We’ve all got a fair idea of what each bid means, opening, responding and overcalling, but there are times when we want to compete and the bid of a suit is doesn’t quite fit the hand we have. Do we:
a) Run up the white flag? b) Hide our heads in the sand? c) Cross fingers and toes and bid anyway? d) Find a bid – or sequence of bids – that explains what we have?
Reasonably often the answer is d). And on a fair number of occasions it is best to Double. But what exactly does a double actually mean and when should we prefer it to a straight overcall?
Double of Opponents’ Opening Bid
If we double an opening bid we could have – confusingly – three distinct and different kinds of hands.
1) A shapely hand with a shortage in the opponents' bid suit
2) A hand too strong to overcall 1NT
3) A hand too strong to make a direct overcall
Which of the three you actually have does not matter initially. The key is to remember that a double is often the start of a two part communication. It is not in itself a final statement but merely the beginnings of an exchange of information.
1) They open 1H and you hold:
Bidding any suit would imply that you hold five cards in that suit so you can’t do that. Yet you have a hand you want to tell partner about – you just don't yet know where, if at all, the pair of you have a fit. So you double. Initially this says you are interested in any of the other three unbid suits and have a hand of at least opening values.
With this hand you plan to pass whichever suit partner bids . Partner could jump to encourage you to continue, but failing such strong action from partner, you would need a hand of 17+ HCP to contemplate bidding on.
2) Again they open 1H but now you hold:
You want to bid 1NT, but this shows specifically 15 - 17 HCP. Your hand is better than this so you start with a double, intending to re-bid in NT if the auction allows it. Partner must still assume you hold a hand like hand 1) but your re-bid will further explain your hand.
3) 1H again, but now you’re dealt:
You want to get that Diamond suit into the auction but you also want to tell partner the general strength of your hand as well, a tidy 19hcp and too strong for a simple overcall. So now you will Double first and then – if the auction allows it – bid diamonds. Now partner can tell not only what your suit is but that you also hold a decent number of points into the bargain.
Be aware that partner will not have much. The opening on your right is about 12+ and with your 19 there are only about nine HCP going begging, but if partner has six of them you’re in the game zone.
Remember, if you Double and then bid, you show a big hand playable opposite a fairly weak (6-9) hand. And if you're really really big (22 +) you can Double and then Cue-bid!!!
Too much fun…