Source: BBO
Roger Lee
Roger Lee
On Sunday, May 5th, BBO held a free teaching session, focused on doubles and general bridge advice. The host was US junior champion and winner of the Blue Ribbon Pairs  Roger Lee. Roger went over a few example hands and explained his thinking process, then he answered questions from the audience. In case you missed the lesson, here’s the transcript. NOTE: This lesson is for intermediate-advanced level. In many cases, this is going to fly against what old-fashioned textbooks about bridge have to say. I don’t mind this, and I don’t mind if you do not adopt what I have to say. It’s more important to listen to the thought process and decide what style of bridge you would like to play. The most important thing about bidding is to keep an open mind. Bridge has changed a lot in the last 30 years. For me (as you will see), my preferred style happens to be a very aggressive style where I like to bid on lots of hands. In this series I’ll be discussing “doubles” in various situations. It became obvious that I couldn’t fit everything what I wanted to say in one lecture, so this will be the first of a multi-part series. I think everyone here knows that the south hand is a takeout double of 1Heart Suit. I will try not to spend too much time on hands like this. Instead, I will try to go over my thought process in a lot of situations where I find the decision to be close. In many cases, this is going to fly against what old-fashioned textbooks about bridge have to say. I don’t mind this, and I don’t mind if you do not adopt what I have to say. It’s more important to listen to the thought process and decide what style of bridge you would like to play. The most important thing about bidding is to keep an open mind. Bridge has changed a lot in the last 30 years. For me (as you will see), my preferred style happens to be a very aggressive style where I like to bid on lots of hands. I will try to get to three topics and then answer some questions in this lecture. They are:
  1. direct seat doubles
  2. balancing doubles
  3. bidding over preempts
1. Direct seat doubles Everyone “knows” what a direct seat takeout double looks like – short in opening bidder’s suit, and support for all unbid suits. But if you look at top players today, you will notice that they don’t need quite as much as the textbooks suggest to make a direct seat takeout double. Here is a hand from recent play (my district GNT qualifier) where a questionable takeout double was made (try not to laugh!) I’m not saying this is a great takeout double, but I did make one at the table. To me this hand captures a lot of what bridge is about. After a (very) thin double by south, west and north make their normal bids. Click the NEXT button in the diagram to follow the play. East has a normal, in my opinion, Heart SuitA lead to look at the dummy. Careful play results in this pretty endposition where east has no good play. A heart concedes a ruff/sluff, a club concedes a trick, and a diamond also gives up a trick (west cannot ruff profitably, he is endplayed if he does). That’s not what happened at the table though. Worrying that his partner’s values were mostly in hearts and that it would be too difficult to defeat 4Spade Suit , East (correctly in my opinion) took out insurance at the 5 level, with a reasonable expectation that it would be -300 into a vulnerable game. This was NS +500 on routine defense: In the other room… This auction made it impossible for the north hand to realistically come in, vul vs not. I’m not saying this hand proves anything, but it is good to keep an open mind about aggressive actions at bridge. The “modern trend” has certainly gone this way. When people ask me for bridge advice, the one thing I like to repeat is this: “If you give your opponents lots of problems, even if you’re wrong in theory, they don’t always judge correctly.” As on this hand, 4Spade Suit can be defeated, but it probably wouldn’t have been, and it proved to be moot when east judged to bid on. This is how good players win IMPs — they give their opponents problems that didn’t occur at the other table. I have doubled on lots of hands like the south hand — sometimes the result is bad, sometimes it’s pretty neutral (you bid and go down, but they would have made their bid), and sometimes something like this happens. It pays to be optimistic at the table. Whether to make a close direct seat takeout double is a complicated problem. Here are some things I think about: 1) How is my hand as support for the other suits? This is not the same as how many points you have. Honor structure and shape are extremely important. Having your values mostly outside their suit, and if you have values in their suit, it’s better to have A or K rather than slow cards. Having a singleton instead of a doubleton is a huge bonus too, I would be very aggressive making takeout doubles with singletons in their suit. 2) What is the vulnerability? What is the form of scoring? Is my partner a passed hand?
  • There is less upside to doubling when you are vul, since one of the best things that can happen is that you find a profitable save by bidding.
  • The form of scoring matters a lot. An artifact of MP scoring is that it pays to declare NV contracts, since even if you are down, it’s probably better than defending a making contract. Conversely, -200 at MP is almost always a bad score. Try not to put yourself into positions where this is very likely.
