Responding to Takeout Doubles
Let's define some terminology. Despite the title
of this talk, "responder" is always the partner of the
opening bidder...even if he passes! "Doubler" is the player who made the
takeout double. The partner of the doubler is going to
be called "advancer." (Thank Jeff Rubens for this
helpful term.) Similar to responder's bids being
called "responses," advancer's bids are "advances."
In order to see why we do what we do when advancing a
double, let's quickly cover what hands make a direct
takeout double. For now, we'll assume that dealer
opened one of a suit, and the next player doubled. He
should have one of the following types of hands
All these are very strong hands, with the exception of
the first. Styles vary, but let's say a minimum takeout
double of 1 looks something like
Axxx x KJxx Kxxx. If you think that's not strong
enough or is well above your minimum, you'll need to
adjust the ranges you use as advancer, but this is a
- A three-suiter short in their suit
- 19+ balanced
- A strong jump overcall with a 6+-card suit
- Some massive hand which doesn't have a way to force.
Advancing when Responder Passes
Just as during normal constructive bidding, we have
two major priorities: determining if game is possible
and finding our best trump suit. To that end, we
define the following strength ranges for advancer:
These ranges overlap a bit, but that's OK. Note also
that these are "points," not "high-card points." You should assume
partner has the three-suited hand, so you evaluate your
hand in support of such a hand. Assume partner has
about four cards in your suit, but only upgrade shortness
if you have five-card support for his minor or four-card support
for his major. So after (1)-Dbl-(Pass)-?,
Kxx xxxx xx KQxx is still a minimum hand, but
K109x xxx xx KQxx is invitational. KJ10xx xxx x AQxx
- Minimum: 0-8 points
- Invitational: 8-11 points
- Game-going: 12+ points
A minimum response in a suit shows a minimum hand, for example
(1)-Dbl-(Pass)-2. A single jump is invitational.
If that jump has to be to the three-level, we really want to
have a five-card suit. The reason is that if partner has a
minimum with only three cards in our suit, we have reached
the three-level with only a seven-card fit and about half the
deck. We strive to avoid that. If only one major is unbid,
we can assume that partner has either four of them or a non-minimum,
because with only three in the unbid major, partner is allowed to
pass a minimum takeout double.
Double- and triple-jumps are
descriptive: they are hands without lots of high-card points,
but lots of trumps. With a hand like that, jump to the level
you think you can make vs. a minimum double. For example, if
you hold KJ10xxx xx xxx xx and partner doubles 1,
you can bid 3. If partner has a suitable minimum, say
Axxx xx AJ10x KJx, 3 is about what you can make.
If you have a little more, say KJ10xxx xxx x Qxx, you
are worth 4. If you have even more, KQxxxx xxx x AQx,
start with a cue-bid. That's our main way of showing strength,
and opposite a suitable minimum double (e.g. Axxx x Axxx KJxx),
we may have a slam.
A 1NT advance shows about 8-11 HCP (invitational values.) The
reasons it is not a minimum response are: 1) opener can double
1NT with a strong hand, which could start trouble, whereas
his double of a suit bid is normally takeout, and 2) with just
8-11, 2NT is unsafe. To bid 2NT, it takes about 12-13 HCP. It
sounds like an opening bid vs. an opening bid is game, but the
takeout double can be on 11 HCP, so forcing to game with 12 is
a bit pushy. Yes, earlier, I said that 12+ is a "game-going"
hand, but we won't always reach game on those hands if both
partners are minimum. A jump to 3NT is pretty rare; it shows
about 14-16 HCP, a solid double stopper (or better) in the
opening suit, and (usually) no unbid four-card major. I can't
remember the last time that came up.
Most good hands start with a cue-bid. These are the hands on
which we investigate game or slam and are the hardest hands to
bid after a double, because we are starting at the two- or
three-level and have not begun to identify a trump suit.
After a cue-bid, we are forced either to game or suit agreement.
That means that if anyone makes a second cue-bid, we are in a
game force, but we can stop short of game if we have found a
fit and no one has any extras. For example, (1)-Dbl-(Pass)-2;
2-(pass)-3 is not forcing. If advancer has enough
to force game, he jumps to game or (if he is good enough to consider
slam) cue bids.
One type of cue-bid is special. A cue-bid of a minor at the
four-level just asks partner to pick a major. Advancer will
have four in each major for this; if the cue is a jump, he'll
have 5-5. Obviously, with 5-5 and a double fit, advancer
doesn't need a great deal of high cards to bid (and hopefully
make!) game, but it's nice to be in the right suit.
This is nothing new. We rarely pass a 5-card major for penalties;
we pass an opening minor bid more aggressively, but it still does
not happen all that often. The key to a successful pass is trump
intermediates. Partner will often lead trumps. A holding like
AKJxx will also usually be OK, because you can win the first
trump and find the tap suit.
Advancing when Responder does Not Pass
Jumps are not invitational anymore; they are preemptive.
