Join Bridge Winners
Off-shape Takeout Doubles

“Advanced players know the rules. Experts know when to break the rules.” - Anonymous

One trend of modern bridge is the growing desire to enter the auction as soon as possible. While some hands lend themselves to easy entry, others do not. When holding an off-shape hand, waiting around in hopes of balancing into the auction later can be a dangerous strategy.  In this age of light opening bids and light responses, we can easily get blocked from showing our suits and finding a fit. That means when reasonable values are held it pays to act if the decision is close.

The best way to enter the auction after the opponents open the bidding is usually through making a takeout double. Takeout doubles are inherently flexible because they leave partner more room compared to an overcall. That means they are generally the safest way to show values, because all options remain open for partner. However, we don’t always hold ideal shape to double an opening bid. When should we make a takeout double despite holding imperfect shape? There are a lot of possible situations worth considering. My assumption throughout will be that we do not play any type of equal-level conversion. That means if we double, then freely bid a new suit on the next round, we will be showing extra values rather than a minimum that doesn’t like partner’s bid. With that caveat out of the way, here are some of the most common times that an off-shape takeout double might be chosen.

4333 Hands

When holding a 4333 hand and values resembling a minimum opening bid, one frequently has a close decision between passing and doubling after RHO opens at the 1-level. This is an area where players have recently become much more aggressive, and rightfully so. The nice thing about that shape is you have a reasonable level of support for any suit partner may choose. Although 4333 certainly doesn’t scream for offense over defense, showing values immediately wins too many partscore and game battles to be ignored.

The main positive factor for doubling is overall strength. I feel that with 11 or fewer points you should never double, and with 15 or more points you should always double (or possibly overcall 1NT, but not pass). With 12-14 points, your decision is unclear, but the higher you are in that range, the more you should lean toward doubling over passing. Other positive factors for doubling are being not vulnerable, the 4-card suit being an unbid major, partner not being a passed hand, the opponents opening a lower suit rather than a higher suit, and your values being outside the opponent’s suit. That makes the best possible 4333 double something like KQx AQxx Kxx xxx when not vulnerable after a first seat 1 opening on your right, and the clearest pass to be more like QJx xxx Kxxx KQJ when vulnerable after a 2nd-seat 1 opening. A closer action might be AJxx QTx Kxx QJx, vulnerable after a second seat 1 opener on your right. You would not be far wrong to either double or pass on that hand. I feel it lies just on the side of a pass. However, as little as changing the vulnerability or making partner not be a passed hand would sway me the other way.

Doubleton in a Minor

Sometimes when the opponents open in a major suit, you hold 4 in the other major and 5-2 distribution in the minors. It’s desirable to double to bring the major suit into play, but that brings the obvious risk that partner competes in our short minor, expecting better support. To avoid raising the issue of overcalling in 4-card major suits, let’s look at the 2425 shape after a 1 opening bid. I feel the main factor here is the suit quality, particularly in the minors. If you hold xx Axxx xx AKQxx then clubs are the main feature of the hand, and partner bidding 2 or 3 in response to a double would be particularly bad. However, if you hold xx Axxx KQ Axxxx then you have no reason to emphasize clubs, and you would have an excellent dummy for a diamond contract. If it’s the in-between holding of xx Axxx Kx AQxxx then I feel strongly that double is best. You have a fine dummy for a 5-2 diamond fit if that’s what it comes to, and even when you are in trouble, you can usually scramble to a reasonable fit.

High Levels

The stakes are raised when the opponents open with a preemptive bid. Now overcalling becomes far more dangerous, as well as space consuming. Partner also makes more penalty passes of doubles at higher levels, so overcalling may lose that opportunity. Also crucial is that if the overcall would have to be on the 4 level, doubling may be the only reasonable way to keep 3NT in the picture. For those reasons, many of the “rules” go out the window at high levels. If RHO opens 3, you should double instead of bidding 3 with KJx ATxxx x AQJx since 3 could get you in big trouble and you don’t have room to bid out your shape. After a 3 opening you would double with Kxx x Axx AKJxxx in hopes that partner can bid 3NT. And if RHO opens 4 and you hold AJxx Ax K AJxxxx you have to double, because what else can you do? All these doubles focus on showing your values, while leaving 3NT and 4-of-a-major as your top priorities. The key word in situations like this is flexibility.

After a week's hiatus, the quiz is back:

1.
South
Kxx
AKQ
Jxx
Jxxx
W
N
E
S
P
1
?
2.
South
Kx
Axxx
KQ10xx
Qx
W
N
E
S
1
?
3.
South
Kxx
AQJ10x
x
AJxx
W
N
E
S
3
?

Click here to continue
































1: Double. It’s true that partner is a passed hand and we also don’t have four hearts. Our jacks in the minors also don’t look very good. But we have 14 so we should strain to double if possible. Also our king of spades, though in the opponent’s suit, at least looks like it isn’t wasted.

2: Double. Even with the fair diamond suit, I don’t think this is close. The values and the heart suit are the two most important reasons to be acting at all. While a 4-2 club fit is possible, so is a 5-1 diamond fit should we bid that suit. Since a chance must be taken either way, let’s take the one with the most upside.

3: 3. As usual, honor location makes all the difference. Our hearts are now too good to ignore, especially with just three in the other major. Overcalling the cheapest suit doesn’t rule out any contract besides 3 doubled, but that chance should be taken in order to accurately describe the most important feature of the hand.

As long as your partner remembers the general principle that leeway should be given to the player who is taking a chance to enter the auction, he won’t often hang you after doubling on offshape hands. When chosen appropriately, the gains will be greater than the losses.


Josh Donn Josh Donn is a former junior internationalist for the United States. He has a junior world and open national championship to his credit as well as several other top-ten finishes on each stage. His main interests lie in bidding theory and issues of bidding judgment. Outside of bridge, Josh is a Casino Accounting Manager. He has worked at some of the largest casinos in the world and is an expert in casino operations, regulations, and software. He grew up in Syracuse, NY and currently resides in Las Vegas, NV.

24 Comments
Getting Comments... loading...
.

Bottom Home Top