  • If partner is a passed hand, there is also less upside to doubling, since it is less likely you will be able to compete effectively if it is close.
3) What suit did they open?
  • There is less upside to doubling spades than any other suit. When the opponents have spades, it is harder to profitably outbid them since they have the highest ranking suit. It’s also easier to go for a number, since you are “forcing” to the 2 level
  • Conversely, doubling a minor has a lot of upside if you have the majors. It is very likely you can profitably outbid them if their suit is clubs.

Anytime I make a light or offshape takeout double, it’s because I think doubling is a better description of my hand than passing. Making a bid where you think you are a queen away from having a comfortable minimum is usually a better description than passing, which you might have done with anything. This is an important thing to grasp, in my opinion. Anytime bidding is a better description of your hand than passing, you should not pass. Here is another hand that you might consider making a takeout double with: This is a hand I consider to be close for a lot of reasons (by the criteria above). We have good shape, 4 cards in the other major, good honor structure, nothing wasted in spades. But it is always risky to make a takeout double of 1Spade Suit , especially vulnerable, since if west has a redouble, you might be in a lot of trouble here. I would always double here, but to me this is exactly the kind of hand I consider to be “close” If you think it is clear one way or the other, I suggest you “recalibrate” a little bit. As on a large percentage of the hands, there is no big difference between doubling and passing. 3Heart Suit is down 1, and EW can profitably compete to 3Spade Suit . A 4Heart Suit bid by north might see a 4Spade Suit bid by east, but that is a little crazy in my opinion. Even if this happens, 4Heart Suit-2 is no big loss against 140 (assuming IMP scoring). Here is a hand that I wanted to bring up: Most textbooks would suggest passing this hand due to its lack of club support and a 5 card major. Still, as in most cases, it usually pays to be optimistic and hope partner has a 4 card major. Our honor structure here is very good, with nothing wasted in diamonds. If partner bids clubs it is likely bad but not hopeless, if he has no 4 card major there is a reasonable expectation that he has 5 clubs. A hand like this is very routine If south passes, this is a routine auction where 1N is cold (south presumably leads a spade). Meanwhile, EW have to defend carefully just to hold 2Spade Suit to 8 tricks. There is nothing exciting going on on this hand, north just has a balanced 7 count with 4 spades. As usual, IMO it pays to be optimistic at bridge. Here, doubling with the south hand rates to be a winning action anytime partner has a 4 card major. I don’t know the exact numbers, but in my experience that rates to be a good bet. 2. Balancing doubles.

Here is the scenario that I am referring to: Even by my standards, doubling with the south hand is a little bit too much. “Balancing doubles” refer to passout seat decisions where you have to decide whether you are going to bid or sell out. Nobody likes “selling out” to a low level contract just to find that it was their hand all along. It’s common to protect your side in the passout position with a double that just says “I don’t think it’s right to defend this low level contract”. Typically in balancing auctions where the opponents have bid and raised a suit, it is safe to assume they have found an 8+ card fit (this is not always true of course). Even though the south hand has 9 points, the auction has marked partner with values (else the opponents would have at least invited game). South has a good idea that although it’s possible that defending 2Heart Suit is correct, with 4 cards in the other major, it is a good bet that bidding is a long term winning action. Neither west nor east really has a bid over 2Spade Suit . On this hand 2Heart Suit can be defeated on a diamond lead from the south hand, but obviously that was unlikely. A more likely lead would have been the club suitJ, where 2Heart Suit would have made comfortably. Meanwhile, 9 tricks in spades seems likely. Balancing is always a bit risky. Nobody likes going for numbers on partial hands… If you are looking for a magic rule to decide when to sell out and when not to, I will tell you right now that it doesn’t exist. Whether or not to make a balancing double is a decision that is difficult for all levels of players, and the result can seem random at times. Still, bridge is a game of percentages, and as in most cases, the percentages usually favor bidding. The biggest determinant of whether I’d like to make a balancing double is actually my holding in the opponents’ suits, not necessarily the quality of my hand (although that matters too of course). Another issue is what level I am “forcing” to. If the opponents are in hearts, and there is a reasonable chance we have a spade fit, I will try to bid. But if the opponents had bid and raised spades, I would be forcing to the 3 level no matter what. This is a much riskier proposition. It is easier to double a 3 level contract, and much less chance that it will make. Here is an example: Again, we have decent spades, but our hand is pretty awful. The Heart SuitK may or may not be working, but it is useful defense. Still, in my opinion, when you are NV, it pays to bid on a hand like this. Defending 2Heart Suit is a very serious position to take. It says that you think 2Heart Suit is down and that you cannot make anything at the 2Spade Suitlevel or higher. I certainly don’t think that that’s true with the south hand. So despite how bad the hand is, this is the kind of hand I would always double with but consider to be quite close. Again, we are limited by out failure to bid over 1Heart Suit, and partner should not think our hand is much stronger than this. On the actual hand: West now has a problem whether to bid 3Heart Suit or not. I would, which results in 3Heart Suit=. 