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Daily Bridge in New Zealand

Chasing a Penalty?

It is normal to play take-out style doubles when the opponents start the bidding with a weak single or two-suited bid at the 2 -level. However, at some point, such a double may not be for take-out. At what point do we cross the line from take-out to penalty style doubles?

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South Deals
None Vul
A 9 8 2
A K J 5 2
A J 8 5
W   E
West North East South
Pass 2 NT Pass 3 


You ascertain that 2Spade-small is a multi-meaning opening, always with spades, but could be 20-22 balanced with 5 spades, weak with a 5-card major and a 4+ card minor or a “strong 2” with long spades.

Thus, you pass since the bid is forcing and you appear to have no obvious alternative. 2NT is an enquiry as to hand type and 3Diamond-small shows the weak 5-4+ type hand referred to above.

Do you agree with West’s initial pass? What now?

Well, it seems that our Panel think that there is an alternative to an initial pass. There are votes for a slightly heavy 3Diamond-small overcall:

Kris Wooles “I would have bid 3Diamond-small initially.”

Nigel Kearney “I would have overcalled 3Diamond-small the first time. I have a good hand and it won't be any easier on the next round. Passing and then bidding 3Diamond-small over the likely 3Club-small would not suggest a hand anything like this one.”

Stephen Blackstock “3Diamond-small: At IMPs I would be reluctant to pass, given that +50 or so defending spades won’t sit well against a possible +920. So, I would try 3Diamond-small and hope for the best.

The other strike against pass is that we might find we are defending 2Spade-small. I simply don’t believe that 2Spade-small as defined can be forcing. There is nothing that suggests that North will miss anything by passing 2Spade-small when very weak with some spade tolerance (or perhaps even without!).

 I may well pass initially at Pairs, given that on a hand that already looks like trouble any plus could be above average or excellent – and pass will likely mean I have no sensible way in later either.”


This did occur in a Teams competition. Certainly, at Pairs, if passing initially backfired, it is only a bottom: at Teams, it could be the match.

 However, not everyone was inclined for early action:


Peter Newell “Yes, I agree with the first pass. I don’t feel there is a suitable bid and given it looks almost certain South has the weak option, and I have both their suits, I see no hurry in bidding.  The only option I see is 3Diamond-small but with a 3 suited hand with 2 of the suits on my right, it looks likely that the hand is a misfit with partner likely having quite a few hearts. So, I prefer to wait and see…defending may well be the best option unless partner fits one of my minors well or we can make 3NT and can get there (in a cramped auction partner may well rip 3NT to 4Heart-small).”

Bruce Anderson “I agree with the first- round pass; 3Diamond-small sounds like a single suited hand that is not overly strong, while partner will never believe the heart void if I start with a double; I could well hear 4Heart-small in response.”

That occurrence does not seem to bother:

Michael Ware “Double: I would have doubled 2Spade-small. Too strong to pass. If partner bids 4Heart-smallover double, then 5NT pick a slam.”

“if” partner bids 4Diamond-small. More likely “when”. I do not mind 3Diamond-small but pass does seem to have merit. What now, when South bids 3Diamond-small? Is now the time to bid? 

It seems not.

Pam Livingston “Pass  I hate it but double is for take-out both times.  Maybe partner will come to life.”

Kris Wooles “Pass: Can’t see any other sensible action unless our partnership agreement allowed double to be penalties having passed initially.”

A take-out double here with short diamonds seems more normal.

Stephen Blackstock “Pass: Now? I have to pass, there is nothing remotely safe, let alone attractive. Presumably East has a fair number of hearts: ugh!”

Peter Newell “Pass I again cannot see any reason to bid. North may yet bid again, and if North passes, partner is likely to have a shortage and may well be brave enough to double back in. While we may miss game from time to time by passing, at IMPS I’ll go plus by passing more often than by bidding and at times we will get the opponents for a penalty (and will avoid going for any penalty ourselves).  As this is posed as a problem, I’m beginning to be suspicious that we might have a big club fit…..and can make a heap of clubs – but no I’ll keep passing for a bit longer.”

 a fit but no big one, Peter.

Michael Ware “Pass: Now I have an easy pass. Partner couldn’t double 2NT for take-out of spades or overcall 3Heart-small. Hopefully he/she will double 3Diamond-small for take-out.”

Bruce Anderson “Pass: South has clarified his hand and so double sounds like I have hearts and clubs.    If 3Diamond-small is passed to partner, it should be apparent I have strength but could not bid sensibly, and so partner may well balance with a double. If partner is weak and passes, it is unlikely we can make a game; holding long hearts is more likely than their holding long clubs. If North bids 3Spade-small over 3Diamond-small and partner passes, I pass, rather than risk getting into serious trouble.

Good prediction of what would happen but why are you getting into trouble now by doubling 3Spade-small? Nigel would:

Nigel Kearney “Pass: Having passed, I would pass again. If it is our hand, it is too late to recover without some heroic guesswork. Double is for take-out. Of course, it would be nice if it were for penalty but then I would be fixed if I held Spade-smallAxxx Heart-smallAKxx Diamond-smallx Club-smallKJxx which is a more likely hand type. Maybe LHO will give preference to spades and I can double that.”

Surely if you wanted to make a take-out double, you had two opportunities. Now is the hour! Penalties…and lead…?

Well, at the table, West passed a second time and North converted back to spades. West did not pass this time with East taking just a few seconds or more to ensure this was a penalty double.

South Deals
None Vul
Q 7
Q J 8 6 4
10 7 6 3 2
A 9 8 2
A K J 5 2
A J 8 5
W   E
4 3
A K 10 7 3
Q 9 7
K 9 4
K J 10 6 5
9 5 2
8 6 4 3
West North East South
Pass 2 NT Pass 3 
Pass 3  Pass Pass
Dbl All pass    


West led Club-smallA and then Spade-smallA and a second spade to 3Spade-small x. South managed four trump tricks and nothing else to be 5 down for -1100. This was more than adequate compensation for missing the rather freaky 6Diamond-small or 6NT slams.


bid 5.jpg

Is a good bid

Maybe North did not have to bid over 2Spade-small if they held a complete bust but they had enough not to pass here if their partner was strong. For South to open on such a hand when 2Spade-small can get passed out is risky enough (at the very least convert that minor suit queen to your long minor before you dare to think of opening) but to do so when you are likely to be forced to the three level without a fit does not seem wise. We can presume that East would/could have found a take-out double had North passed 3Diamond-small. On this day, it was left to West to produce a good penalty double at the three level once the time to take-out has passed.

Monday's hand will come from the weekend National Pairs in Tauranga.

Richard Solomon




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