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Pass/Double Inversion - A Practical Argument

In a forced position (Ed: a forcing-pass situation), inverting the natural meanings of pass and double (meaning, pass becomes more defensive/worse and double becomes more offensive/better) does have a minor theoretical advantage over the natural system. However, I argue that some pairs should play Pass/Double Inversion not based on any technical advantage it may have, but rather, a practical one.

Defining forced positions is one of the challenges a good partnership faces. Although this is not the main issue of this article, my humble opinion is that "simplicity" is the key for this set of agreements.

I would like to start with a practical assumption: most pairs sometimes disagree on forced positions. Even with good agreements and practice it still might happen. My main objective here is to try and cope with the possibility of a "partnership misunderstanding".

Let's look at this example - we are North-South:

W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
?

The question here might seem straightforward to many partnerships - is pass forcing? Most good partnerships should have agreements concerning situations like this and would find it easy to answer this question. However, some partnerships might face a disagreement regarding this situation (or perhaps when tackling a different, even more complex auction). Let's face it, we are only human.

Another important issue to address is the meaning of a high-level double, while not in a force. When writing this article, I tried to find out if there is a clear standard among experts. I polled about 30 top players with a question: what should double be here, on the assumption it is not a forced auction? Experts were roughly divided about 50-50: most American experts play double as suggestion to defend (penalty), while most European experts play double as suggestion to go on offense (you may call it: "transferable values" or "this is our hand" or "extras" or "I don't object to you bidding"). However, this article's main issue is not to defend either one of these views.     

I would like to suggest that playing Pass/Double Inversion in forced positions can offer some partnerships a small edge. It can help reduce the damage caused when we do have a "partnership misunderstanding", and at the same time save us valuable energy, while raising the partnership’s confidence level over time. Why is that?

If your partnership's general style is: in most high-level competitive positions, double is takeout-oriented (or at least not penalty), inverting pass and double in forced positions will only reinforce this style while reducing the frequency of partnership mistakes. Even when a mistake occurs, it might help reduce its damage. In other words, when inverted in forced positions, pass and double are able to maintain some resemblance to the meaning they hold in non-forced positions. Continuing with the same line of thought, if your partnership style is to double with the defensive hands in non-forced positions, then you should stick to the natural meaning of pass/double when in a force (and this article is probably not relevant for you).

For the remainder of this article, we assume the partnership style that double is takeout-oriented in most high-level competitive positions, when not in a force.

Now, in the auction above, say South holds:

South
Axxx
K
Qxxxx
QJ10
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
?

This is clearly a defensive-oriented hand. South is well aware of that, but might be facing a different problem. What if South is not sure if this is a forced position or not? (For the sake of this article, we need to accept the possibility of a partnership mistake, either here, or in a different auction if you prefer).

When North-South are playing natural meanings for pass and double in forced positions, South has a problem. If this auction is a forced position, double is clear, but in a non-forced position, pass is clear.

Inverting the natural meanings of pass and double here serves as a "safety net". In this example, South does not need to bother with the question: "are we in a forced position"? The bid would be the same either way. Ergo, in the hand above, South can "safely" pass.

Here is a different hand for South, same auction:

South
AQxx
Kxx
KQxxx
x
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
?

Again, South is not sure about whether this is a forced position. If North-South are playing natural Pass/Double in a forced position, then South has a problem. If the position is not forced, the right call is double, showing extras and maybe some fit. But if the position is forced, the right call is pass. However, when playing Pass/Double Inversion, the right call is double either way.

A third hand for South, same auction:

South
Kxx
Qxx
AKxxx
xx
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
?

If the position is not forced, South would like to pass with this hand. But if the position is forced, it is not clear what to bid, no matter what the meaning of pass is. Since it's clear to pass in one case and marginal in another, it follows that passing would be safe again. However, Pass/Double Inversion has no real advantage here.

Last hand for South, same auction:

South
xxx
KQx
AKxxx
xx
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
?

If the position is not forced, South would choose to pass. But if the position is forced, then if pass is natural, South would probably be inclined to pass, and if inverted, to double. Therefore this "good-offensive minimum" presents a challenge for my argument, and mainly proves that we can't fully protect ourselves from partnership mistakes. But even here, the cost of a mistake (i.e., probably failing to compete when it's right) will not be extremely high in the long run (in IMPs), since the opponents are most likely going down one or two and the 5-level is never a sure thing.

Conclusion

This idea is not perfect, mainly because it tries to cope with the reality or possibility of non-perfect agreements, and I urge any partnership to have good agreements about forcing pass situations regardless. However, I believe that for some partnerships, inverting the meaning of pass and double in forced positions may serve as a "safety net" or "light insurance" in the case of a partnership mistake, with no real harm. Let's face it, mistakes of communication with partner are bound to happen, and a good partnership takes that into consideration in advance.

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