012: Responding to partner’s takeout double

thWhen I first started thinking about potential topics for this blog, responding to partner’s takeout double is certainly one that was at the top of my list. This is something I see done all the time at the table, and I have to say that 90% of the time, people don’t know what they’re doing. This isn’t deliberate, it’s just ignorance — no one ever told you this stuff, I bet. So I see some wild overbidding and some wild underbidding, and sometimes they cancel each other out and sometimes they get a partnership into trouble.

Here’s how it ought to work. South, the dealer, opens 1D and West, your partner, doubles for takeout. Now, let’s be clear about what a takeout double is and what it’s showing. West is saying, “Partner, I have an opening bid too, and my hand is relatively short in diamonds. In effect, I’m making an opening bid in any suit except diamonds. I’d like you to tell me your best suit so we can see how the hands fit.”  Just about the perfect hand for a takeout double in this context would be S AQxx H KJxx D x C Kxxx.  I wouldn’t be ashamed to lay that down as dummy for any suit other than diamonds that partner bid. Note that West is looking for, ideally, a major-suit fit, because — well, we always are, aren’t we?

Let’s say that North passes and it’s over to you. So the auction has gone (1D) / X / P / ? and you have to respond.

If you think about it, dealer has opened and your partner has made a bid showing an opening bid.  Let’s call that 13 + 12 HCP for argument’s sake, and therefore 25 of the 40 HCP. 15 HCP remain and they are split between yourself and North, who’s just passed quietly. South and West are trying to find out who has more of those 15 HCP so they’ll know who owns the hand.

As I’m sure you know, in this sequence you are 99% required to bid.  (The ONLY way you leave this double in is if you have AKQJTxx in diamonds and nothing else to do except punish the opponents; remember, in this case your side can probably make 3NT or more.) You’ve probably also been instructed that it’s crucial that you do bid, even with zero HCP; your partner is showing diamond shortness and does not want to play in a diamond contract unless you have superb diamonds.

Now, I remember reading this next bit in a bridge textbook when I was learning bridge, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, but I can’t tell you which textbook. It was a scheme for how to respond in this case.

  • 0 – 7 HCP, respond with the cheapest useful bid. Remember that your partner’s double emphasizes the majors; you may have to bid a three-card suit. If you have 6 or 7, you’re at the upper end of your range; otherwise, you never bid again.
  • 9 – 11 HCP, jump the bidding one level. Your partner shouldn’t think you are showing the earth, but you do have a significant percentage of the outstanding points and you’re prepared to play at the 3-level.
  • 12+ HCP, cue-bid the opponents’ suit. This time you ARE showing the earth, because someone is bidding on distribution and not HCP. It’s a game forcing bid and doesn’t rule out slam.

I actually get nervous when I have 12+, because sometimes it’s my partner who has an inflated idea of their hand’s strength (“But, partner, I was 4-5-0-4, the shape was perfect, okay, I only had 9 HCP …”) but it’s my responsibility to force my partner, because I have all the outstanding points. There’s an old saying in bridge: “He who knows it, goes it.” You have the most information of anyone at the table about the combined potential for you and your partner — you are the captain, a word I like to use and will probably write about soon — and you must make sure the partnership gets to that limit, either by bidding game or punishing the opponents to more than that game’s value.

Here are a couple of hands you might hold.

  1. S xxxx H xxxx D x C xxxx
  2. S KQJxx H x D xxx C xxxx
  3. S xx H xx D KQxxx C xxxx
  4. S Jxx H Qxx D AKxx C Qxx
  5. S AQT9752 H Void D A C KQJxx

Here’s what I’d be thinking about with each of these hands.

  1. You must bid; your cheapest useful bid is 1H. Obviously you have nothing else to say unless someone puts a gun to your head.
  2. Bid 1S. You don’t have 8 points, so you shouldn’t jump, but you have more than you have promised and can speculate about bidding again, cautiously.
  3. This is the ugliest hand EVER. Your diamonds are not good enough to pass the double and you have to bid 2C without any sign that you are terrified of having to play it there. Sometimes these things happen; this is what “forced to bid” looks like.
  4. You have 10 HCP, so you must jump the bidding, but you’re not quite strong enough to cue-bid. I don’t think anyone would blame you for just taking a shot at 3NT; if you chicken out with 2NT, you know your partner will pass, right? But if you play it, you can finesse your LHO for all of his opening bid HCP into your partner’s opening bid. Just duck the first rounds of diamonds to exhaust RHO’s holding if you can and the hand will play itself.
  5. This is the jackpot. Can you imagine a hand where you’re not cold for 6S? I can’t, even if your partner is really quick on the trigger. Start with a cue-bid, and then I’d be trying to find out if my partner specifically holds the club ace with thoughts of 7S.

What I see a lot at the table is someone who bids the cheapest possible bid regardless of their strength, because they don’t know quite what point range they’re showing and they think vaguely, “Oh, well, partner will tell me if she wants to go on.” Actually you have told partner that there is little chance of continuing being successful, so you shouldn’t be surprised when she drops you at the 2 level. But these are hands in which you have things working to your advantage in the play; you know where the points are and where people are likely to be short and long. And, as I said, you know the most about the combined assets, so you are the captain and it’s your responsibility to steer.

The other half of what I see at the table is the doubler who thinks, “Well, that was a minimum bid, but I really WANT to go on, I like my hand … I’ll just take one more little bid and see what happens.” Something like (1D) / X / (P) / 1S / (P) / 2S.  I don’t know if I’m the only one that remembers this from the textbook either <grin> but if you bid after a takeout double, you’re guaranteeing 16 HCP. A takeout double shows 12-15 HCP (and more or less a certain distribution). If you have 16+ HCP, you are advised to double first and then bid, because that bid shows 16 HCP. You can’t have it both ways, though. The extra bid can’t mean 16+ HCP OR “not 16 but I think the hand is worth more”. 16+ is my preference; sometimes weaker hands just have to be dropped. Unfortunately I see the doubler fall in love with his 15, which I’ve done myself to be sure. Here’s a rule of thumb: don’t bid again with 15 unless you have a six-card suit and some shape (you’ve already bid the diamond shortness, so don’t count that again).

My feeling is that if the takeout doubler’s partner gives a minimum response, I won’t go on unless I have 16+ at the very least, and pretty much the equivalent of game in my hand. I could be facing that 0 HCP hand and already be too high.

So — two good rules of thumb. If you make a takeout double, you don’t bid again unless you have 16. And if you are the partner of the takeout doubler, you jump the bidding with 8 and cue-bid with 12. I bet that will let you make a lot more thin games!



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