Brush up your basic bidding – Doubles

In the early days of bridge, "double" always meant that you expected to get the opponents' contract down. Later on it was realised that it's rarely worth doubling a low level suit contract for penalties, because if you're strong enough to take enough tricks to get the opponents down with their suit as trumps, you've probably got a better-scoring contract of your own. Nowadays, doubles of low level suit bids are normally played for takeout, asking partner to choose a suit.

Novice players are often confused as to when their partner's double is for penalties and when it's for takeout, but if you're playing a standard system (such as Standard English Acol or AYC) it's actually quite easy to tell:

Penalty Doubles:

  1. Doubles of genuine No Trump bids are always for penalties (but it makes sense to play a double of the "dustbin" 1NT response as for takeout.)
  2. If your side doubles an opponent's opening bid of 1NT and they try to escape into a suit, further doubles are also for penalties.
  3. Apart from opening bids, doubles of suit bids higher than 2* are for penalties.

Takeout Doubles:

  1. Doubles of opening suit bids at any level are for takeout.
  2. Apart from (2) above, doubles of all suit bids up to and including 2* are for takeout.

* Some partnerships agree to play takeout doubles up to 3

Responding to a Takeout Double

A classic takeout double of an opponent's opening suit bid shows opening points, shortage in the opponent's suit, and willingness to play in any unbid suit, e.g. (1) – X suggests your partner has opening points and is happy to play in clubs, hearts or spades.

With no intervening bid:

If there is no intervening bid, you MUST REPLY even if you have no points at all. Your partner has said he has no defence to the opponents' suit, so the last thing he wants is for them to be left in it doubled! The only time you would pass a takeout double would be when you had something like AKQxx in the opponent's suit. Even then, look at the vulnerability to see whether you'd be better to pass and convert the double to penalties, or to bid No Trumps.

If you are very weak (0-7 points), bid your longest suit at the lowest possible level (preferring a 4 card major at the 1 level to a 5 card minor at the 2 level).

With 8+ points you know your side has the balance of the points (partner has said he has at least 12, and 12+8 = 20 = half the points in the pack), so jump a level to tell partner the good news. If you have a good major suit and 12+ points, jump straight to game.

If your only 4 card suit is the opponents' suit, do not bid NT unless you have at least 2 good stops in that suit. It may be necessary to bid a 3 card suit instead:

For example after (1) - X - (P), with


Bid 1, the 3 card suit you can show with the cheapest bid.

After an intervening bid:

The intervening bid cancels the double, so you can choose whether or not to reply. Bid as if your partner had made an opening bid in your longest suit (preferring a 4 card major to a longer minor).

For example the bidding goes (1) – X – (1) - ??.

If you have 4 spades, pretend your partner opened 1, and bid accordingly:

  • With 0-5 points, PASS
  • With 6-9 points, bid spades at the lowest possible level, in this case 1
  • With 10+ points, jump in spades

N.B. When both opponents are bidding, your partner has doubled, and you have enough points to make a free reply, it's unlikely that either side has the 25 HCP normally needed for game! However, game might still be on with very distributional hands so, when you work out your points, count extra for shortages in other suits, or use the Losing Trick Count to help you to decide what to reply.

Responsive doubles:

When partner doubles, and you have equal length in a major and a minor, it's usually best to opt for the major. With both majors, or both minors, it's more difficult to choose, but if your RHO raises his partner's suit, a responsive double can help:

After (1) – X – (2) or (1) – X – (2), double by you says you have both majors, and can't decide which is best to bid. It asks the original doubler to choose.

Similarly, after (1) – X – (2) or (1) – X – (2), double by you suggests you do not have the unbid major, but you do have both minors and are not sure which to choose.

Doubles on Strength not Shape:

The normal upper limit for a suit overcall is 16 HCP. If the opponents open the bidding and you have 17+ points you should double first and bid your long suit on the next round. Your partner will respond as if you have done a classic takeout double. When you reject his suit and bid your own it tells him that you doubled because you were too strong to overcall.

It follows that when you double on fewer than 17 HCP, you must be prepared to accept whichever suit your partner chooses!

Brush up your…

By Celia Jeal

Celia has been a very active and committed bridge teacher in Suffolk for many years. She is a registered EBU Partner-Teacher and has developed a strong following in her West Suffolk base. Currently she runs classes and tutored play at Abbeygate Club. These articles were written for and first published in Table Talk.

If you are interested in learning or improving your game, contact (01284 728350).