“Do you play Negative Doubles?” asked my partner, with whom I was playing for the first time, as I sat down to a recent friendly team match. I confirmed with a simple “Yes” though my initial instinct had been to respond “Doesn’t everyone?” This is not true, of course. While I consider the convention to be an indispensable part of modern bridge bidding armory, I have become increasingly aware of the substantial number of even fairly advanced players who either don’t use it at all or often use it improperly. Hence I decided that the Negative Double would be a good topic for the current edition’s article.

The convention is not new. It was popularized by Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone in 1957 as part of their Roth-Stone system, one of the early bidding systems to evolve from Charles Goren’s point-count methods. To attest to its vintage, it was alternatively known as the ‘Sputnik Double’, after the first Russian satellite. It has become integral to all modern bidding methods and so commonplace that a few bridge jurisdictions around the world are considering dropping the requirement that it be alerted when used.

Essentially, it is a type of take-out double used by the responder after partner has opened the bidding and the opponents have intervened.  Consider the following situation:  Your partner opens the bidding with 1§ (11-19 points, 3 or more clubs) and your right-hand opponent overcalls with 1¨. You hold   K 8 7 4  © A 8 6 3  ¨ 8 7 2  § 6 2. What do you bid? Well, if RHO had passed, you would have had no hesitation bidding 1©, the lower-ranking of your 4-card majors, but in the given situation such a bid would show 5 or more cards in the heart suit.  Simply put: your 7 points are enough to bid at the 1-level and you want to compete but you don’t have a long enough suit of your own to bid.  The solution is to make a negative double. This tells your partner that you have 7+ to 12- points and 4 cards in the two suits, hearts and spades, which have not been mentioned thus far.

Similarly, a minimal hand such as  J 7 5 3  © J 10 5 4  ¨ A Q  § 10 5 2 would be a good candidate for a negative double in the same situation. You wouldn’t like to bid 1NT over the opponent’s 1¨ even though you have good stoppers in diamonds, as this would kill any chance of finding a major-suit fit with partner.

Consider another example at the other end of the negative double point range:  You hold  6 5 2  © A J 7 4  ¨ K J 8 7  §Q 6.  Partner opens 1§ and RHO bids 1.  With 11 points you don’t have quite enough to make a game-forcing cue-bid of 2and you can’t bid 2NT without a spade stopper.  Neither your hearts nor diamonds are sufficiently long for you to bid them at the 2-level.  Again, a negative double fits the bill.  

The full hand, taken from actual play, is shown below.  Following North’s negative double, South was able to fully evaluate her hand and steer her side to a small slam in hearts.

 

    North

 

 

 6 5 2

 

 

© A J 7 4

 

      West

¨ K J 8 7

      East

 A K Q 8 7 4

§ Q 6

 J 9 3

© K 6

 

© 5 3 2

¨ 10 9 4

     South

¨ 6 5 2

§ 10 5

♠ 10

§ 9 8 7 3

 

© Q 10 9 8

 

 

¨ A Q 3

§ A K J 4 2

 

The subject of negative doubles is a broad one and cannot be fully covered in a single article but I would like to conclude with a less obvious case and one in which the advantage of using a negative double is often overlooked.

You are vulnerable against non-vulnerable opponents and again you hear an opening bid of 1§ from partner. You hold   J 8 5 4  © A Q 9 8 7  ¨ 3  § 10 5 4, but this time RHO makes a pre-emptive weak jump-overcall of 2¨. The temptation is to bid 2© – you have 5 cards in the suit but you don’t really have enough points.  However the dilemma is more subtle than that: If you bid 2© and your LHO passes, all well and good, but partner may not be able to find an appropriate bid, even with a strong hand, if the opponent bids, say, 3¨.  You must assume that the opponents will bid aggressively at favorable vulnerability so you should make a negative double which leaves partner with a better chance of finding the correct contract.

Again the hand is taken from actual play in the friendly team match in which my partner and I were sitting North-South. 

 

    North

 

 

 J 8 5 4

 

 

© A Q 9 8 7

 

      West

¨ 3

      East

 7 6

§ 10 5 4

 Q 10 9

© 10 4

 

© J 5 3 2 

¨ A J 10 9 8 7

     South

¨ K 6 2

§ K 7 6

 A K 3 2

§ J 9 8

 

© K 6

 

 

¨ Q 5 4

 

 

§ A Q 3 2

 

At the other table, the opponent in the North seat bid 2© over the 2¨ preempt and when East bid 3¨, South had a quandary and decided on 4©, down one. Three No Trumps would have been suicidal with the opponents taking the first 6 tricks in diamonds.  At our table, I chose to make the negative double with the North hand and my partner had no hesitation in bidding the spade game.

He lost the first trick to West’s ¨A, trumped the diamond continuation in dummy, drew two rounds of trumps and followed with three rounds of hearts, discarding a club from his hand. He trumped the fourth heart in hand, ruffed his remaining diamond looser with dummy’s last trump and played the established long heart from dummy. The opponents were helpless to prevent him scoring two of the last 4 tricks to bring home the 4 contract.

Happy negative doubling!  

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About the author

Alan Caplan

Alan Caplan was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was an active member of Bnei Zion and, subsequently, Habonim following the merger of the two movements. The year after high school ...
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