You don't need much to jump here, because both partners
know they are out-gunned, so putting pressure on the
opponents, who have done little suit investigation, is
What's pass? It's either to play the redoubled contract,
or it's "no opinion" on where to play. Which one is completely
dependant on partnership agreement. If you have no agreement,
it's "no opinion," because the downside of not being on the
same page is a lot lower than it is if you assume it's penalty.
A reasonable approach is to play that pass after one of a minor
is redoubled is penalties, because it comes up once in a while,
and to play that pass after one of a major is redoubled shows
no opinion, because you have a penalty double so rarely.
1NT is normally two places to play, typically the minors,
because we rarely want to raise the level without a clear
target. After their redouble, our main goal is to avoid
Minimum suit bids now show a little something, because we
can pass. They are approximately 5-9ish, and jumps a little
better, roughly 10-12. Double is takeout, usually without a
clear place to play; the higher the level at which the double
is made, the more it just means "it's our hand" and doesn't
show any specific shape. At low levels, it's usually the
minors, but sometimes it's just a balanced hand with values.
A worthwhile non-standard convention (it's not on unless
you have agreed on this with partner!) is that if they
raise a major to two, then 2NT shows the minors, and double
shows exactly four of the other major. Bidding the other
major promises five cards. What do you do with a balanced
11-count and only one stopper in their suit? I don't know,
but that doesn't come up very often. Some use 2NT as lebensohl
here, so they get to compete with a long minor and a weak hand.
Perhaps more valuable is that they have two ways to bid three
of the other major.
Responder Bids a New Suit
This is the same as if there is a raise, with a couple of
exceptions. Classically, because responder often used to
psych here, double is penalties, not takeout. Since partner
has promised at least three cards in the suit, KJxx and some
values is sufficient to double. As time moves on, more and
more pairs are moving towards takeout doubles here; the most
common cases in which people play takeout doubles are if they bid
(1)-Dbl-(1) (so that we might have both majors),
or if responder bids 1NT (which suggests that the values are
If 1NT is available, it's about the same as
if responder had passed.
They Opened a Weak 2-Bid
These auctions are very hard, but the general idea stays the
same. We assume doubler has a minimum three-suiter and bid
accordingly. As usual, the ranges are
Since we can't afford to be jumping to 4 over
(2)-Dbl-(Pass) with invitational values, we need
a convention here. It's called "lebensohl," and it's one
of the really essential conventions. As far as I know,
every expert partnership plays some form of lebensohl.
- Minimum: 0-8 points
- Invitational: 8-11 points
- Game-going: 12+ points
The idea is that 2NT usually puppets to 3, and then
advancer's next bid is a minimum hand. That means a direct
bid at the 3-level is invitational. That is
Without lebensohl, you don't have a way to distinguish between
minimum and invitational hands, and 0-11 is just too large a
range to handle.
- (2)-Dbl-(Pass)-2NT; (Pass)-3-(Pass)-3 is minimum.
- (2)-Dbl-(Pass)-3 is invitational.
When is lebensohl on? Yes, if we are in the balancing seat or a passed
hand. (Partner still might be very strong.) It is not on over 1- or
3-level openings. It is off if responder acts, because we pass with
minimum hands. If we are both passed hands, we are not considering
game, so lebensohl is off. (2NT is then two places to play, not
How does doubler rebid? Mostly, he bids 3. Partner could
have total garbage with a bunch of clubs. If doubler is strong
enough to hope to make game vs. 0-8 points, he can
bid a new suit. With game in hand, he either bids it or cue-bids.
If their weak two is low enough that we can bid a suit at the 2-level,
then that shows a minimum hand, so lebensohl followed by three of our
suit is invitational. Since we have a jump to the 3-level available,
too, many play that the jump is game forcing in order to untangle
suit lengths (to avoid a 4-3 fit).
Just simple lebensohl is such a big win that it almost seems unfair
that it can do even more. We can define the following
sequences and get something for nothing. Note that the below is
not standard; you need to discuss it with your partner
before assuming it is on. (Warning: this is for advanced players
with regular partners!)
If they open 2, this stuff is still on, but now we have two
ways to reach 3, and since we have a way to show a game force
with four spades, a jump to 3 can be five spades and invitational
values. Not everyone plays all this stuff, so be sure to discuss it with
your partner before trying it. When it comes up, you'll be very happy
that you are prepared; it's really nice to know how good partner's hand is
and how many trumps he has!
- (2)-Dbl-(Pass)-2NT; (Pass)-3-(Pass)-3NT shows four hearts and interest in 3NT. It is a choice of games.
- (2)-Dbl-(Pass)-2NT; (Pass)-3-(Pass)-3 shows four hearts and game-going values. You might still play a 4-3 fit (and of course a 4-4), but you might branch out to a minor suit.
- (2)-Dbl-(Pass)-2NT; (Pass)-3-(Pass)-4 is a slam try in hearts. It's just as if you had bid 5, but got to stop one level lower!
- (2)-Dbl-(Pass)-3 typically denies four hearts, so it usually shows both minors, but sometimes can be a slam try in a minor. You might also be too strong to make only a slam try in hearts, but that's an exceptional case. Usually, responder is looking for either a minor suit game or a stopper for 3NT.