The verdict is nix on the negative double

April 08, 1968

In the perpetual feud between opposing schools of bridge bidding, there is something to be said for the wildly liberal "Hatfields" as well as for the hidebound conservative "McCoys." Is it better to conduct a scientific exchange of as much information as possible, knowing that the enemy is listening in? Or should you bid your values—passing when you lack them—and let the opponents try to find their best course with as little help as possible?

To get down to cases, consider the negative double. This gadget has been adopted by a large number of American experts, and I do not deny that, when conditions are precisely right, it can perform yeoman service. In its simplest application, the negative double works this way:

Opener bids, say, one diamond. Opponent on his left bids one spade, and opener's partner has a hand with some values, including, especially, four cards in hearts. For example, a hand like:

[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[7 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]

What is he to do? Even an overbidder who wished to stretch a point or three and bid something would be giving a false impression of his suit length if he said two clubs or two hearts. Yet if he does nothing at all, there is the danger that the opponents may buy the contract and that his side will have "lost" the heart suit. Change responder's hand so that instead of the king of clubs, he holds the king of diamonds:

[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]

Now he would be justified in raising to two diamonds, though even this is not without danger if partner has opened with a poor, four-card diamond suit. But the best suit still will have been bypassed if opener holds four hearts and isn't strong enough to bid them. For example, opener might have:

[Ace of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[King of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]

Barring bad breaks in both red suits, the partnership has a reasonable play for four hearts, but is most unlikely to reach that contract if, after the spade overcall, the responding hand either passes or bids two diamonds.

The negative double guards against this calamity. Instead of the old meaning of a double in this situation—"Partner, I think we can set them"—the negative double says, "I have at least four cards in the other major and a moderate amount of strength—from as little as seven points up to about the strength of a minimum opening bid. If you also have four cards in the other major, bid it, but in any case bid something. My hand is not especially well suited to defense against their suit."

All this is excellent. But the trouble with all wonder bids, including this one, is that an astute opponent can often turn them to his own advantage. The hand shown at right is an illustration.

South's election to overcall with one spade when he had quite a holding in the other major suit—and should have preferred a takeout double—needs some explanation. South was a gentleman with a high regard for his own redoubtable skill in the play and something less than full respect for partner's. Moreover, I am happy that South did not elect to double one diamond because then I would have had no story.

West, holding four hearts to the jack and the ideal distribution for a negative double, promptly trotted out that gadget and thereby hangs our tale. After North's vote-of-confidence raise, South leaped to the spade game. When this got around to East he thought that his two sure trump tricks and diamond ace, along with partner's show of some strength, guaranteed defeat of the contract. He said as much by doubling.

East won the diamond opening with the ace and continued diamonds. Declarer ruffed and studied the situation for a few seconds. He assumed that East must have three trumps for his double, so declarer would have to lose two trump tricks. He could afford this, but he could not also afford to lose a heart. And West's negative double had announced four cards in the heart suit.

So South laid down the ace of hearts—in case East's singleton was the jack—and then guilefully led a low heart toward dummy's 10. Perhaps West shouldn't have been caught by this maneuver but he was. When he played low, to his distress he saw his partner forced to waste a spade honor on the heart 10. After that, declarer had clear sailing, losing only one more spade to East for a total of three tricks. You might say West's negative double turned out to be a positive giveaway.

ILLUSTRATION

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[7 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]

WEST

[2 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Queen of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[5 of Diamonds]
[7 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

EAST

[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

EAST

1 [Diamond]
PASS
DOUBLE

SOUTH

1 [Spade]
4 [Spade]
PASS

WEST

DOUBLE
PASS
PASS

NORTH

2 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 4 of diamonds

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)