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Negative Double

The original name for a takeout double... What formerly was a penalty double of a suit overcall became a double for takeout... Almost all tournament players employ the negative double.

The convention is simple and effective, and chances to use it occur frequently. The cost is negligible. It is still possible to penalize an opponent’s overcall.

In the following examples, North is dealer. The doubler is South.
In the auction 1 – (1, 1♠ or 2♣) – Dbl, South has a hand for which no bid is satisfactory.  He may lack the required length, strength or both to bid a suit at the two level.

A negative double can be made after a one-level overcall with as few as 6 HCP – after 1 – 1, you can double with 
                                    ♠ K 6 4 2 
                                     7 4
                                     7 4
                                    ♣ K 9 7 4 2

A negative double may also be appropriate on a hand worth an opening bid, as with
                                    ♠ A J 5 2
                                     10 7 5 2
                                     K
                                    ♣ A Q 8 2
After 1 – 1, the next player doubles and bids strongly later. Playing negative doubles, a 1♠ response in this auction usually suggests a suit of at least five cards. Partnership agreement is a factor, however. Some players would bid 1♠ because a double would show length in the unbid minor only and deny four spades. 

Following are auctions, with possible hands for the negative doubler:
1♣ – (1) – Dbl
                                    ♠ K 8 5 2
                                     A 8 5 3
                                     7 5 4
                                    ♣ 7 4

Most pairs expect South to have at least four cards in any unbid major, and some require exactly four cards.
1 – (1♠) – Dbl  
                                    ♠ 8 6 4
                                     A J 7 5
                                     8 6
                                    ♣ K 10 7 4

                                    ♠ 8 6 3 
                                     K J 10 5 3
                                     A 8 5
                                    ♣ J 4

                                    ♠ 9 6
                                     Q 10 8 6 4 2
                                     A 8 4
                                    ♣ Q 3

On the second and third handshands, if North rebids in a minor, South can show hearts.

Although South promises heart length, not every South would have clubs, the other unbid suit, but South must be able to visualize a place to play, whatever North rebids.

South might avoid a negative double with:
                                    ♠ Q 7 5 4 2
                                     Q 8 5 3 2
                                     K
                                    ♣ J 4
because a 2♣ or 2 rebid by North would be uncomfortable. 
1 – (2♣) – Dbl
                                    ♠ A J 8 4
                                     K J 8 3
                                     8 6
                                    ♣ 8 5 3

                                    ♠ K J 9 6 4 2
                                     8 5 3
                                     A 6
                                    ♣ J 5

South promises one or both majors, by partnership agreement. The second hand is an example of a one-suit negative double, but not all Souths would be willing to double with that hand. An opponent’s overcall often makes it difficult for responder to handle one-suited hands, but when the doubler has enough to convert an unwelcome response to a new suit, he shows limited values and a suit of his own. If South were a passed hand, he could comfortably bid 2♠. 

------------------------------------------------

                                    ♠ A J 8 4
                                     8 6
                                     K J 8 3
                                    ♣ 8 5 3
Many pairs would also make a negative double after 1♦ – (2♣) with the above hand, having the agreement that one major is sufficient when doubler has a fit for opener’s minor.
1 – (1♠) – Dbl
                                    ♠ 8 6
                                     8 5
                                     A J 8 3
                                    ♣ K 8 7 4 2

                                    ♠ 8 6
                                     8 3
                                     K J 10 7 5 2
                                    ♣ A 7 4

South promises both minors or diamonds, by partnership agreement. On the second hand, he can convert a club rebid byNorth to diamonds. 
1♣ – (2) – Dbl
                                    ♠ K J 9 4
                                     7 6
                                     A Q 7 3
                                    ♣ 8 6 4

                                    ♠ Q J 10 6 4 2
                                     8
                                     A 7 5
                                    ♣ 9 5 3

On the more balanced first hand, more high-card points are needed. South has a good spade suit on the second, so fewer HCP are required.
1 – (2♠) – ?
                                    ♠ 7 6
                                     8 5 2
                                     K 6
                                    ♣ A J 9 7 5 3

                                    ♠ 8 5
                                     8 6
                                     K Q 8 3
                                    ♣ A J 9 5 3

Many Souths would bid 3 with the first hand but would double with the second. The difference is the third heart.
1♣ – (2♠) – Dbl
                                    ♠ 7 6
                                     K J 9 2
                                     A Q 8 5 2
                                    ♣ 8 4

                                    ♠ 84
                                     A 10 8 5 2
                                     K 5
                                    ♣ K 8 4 2
The double stands out on both of these hands. Over a 3 rebid by partner on the second, South can bid 3 to show a five-card suit with not enough strength to bid 3 at his first turn.

Players should avoid a negative double when a good natural bid is available. Consider the following hand:
                                    ♠ 7 5
                                     A J 8 5
                                     A K J 8 4 3
                                    ♣ 5
North opens 1♣ and East bids 2♠. South should bid 3. If North rebids 3♣, 3 will not express the strength of this hand.

