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Theory and practice: After a negative double


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




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) X (P)



1 (2) X (P)


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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