2Spade Suit is also making. But it is not 100% for west to do this, and if you give your opponents decisions like this (as opposed to meekly selling out to 2Heart Suit), they might not get all of them right. Here is another hand: Doubling here is overly aggressive in my opinion, r/w and with a dubious club suitK. However, now partner is marked with at least something. I think there are a lot of pros and cons to doubling here. It’s certainly risky, you are vulnerable with not such a good hand. If partner has 5 cards in hearts or diamonds, though, it is likely right to bid. A lot of whether bidding here is right depends on your overcalling style. On this hand, I actually recommend passing. Because we are competing against spades, any contract forces us to the 3 level, and our hand is simply not good enough to think that we can make anything there. There is just not enough of an expectation that we can make anything. On the actual hand bidding might not be so bad: Even though 3Diamond Suit is down, east has a pretty reasonable 3Spade Suit bid. 3Spade Suit seems down 1 on likely defense. Again, the theme is this: Even if you’re not supposed to gain in theory, in practice, bidding optimistically can work well when your opponents misjudge. I would never blame my teammates for perpetrating the EW actions. Pre-balancing

I also want to talk briefly about a situation called “pre-balancing” South has a 9 count he would really like to bid with. However, he does not know anything abotu LHO’s hand. This is not a “safe” auction to bid on, partner could be broke, and one of the worst things that can happen is that doubling tells them how to play the hand, in particular the heart suit. This is a special situation called “prebalancing” that applies when the opponents have found a fit at a low level. Despite the downside to bidding, I feel very strongly that the south hand should bid. At the end of the day, south has a definite preference for not defending 2Heart Suit. This should be the biggest component of his thought process. If you don’t want to defend the current contract, you should bid something. Sounds simple, but a lot of people miss this. This is an auction where I think it pays to agree to cut your partner some slack. On this hand, if south passes North has no particular reason to bid. He has a guess that partner has a singleton heart, but he does not know they have a fit. I would not bid with the north hand, since I am not in the habit of bidding my partner’s hands for them. If south doubles here, north, despite wanting to cut partner some slack, has a game try. 3Spade Suit seems a likely make, with 2Heart Suit a likely make On these example hands I am not trying to show anything extreme happening, these are all routine hands where bidding works much better than passing does. Prebalancing is always risky, but almost all bridge actions contain inherent risk. It is still important to continue to be active even when the downside can be quite high, as long as you continue to make long term winning decisions. I had another topic planned but it seems we are running low on time. There is one more instance of balancing doubles I wanted to talk about that I received a question about. Questions and Answers

  1. Q: How strong should opener be to reopen with a double in case auction gets passed back to him? Example: Does this double promise extras, or just shape (shortness in overcaller’s suit)? I’m interested because I almost always reopen with shortness, even with a minimum but shapey hand, but I have partners who feel X promises strength too. Where would you draw the line? A: This is a complicated issue, but the modern consensus seems to be that you do not need extras if you have heart shortness. The reason this is complicated is that partner pretty much has one of two types of hands:
    1. A hand that wanted to double 2Heart Suit for penalty
    2. A weak hand that had no good bid to make
    Partner might have a medium strength hand with a long suit also. But the first two are the most likely. When you have a minimum and heart shortness (0-1 hearts), and the auction has died in 2Heart Suit, there is a reasonable expectation that partner wants to defend 2Heart SuitX. It’s important for your side to protect this position by doubling. For this reason I advocate doubling on most hands with a singleton heart on this auction. There may be exceptions where I would pass when I had no defense (Spade Suit KJxxx Heart SuitDiamond SuitQJxx club suitKJx, if I opened, I would pass out 2Heart Suit probably). But the weaker your hand is, the more likely partner wants to defend 2Heart Suitx. 2Heart Suit is also harder to double because if partner doesn’t want to defend, you have no good 2-level “landing spot”. 2Spade Suit will almost certainly go down opposite a weak hand without spade support. When you have a doubleton heart, the odds shift a lot. Now we have much less offense, and the chance that partner has a “penalty pass” of 2Heart Suit has also gone way down. I would almost always pass with a 5233 minimum hand after the auction 1Spade Suit (2Heart Suit) P (P). Since there is no safety in bidding, and is very likely to result in a minus score. With 3 hearts I would choose to be very conservative about reopening on this auction. I would definitely need significant extras to bid.
