The trouble with doubles

  • Graphic 1: once you advertise that you have good hearts, you run the danger of running into this hand
  • Graphic 2: a bidding sequence
  • Graphic 3: James Bond sets up Sir Hugo Drax in Moonraker

Doubling at bridge is always a troublesome area, particularly for beginners and intermediates, who often will either take another bid or pass without doubling even when it is clear that the opponents are way too high in the bidding.

This week’s column is designed to help you in that area.

Many books have been written on this subject, so this cannot be the complete work on doubles, but hopefully you will pick up a few things to take with you.

There is just so much to this topic that my problem is going to be judging just where to stop, but I’ll ramble on and see how it goes.

Let me start by saying that if you have not let a few doubled contracts make against you recently, that is not necessarily something to be proud about — it probably means that you simply are not doubling enough!

You can’t get them all, right? But if you defeat four out of five contracts you double you are still way ahead of the game, and you need to keep that in mind — even three out of five isn’t bad.

For me, there are two main ingredients you need for success at doubling — the right mental approach and then the hand evaluation, and there is no doubt in my mind that the former is the more important of the two, until one gets to an expert level.

When I play in online bridge tournaments, the first thing I do is click on the opponents profile to determine whether they are intermediate, advanced, expert or world class — as that will determine how I bid and play the hands.

When playing against intermediate or advanced, one thing you know is that these players hardly ever double a contract — and when they rarely do, you know you are going down!

As a result, I know that in a competitive auction I can usually take one more bid than I normally would (especially when non vulnerable), as the opponents will either let me play there undoubled, or compete to a higher level and usually go down, and that ends up being losing bridge.

So, what do you do about that as an intermediate/advanced player? Well, you start by feeling a bit insulted and then you must decide to change things.

For your mindset to change, first you have to realise that the better players are trying to push you around, and you have to hold your own.

Second, you need to treat every penalty double as a learning experience and be prepared for some early disasters until you and your partner just gradually get better at them.

That will happen as long as you stick to your guns.

Also, when the better players realise that you are not afraid to double, they will begin to think twice about trying to push you around.

Once you get your head sorted out on the overall approach, you then need to learn how to evaluate a hand in order to make the decision to double.

Sometimes, you will double because you just know they are going down based on your trump holding.

At other times you make the double just based on values and high card points, and sometimes you double just in order to stop partner taking another bid.

What usually kills you when you double is the distribution of the opponents hands, and you have to listen carefully to the bidding and evaluate it before making a decision.

You also have to be careful ­— when you double a trump contract based on good trumps make sure you do not drive the opponents into another better contract; so if you hold 2, KJ98, AJ4, A10876 and partner opens three Diamonds and RHO bids four Hearts, pass smoothly and quickly.

LHO will usually trust partner to have a self-sufficient suit and will pass ... unless pushed!

The opponents certainly have a good Spade fit (partner will not have more than three Spades and you only have one) and you must not push them there — give West AQ10xxx x xx Qxxx and he will happily pass four Hearts, if you do not double.

Once you advertise that you have good Hearts, you run the danger of running into this hand [Graphic 1]:

Now West will bid 4S which is a much better spot than four Hearts and also will not get doubled — it probably makes without a trump lead.

Similarly, if partner opens 1NT (15-17) and right-hand opponent overcalls with a natural two Diamonds what do you do with xx xx QJ1053 Qxxx? Pass quickly and smoothly.

Yes, you will almost certainly beat two Diamonds, but can you beat two Hearts or two Spades if you push them there?

Probably not, so just pass, take your plus score and be happy that the opponents have turned a probable minus score for you into a minus score of their own.

Decisions on doubling get a bit more complex than this, as doubling at teams dridge is pretty different than doubling at pairs bridge — sorry about that, but it just is!

So a couple of pointers in relation to this:

Doubles which fail at pairs bridge are often not as expensive as they seem, and you should look at that the next time you let a doubled contract make.

What do I mean by that? Well, often if your opponents steal a contract from you or reach a lucky contract, you were probably going to get a bad board anyway, but at least the double would give you a greater reward if it goes down.

Here is an example of a bidding sequence that requires a decision — I do not need to show you the full deal — you are South with 753 AQ75 K952 Q6, neither side vulnerable and hear this sequence [Graphic 2]:

What do you know about this hand? You have two passing opponents who have suddenly decided to play game — that is unlikely to happen at any other table, so if they make it, doubled or undoubled, you are on to a horror board.

Also, you can’t see five Hearts making.

With that in mind everything screams “double” and I would be leading a trump to cut down on ruffs.

You probably beat it two or three for plus 300 or 500 which is way better than plus 100/150 and five Hearts almost certainly will not make.

About leading trumps — it is usually the best lead when opponents are a sacrificing — they usually will have less points than you, so the only way they can make a lot of tricks is by ruffing in both hands — so you must “compress” their trumps wherever possible.

A couple of other tips at teams:

If you have a reasonable opportunity to double the opponents in 1NT or two of a minor (especially vulnerable), grab it!

Why? The payoff is good — if you beat it you get a good return of 200/500/800 and if it makes they get 230 instead of 90 — a great risk/ return proposition.

So, it all needs work, practice and being prepared to get some bad results before it starts improving ... and it will.

Trust your instincts and never make the assumption that a good pair of opponents “always get it right” — they don’t, sometimes because they have misjudged the hand and other times simply because they think they can get away with it and you have to be brave and let them know you are there.

To close, after a lot of heavy stuff, here is a fun hand that tells you everything about the power of distribution — it is the famous Moonraker hand where James Bond sets up the dastardly villain Sir Hugo Drax for a huge loss in a money game, after he determines that Drax was winning by cheating at M’s Bridge Club!

Agent 007 fixed the hand and Drax picked up AKQJ, AKQJ, AK, KJ9 and after opening a strong two Clubs and getting a response of two Diamonds from partner heard 007 on his right bid seven Clubs.

Drax loudly doubled, Bond redoubled!

This was the full hand [Graphic 3]:

Of course seven Clubs makes — ruff a Diamond, Club to the ten, ruff a Diamond, Club to the Queen, ruff a Diamond, Club to the Ace and dummy is good). Outrageous and silly, but fun! So beware of distribution — especially if 007 is at the table!

Talking of secret agents, etc, it was sad to read of Diana Rigg’s passing this week as she was brilliant as Emma Peel in The Avengers — the reason I mention it here is that she randomly turned up for a backgammon afternoon at the Bridge Club some 40 years ago.

She was great fun, and I was chuffed to play against her and then drop her back to Elbow Beach in a car that was not much bigger than a scooter!


Friday, September 4

1, George Correia-Elizabeth Baillie

2, Magda Farag-Elizabeth McKee

3, Gertrude Barker-Martha Ferguson

Monday, September 7

1, Gertrude Barker-Jane Smith

2, Richard Gray-Wendy Gray

3, Patricia Siddle-Gill Gray

Tuesday, September 8


1, Joann Dawson-Mike Dawson

2, Jean Schilling-Tim Mardon

3, Marion Silver-Duncan Silver

Wednesday, September 9

1, Wendy Gray-Richard Gray

2, Geoff Bell-Kathleen Bell

3, Greta Marshall-Heather Woolf

Thursday, September 10

1, Sharon Shanahan-Claude Guay

2= John Rayner-Inger Mesna

2= Richard Gray-Wendy Gray