Someone, somewhere, once said that the one-level penalty double is the most under-rated call in bridge. Many players won’t even consider penalizing a one-bid without a big trump stack. Doubles with less powerful trump holdings are riskier, but when they’re right, they’re really right.
The expert panel thought they’d found the perfect opportunity in this problem from the June“It’s your call” column. White vs. red, after the auction:
1H DBL RDBL Pass
Pass 1S ???
Twelve of the 14 panelists voted for a penalty double holding S-10743 H-3 D-AJ84 C-AQ86
This might seem a bit pushy with such weak trumps, but the strong vote gives you an idea of how anxious these experienced players are to penalize a one-bid when the conditions are right.
The ideal conditions
Redouble auctions like this one offer some of your best opportunities for doubling low-level contracts. The redouble itself initially promises defensive strength, so when the prospect of a penalty presents itself, you should be happy to take advantage.
The situation above is optimal for a penalty because:
You have no fit for partner’s suit. If you held 3 hearts, the double would be much less appealing. An 8-card fit would improve your game chances and could nullify much of partner’s strength, since he wouldn’t be cashing many hearts on defense.
You hold good defensive strength -- quick tricks and tenaces over the takeout doubler.
You have a good 4-card trump holding. You’d like to have a stronger suit than 10xxx, but with everything else virtually perfect, the panel was willing to stretch. Change the hand to Q1043 of spades with two aces, and the vote for double probably would have been unanimous.
They’re vulnerable and you’re not. This is a key factor in your decision. There’s no guarantee you can make game, so just a one-trick set rates to be a big score – your +200 will beat all the partscores (and defeated games) played by other pairs holding your cards. If partner has enough strength to make 3NT, you could collect +500 or +800.
You can also be encouraged by partner’s pass, which suggests he’ll cooperate if you double. If he had a minimum, distributional opener, he would have bid to let you know his hand was more suitable for offense. Partner won’t usually sit your one-level double unless he has at least two trumps.
New tricks for redouble auctions
A much tougher problem arises when you hold a more balanced hand:
1D DBL RDBL Pass
Pass 1S ???
S-Q104 H-A985 D-863 C-AJ6
With only 3 trumps, you don’t want to show a serious interest in penalizing 1S, but you don’t want to rule out the possibility, either. You can just give up and bid 1NT, or you can pass the headache around to partner, who will have a problem if he holds a hand like S-K83 H-J1042 D-AQJ6 C-K5
Partner would be motivated to double if he knew you held 3 decent spades, but he can’t count on that. You could have just 2 trumps and be passing to allow him to double if he holds 4 spades.
A simple way to handle this problem was proposed by the late Ed Manfield in a 1982 Bridge World article. He recommended that to show balanced strength (typically 4333 if partner opens a minor), you pass the takeout double, then double their runout. This works as a sort of “delayed” redouble, promising good defensive values (10+ points) and at least 3 cards in their runout suit.
The final decision is then up to partner, who will know you may have only moderate length in their suit. He can pass your double if he has good defense (3 trumps, preferably with an honor). With only one or two trumps, he’ll bid something.
With Manfield’s approach, you redouble only with hands that have length in at least two unbid suits (4-4 or better). If you then double their runout, it’s always a “serious” double that says they’ve bid one of your suits.
1D-Double, you would redouble with:
(1) S-QJ65 H-AQ83 D-9 C-J964 or
(2) S-AJ H-KQ76 D-943 C-Q763
With (1), you plan to double any runout. With (2), you’ll double 1H, 1NT or 2C, but pass if RHO bids 1S. Your pass tells partner they’ve bid your shorter suit, and he’ll double only if he has a good 4-card holding.
Another advantage with this method is that partner won’t get that headache if you redouble and then pass 1S. Since your redouble promised 4-card length in at least two unbid suits – and spades isn’t one of them -- he’ll have no problem bidding 2H with: S-765 H-J1032 D-KQJ6 C-AK
© 2006 Karen Walker