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Support Doubles
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Five-card major bidding has obvious advantages, but it does introduce new problems into old auctions. How do you handle this situation playing five-card majors?

South
Qxx
Axx
AKxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
?

A 2call looks attractive, but if responder might bid 1on xxxx, 2may not be a sound final contract.

South
xxx
KQx
AKQJxx
x
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
?

Should opener rebid 3 and risk missing a heart fit? Should he jump to 3and risk playing a 4-3 fit?

The support double was designed to solve these problems.

What is a Support Double?

A support double is a type of takeout double made by opener showing exactly 3-card support for responder's suit. It was invented by Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell, America's top partnership.

Opener's double shows 3-card support when responder has bid a suit at the 1-level and fourth hand has bid in front of opener like this:

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N
E
S
1
P
1
2
X

Like a defensive takeout double, a support double may be made with any strength (consistent with the 1-level opening of course). There is no hand too good or too bad for a support double--if you have 3-card support and you want to raise, then you make a support double.

Support double sends the message: “Partner, I’d like to compete further, but I am not sure which strain is best.”

In support double auctions, all direct raises now promise 4-card support. Further, non-raises tend to deny 3-card support, since opener will normally make a support double in preference to another rebid when holding 3-cards for partner. In this way, the support double adds definition to many auctions.

When Does Support Double Apply?

Support doubles apply when:

  • Opener opened with 1-of-a-suit
  • Responder bid one of a major
  • Fourth hand interferes by bidding a suit lower than two of responder’s major

Some support double auctions:

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1
P
1
2
X

The classic support double after a 4th hand overcall.

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N
E
S
1
X
1
2
X

Support double is on when fourth hand bid a suit responding to a takeout double.

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N
E
S
1
1
1
2
X

Support double is on when 4th hand raises an overcall.

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N
E
S
1
P
1
X
XX

When fourth hand interferes via a takeout double, redouble becomes a 3-card support-showing bid.

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N
E
S
1
P
1
1NT
X

1NT = 5+ diamonds and 4+ spades

Support double is on after a sandwich NT overcall.

Support doubles are not on when:

  • Fourth hand’s call is higher than two of responder’s suit
  • Responder's suit was bid at the 2-level
  • Responder’s suit is diamonds or
  • Fourth hand has bid NT naturally

Some auctions where double does not show 3-card support:

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1
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1
2
X
Support double does not apply when fourth hand has bid higher than two of partner's suit because double would force partner to bid at the 3-level. Many players would treat this double as takeout-oriented, perhaps showing extra values with no obvious call to make, but they would relax the requirement that the bidder always has 3-card support.

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N
E
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1
1
2
X
XX
Support double (or redouble in this case) does not apply when responder’s call was at the 2-level. Since responder has promised 5+ cards in his major, you can afford to raise directly with 3-card support.

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1
P
1
1
X
Support double does not apply when responder has bid diamonds. In this auction, double is more useful to show exactly 4 hearts in case responder has 4 hearts in addition to his diamonds.

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1
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1
X
1
2
X
Only opener can make a support double. Responder’s double may or may not be for penalty; regardless double does not show exactly 3-card support for opener’s major.

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1
1
1
X
Support doubles do not apply to the defending side. Many experts treat this double as a takeout and some of them use it as a form of raise, but they do not call it a support double.

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1
P
1
1NT
X
1NT = 15-18 balanced

Double is for penalty after a natural 1NT overcall.


What Hands Should Make a Support Double?

The first requirement is that the hand should have 3-card support for responder's suit. But does that mean that when holding 3-card support, you should support double automatically without looking at the rest of your hand?

South
AQx
xx
xxx
AKxxx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?

Double. Other than the absence of a fourth trump, this is a perfect 2raise. Double allows you to raise but warns partner not to overcompete on a 4-card suit.

South
Axx
x
Q10x
AKJxxx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?

Double, planning to bid 3on the next round. This sequence shows your 3-card support,your rebiddable clubs, and moderate extras, i.e., it shows a hand worth a jump rebid to 3that also holds 3-card support. Without the support double, you'd have to guess which feature to show.

South
KJx
x
J10xx
AQxxx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?

