established - the common ones being a 2♣ opener , 2/1 , Jacoby 2NT , 4th suit forcing , a new suit by responder , new minor forcing , a redouble , a Q bid , a systemic bid showing limit raise or better  etc . All these bids allow nice and slow auctions until game is reached  and if the opponents interfere they can not buy the contract undoubled .


          Another bid that sets up forcing auctions is the penalty double . I wish that were a generalization so it is easy on the memory but no such luck . Assuming that non of the above “forcing considerations” apply a penalty double initiates a force on the partnership . Lets review some common situations :


  1. The opener re-opens with a double and partner converts . This sets up a forcing auction if the opponents try to wiggle out . Either partner can pass the bid around to partner for some sort of action.
  2. A direct  penalty double of 1NT sets up forcing passes thru the two level . i.e, the opponents can not buy the contract at the 2 level undoubled unless the partner of the 1NT doubler has run herself. ( partnership understanding )
  3. Take out doubles at the 3 or 4 level and partner converts for penalty . Forcing situations apply when the opponents start running
  4. When either partner makes a direct penalty double as opposed to a negative , responsive etc
  5. Systemic penalty double ( unusual 2NT or Michaels etc ) 


O.K. that is a nice generalization and easy on the memory . All penalty doubles set up a one round force . Wrong ! An exception is made for penalty doubles after take out doubles at the one and two level . Why ! The logic behind this exception is that the take out doubler is announcing the unbid suits and the opponents are bidding them . This may be a psyche or an ill advised bid . The partner of the take out doubler can convert or make a penalty double with a lot less then normal due to this fact . The penalty double is made on the assumption that the take out doubler has some length in that suit also . If you put too strict a requirement on your penalty doubles after take out doubles i.e. enough values to punish them even if they run then you are going to miss out on a number of good sets or be the victim of psyches . The take out double structure is an exception to the penalty double setting up a force. If it were otherwise , your side could get murdered . Say partner made a 12 HCP take out double and you doubled their suit bid with your 8 HCP . . They escape and partner passes it around to you . If you play that pass forcing , you have to bid at the 3 level vul and maybe go for your life !! If the takeout doubler bids again , she is doing it on her hand and not because you doubled for penalty.


Some example auctions :



1                   1                         RHO could be psyching a spade with hearts . You double 1S  because you  expect to beat it or expose the psyche . You do

            DBL                          not have to hold enough values to establish a forcing auction


           KJ10xx x Axxx xxx




1♣                        P                      The pass of 1♣ doubled does not set up

a forcing auction

 1           P


     xxx QJx x KQJ1098



1                        2♣                          You were about to bid 2♣ and they did ! The double does not set up  

a forcing auction because partner has announced  clubs with the take


              Dbl                      J10xx xx xx AQJ10x



   Now for the infamous Susan/ Pat auction :


            P DBl

1                    1NT

 2♣                    2

           DBL                      The double is for takeout and could easily announce clubs. The double of 2♣ is still bidding the takeout double not


                      saying that I have  a rock and  setting up a forcing auction . Is 3 a forcing bid ? Absolutely not . It shows a very good hand ( like the hand Susan held ) but not forcing. You can not be forcing based on partners penalty double of 2♣ as the penalty double was already made based on your take out double !  If Pat had horrible wasted values in clubs or spades and a stiff diamond , 3 is the place to play it . The auction sounds like a good 6-4 in diamond and hearts , So with the hand that Pat had I would have bid 4 not because the 3 bid was forcing but because I had 3 trump and my points in hearts so the hand must fit well .


xxxx Qx x KQJ1098    I would double 2♣ and 

pass 3 on this auction


          With a non takeout double auction and you make a penalty double , the ground rules change .If you do not have enough overall strength to establish a forcing auction and they are in a bad spot then you just let them play it there . If you do double , the expectation is that you have enough values to stand partners double if they escape . As noted previously , the takeout double auctions are an exception to this penalty double rule …


          Some partnerships say that a penalty double never sets up a force on the partnership . I think this makes no bridge sense as the penalty double conveys information to partner about the overall strength of the doublers hand for further action by the partnership . This non forcing concept may be good in match points ( non Bridge )  possibly.