  2. Q: You pick up 4=4=3=2, they opened 1club suit. you have say 16 decent HCP, and club suitKx … 1NT or DBL? and does a 5-card major opening, versus a minor opening affect the judgement? A: Good question. My general preference is to double rather than bid 1N when possible. With 4-4 in the majors I do not consider it to be particularly close. Overcalling 1N is always somewhat risky, you do not know what your partner has. The common thinking is that while you might miss SOME games by not bidding 1N, it is an overall much safer and sounder action to double. Your primary goal is to go plus, double accomplishes that goal better. I hope that is a satisfactory answer.
  3. Q: How do you play doubles of splinter bids? A: I think that whatever your partnership wants to agree on is fine. Common agreements are
    1. save-suggesting
    2. lead directing for the suit doubled
    3. lead directing for either the next higher or next lower suit doubled
    In my opinion it is quite clear to play that a double at favorable vulnerability is save suggesting. That is where the most IMPs will be swung, finding a profitable save. For simplicity I would play that they are all save suggesting, but in a theoretical world, I think it is good to play that the double is save-suggesting only when favorable, and lead directing for another suit at other vulnerabilities.
  4. Q: Can you explain the difference between balancing and pre-balancing? A: Balancing occurs when you are the last person at the table to act. If you pass, the auction will end. Pre-balancing is a unique situation where they have bid and raised a suit, and you have a reasonable expectation that if you pass, the auction might end. Something like 1Heart Suit P 2Heart Suit ? You don’t know what will happen if you pass, but it’s a reasonable bet that it will go all pass. In these situations it often pays to bid even when you might not have the textbook values to do so. If that is unclear, message me (or email me) after the lecture and I will try to talk a bit more about it.
  5. Q: With a 544 hand, bid suit or takeout X? Knowing part may have their suit and pass… A: It depends at what level the auction is at. At the 1 level it is reasonable to expect partner to not pass. However, if I have a 5 card major I can conveniently bid, I would always do that rather than double. Majors are more important than minors in this game, so I strive to bid my 5 card major when possible. The situation changes when they have preempted and I have a 544 type hand. Now it really depends on what my hand is and the situation, but in general I would lean towards doubling. Only if my hand was very low on defense would I think about bidding. When they preempt, remember that as a general rule, the most flexible action is the percentage action. I had another section about preempts I wanted to talk about specifically, but it will have to wait until next time I think.
  6. Q: On hand#5, if W & E hands are reversed (1Heart Suit-P-2Heart Suit-?), so it is a prebalancing position, do you recommend that with the same hand, and any guidelines for how prebalancer’s partner should respond? A: I think this is the hand you are referring to? If the auction had gone this way: I think it’s a close decision. If i was a passed hand I would definitely double. Since I am limited by that. As an unpassed hand we are right on the boundary where either action is pretty reasonable, since partner has the right to expect a better hand than this on average. I would double since I have the understanding that I bid on hands like this sometimes. If you wanted to play a sounder style of bridge, there is nothing wrong with that. It is up to you.
  7. Q: Is a double following a take-out double always for penalties? A: You can make whatever agreement you want, but the standard treatment among experts these days is to play that it shows some kind of good hand with an inconvenient bid. Here’s a quick example hand: South has a normal 1club suit opener. West a normal double. NS have the agreement that 3club suithere is “preemptive”, so that is a standout choice to me. Now east has nothing resembling a penalty double (though 3club suit is down 1, I prefer not to live my life so close to the edge!) He wants to bid, but has no clear action. Even playing diamonds could be right. If he had to “guess” he might guess to bid spades – that proves to be a disaster on this hand, as east will surely lose trump control to south’s 4th spade. It is far better to play double in this situation as “I want to bid, but there is no clear action”, most commonly called a “responsive double”. Now west bids his 4 card major and the auction ends happily: There is a trend in bridge towards doubles showing flexible constructive hand types rather than penalty-type hands in auctions where it is reasonable to do this. I definitely think this is the right way to play.
Thanks for coming everyone, it was very fun, and I’m looking forward to the next.