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Theory and practice: After a negative double

Background

Here in Australia it’s common for natural bidders to play a change of suit by opener as forcing after a one-level suit response.  This reflects the historical legacy of Baronised Acol and the New South Wales system.  (Baronised Acol was a variant developed and popularised by Leo Baron and Adam Meredith in the 1940s.)

This means that auctions like

1-1-1

and

1-1-2

are forcing. Consequently, jump shifts are no longer needed to show big hands; instead they can be used for other purposes (in New South Wales they were Culbertson asking bids).  Nowadays most play them as splinter raises, showing a hand worth a raise to three or a hand too strong for a splinter raise to game.

This style obviously has some downsides: on a small percentage of hands responder is forced to give (very) false preference on a singleton. Simulations suggest this happens less than 3% of the time when the opponents do not intervene.  However, there are many upsides, including being able to make what Al Roth called mark-time bids on complex hands, and, when opener is very strong, getting a clearer definition of responder’s strength.

Negative doubles

In filling in the missing bits of system notes with a partner steeped in Baronised Acol, we discovered that we had very different understandings about what happens when the auction becomes competitive, especially when an opponent overcalls and responder makes a negative double.  Partner plays that opener’s new suits are still forcing, including in auctions like

1 (1) X (P) [where double shows exactly four spades]

1

1 (1) X (P)

2

and

1 (2) X (P)

2.

I’ve always assumed (but only had explicit agreements with one partner) that we reverted to a limit style: non-jump bids in new suits are consistent with minimum-strength hands; with invitational hands opener jumps and with the rare game-forcing hand opener cue bids.  My rationale was that intervention made it less likely that opener has the kind of hands that benefit from a new suit being forcing, and that we often needed to be able to scramble to our best (or least-worst) spot.

I’m interested in the experience of those who play this style, and of others who have any thoughts on the issue.

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