Double. Even though you are minimum, your hand is offensive. Your values are in your long suit, you have good spade support, and shortness in the opponents’ suit. If partner has 5+ spades and buys the contract he will be delighted with this dummy. Even if he has only 4, this hand may play well in a 4-3 fit. Your stiff heart means the opponents are virtually marked with an 8-card heart fit (since partner would only rarely bid spades with 5 hearts as well). Thus even if you go down in 2, chances are good they can make 3.

South
Qxx
KQJ
KQxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?

Pass.Though this hand has more high cards than the last hand, it has a different story. Half the values are wasted in hearts. Not only will 2 usually fail, but so will the opponent's 2contract.How would you like to play 2facing:Jxxx xx xxx AQxx?

Do not raise when your best chance for a plus is by defending. A support double is a raise and all raises imply the message, “I would rather declare than defend.” Why is this hand so different from the last? This hand has significant defense. The last hand, although min was almost all offense. When your hand has lots of defense, your best chance for a plus score is often on defense. When your hand is all offense, and you overbid, your loss is usually minor at best because your opponents can make something. The lesson is to look at your defense as well as your offense. Bid aggressively when all offense. Bid conservatively when mostly defense.

South
xxx
Qxx
KQJx
KQJ
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?

Pass. This time you have three more HCP than example 3. Yet you should still pass because your hand contains defensive values, so it rates to play poorly in spades and to defend well against hearts. You will probably beat 2, while 2has no play opposite a hand like:Axxx xxx Axxx xx

South
Kxx
Q109x
KQx
Axx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?

Pass. Your hand is worth 4+ tricks on defense with hearts well-positioned behind the overcaller. If partner can contribute anything, you will beat 2and if partner can balance with a double, you will collect a number.

Be Prepared!

Be prepared is not just the Boy Scouts motto. In some auctions, a support double will force your partner to compete to the 3-level when he may have stretched to bid at the 1-level. Be prepared! Don’t put partner under pressure unless your shape/values compensate for the potential weakness of his 1-level response.

South
Qxx
xx
Axx
AKxxx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?
Double is fine. If partner needs to correct to 3it should be playable.

South
KQx
xxxx
Axx
Axx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
?
Double is risky. With a 3-card club suit, you can not tolerate a correction into a likely 4-3 fit in 3.

South
xxxx
Qxx
Axx
AKx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
1
?
Double is OK. Playing a 4-3 fit at the two-level is a risk you can accept.

Make Your Most Descriptive Rebid

The support double is more effective if used with discretion. Bids other than support double should not absolutely deny 3-card support, although they usually will. We have already seen some examples where pass was better than support double. Let's look at a few where you might show a different feature of your hand.

South
x
xxx
Ax
KQJ10xxx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
1
?
Bid 2. The primary value of your hand is the club suit and you do not have enough high cards to drive to 3on your own. Therefore you must choose between rebidding your clubs and showing your support; the club suit is the more significant feature.

South
x
Axx
Axx
KQJ10xx
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
1
?
Double. This hand is strong enough to show both features. You will bid 3later to show your clubs. This sequence promises a hand good enough for a jump rebid to 3and shows 3-card support.

South
KQ10x
Jxx
Qxx
AQ10
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
1
?
Bid 1NT. You have a double spade stopper and flat shape. The hand will play well in NT. NT, not heart support, is its primary feature.The worst time to make a support double is with a strong 4-card holding in the suit bid by the opponents. If LHO were to raise to 2, would you want partner to compete to 3?

Conclusion

The support double is a useful tool which greatly improves competitive bidding accuracy. When opener has single-raise values, it allows the partnership to avoid the 3-level on 4-3 fits. When opener has some shape and extra values, the support double allows opener to show 3-card support as well as a long suit of his own, or a second 4-card suit.

A support double is more effective when used with discretion. For example, if you have an 8-card suit of your own, that long suit is far more important to show immediately than 3-card support for your partner.

A support double is primarily a substitute for a single raise. It works extremely well when opener's hand has all the requirements for a single raise except the fourth trump. However, when opener is minimum and 4-3-3-3, or has a stack in the opponents suit, then it is sometimes better to pass.

My next article will discuss continuing the auction after a support double.

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