In the Kaplan-Sheinwold system, negative doubles are used after non-jump overcalls only and promise four cards in any unbid major. The strength is unlimited.

A few pairs use negative doubles only through the three level. Most use them after overcalls at higher levels, whether strong or preemptive, up to and including 4 or even 4♠. In these cases, the doubler is more likely to have general strength and less likely to guarantee length in the unbid suits. After 1♣ – 3♠, some players would double with:
                                    ♠ 7 6 2
                                     A 6
                                     A K 9 4 2
                                    ♣ Q J 5
giving North-South a chance to reach 3NT. 

When constructive bidding accuracy has been compromised by a high-level bid, opener is more likely to pass a negative double for penalty. Therefore, if responder has support for opener’s suit, he often prefers a shaded raise to a double.

Even at lower levels, many experts treat a negative doubleas an all-purpose flexible call rather than a call that promises specific suits.

A penalty double of an overcall is not available to responder if negative doubles are in effect. Responder may pass, however, in the hope that opener will reopen with a double:
1♠ – (2♣) – ?
At equal or favorable vulnerability, South would pass with:
                                    ♠ 9 2
                                     A J 10
                                     Q 10 6 4
                                    ♣ K J 9 2
At unfavorable vulnerability, especially at matchpoint scoring, responder may decline to seek a penalty:
1♠ – (2) – ?
                                    ♠ Q 6
                                    ♥ J 8 3
                                     K 10 6 2
                                    ♣ A K 3 2
South would bid 3NT, expecting plus 630. Prospects of beating 2 doubled four tricks for plus 800 are unclear.

By the same token, responder must strain to act when he is short in the overcaller’s suit:
1♣ – (1) – ?
                                    ♠ K 9 5 3
                                     8
                                     Q J 8 4 2
                                    ♣ 8 6 4
If South passes, West will probably raise hearts, making it harder for North-South to compete. Even if West passes, North may have heart length and hence sell out when North-South have a makeable partial. South must tell his story with a double despite the slim values.

Reopening by the opening bidder:
1♠ – 2♣ – Pass – Pass
?
A common misconception is that the opening bidder may not pass if his partner has passed an overcall and the pair use negative doubles. Opener need not reopen with club length because the possibility that partner has a penalty double of 2♣ is ruled out. Nor should opener strain to reopen with a double if another action is more descriptive. In these examples, North has opened 1♠, East has overcalled 2♣, followed by two passes. Neither side is vulnerable.

                    ♠ A J 9 5 3 Pass.         South does not have clubs
                     K 5                          and did not raise spades or make
                     A 8                          a negative double.
                    ♣ Q 10 8 3

                    ♠ A Q 8 5 2                 Double. North has minimum
                     K J 4                        high-card values but ideal distribution.
                     Q 9 5 2
                    ♣ 5

                    ♠ A Q 10 9 5                Double.
                     A K J 5
                     K Q 10
                    ♣ 10

A cuebid is possible, but partner may be waiting for thedouble. Partner needs little but reasonable clubs to inflict a major penalty.

                    ♠ A K Q 9 6 3 Bid         2♠. 
                     K 5
                     J 8 5 2
                    ♣ 9

                    ♠ K Q 10 7 2                 Bid 2.
                     A Q 9 5 2
                     K 5
                    ♣ 4

After a negative double, the opening bidder rebids according to the prospects of game. A cuebid is the only absolute force. A jump shift is invitational, not forcing. With strength in overcaller’s suit, opener can pass for penalty, but that action is rare, especially at a low level, because doubler’s strength and distribution are unclear.

                West         North         East         South
                                  1            1♠            Dbl
                Pass             ?

                    ♠ 8 4 3 Bid                 2♣
                     A J 9 5 3
                     A 6
                    ♣ K Q 5

                    ♠ 8 4                          Bid 3♣, invitational.
                     A K 8 5 3
                     A 6
                    ♣ K Q 8 3

                    ♠ A J 5                        Bid 2NT.
                     K Q 9 5 3
                     A 5
                    ♣ K J 9

                    ♠ 6 5                          Bid 2♠.
                     A K J 5 2
                     A K 7
                    ♣ A J 3

In the following auction, the meaning of North’s second bid is open to debate: 

                West         North         East         South
                                  1♣            1♠            Dbl 
                Pass           2 

Is North’s 2 bid similar to a reverse, promising extra strength, or is it a simple placement of the contract? If South’s double promises diamonds, North needs no extra strength to bid 2. If South promises only hearts, North needs a betterthan-
minimum hand.

SOURCE: "Conventions", The Official ACBL Encyclopedia of Bridge, 7th ed. Horn Lake: American Contract Bridge League, Inc., 2011, page 303-306. Print