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 1H: looks something like  S:Axxx H:x D:KJxx C: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 middle-of-the-road style.

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 (1H:)-Dbl-(Pass)-?,  S:Kxx H:xxxx D:xx C:KQxx is still a minimum hand, but  S:K109x H:xxx D:xx C:KQxx is invitational.  S:KJ10xx H:xxx D:x C:AQxx is game-going.

Suit Advances
A minimum response in a suit shows a minimum hand, for example (1H:)-Dbl-(Pass)-2D:. 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  S:KJ10xxx H:xx D:xxx C:xx and partner doubles 1H:, you can bid 3S:. If partner has a suitable minimum, say  S:Axxx H:xx D:AJ10x C:KJx, 3S: is about what you can make. If you have a little more, say  S:KJ10xxx H:xxx D:x C:Qxx, you are worth 4S:. If you have even more,  S:KQxxxx H:xxx D:x C:AQx, start with a cue-bid. That's our main way of showing strength, and opposite a suitable minimum double (e.g.  S:Axxx H:x D:Axxx C:KJxx), we may have a slam.

Notrump Advances
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.
Cue Bids
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, (1H:)-Dbl-(Pass)-2H:; 2S:-(pass)-3S: 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

Responder Redoubles
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 paramount.

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 getting clobbered.

Responder Raises
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 (1C:)-Dbl-(1D:) (so that we might have both majors), or if responder bids 1NT (which suggests that the values are roughly split).

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 4H: over (2S:)-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.

The idea is that 2NT usually puppets to 3C:, 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.

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 natural.)

How does doubler rebid? Mostly, he bids 3C:. 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 2H:, this stuff is still on, but now we have two ways to reach 3S:, and since we have a way to show a game force with four spades, a jump to 3S: 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!