Bridge By The Lake
By Ken Masson
Less experienced players are often confused by the seemingly interminable number of conventions that have crept into competitive bridge in recent years. When asked, I always advise that, with a few exceptions, they forget about these gadgets until they have acquired the basic principles and then slowly add those with which they are comfortable and which make sense to them.
Amongst the essential conventions that even very new players need are Stayman and Blackwood, followed quickly by Negative Doubles. North-South in this month’s deal would have benefitted greatly if they had had the latter ammunition in their arsenal when they played the hand at the Lake Chapala Duplicate Bridge Club in Riberas.
North opened the bidding with a standard 1 club over which East bid 2 diamonds, a weak jump overcall in his partnership’s methods. South now bid 2 hearts, West passed and North bid 3 hearts. Even though South held 17 high card points, with 2 small diamonds in his hand, he rightly rejected thoughts of slam and closed the auction with a bid of 4 hearts.
West led the diamond queen, top of a doubleton in his partner’s suit. Declarer covered with dummy’s king and the trick was won by East’s ace. East now cashed the diamond jack and continued with a third diamond which gave declarer an unpalatable choice: ruff low and be over-ruffed by West or pitch a card from a side suit and let West take the trick with a low ruff. Declarer settled for the latter and ended up making his contract but got a very low match-point result.
So how would Negative Doubles have helped their cause? In the early days of bridge, any time a player said “double” it was for penalty but it soon became clear that the opportunities for penalizing low-level contracts were few and far between. Negative Doubles came into vogue as a means of conveying specific information to partner after he/she has opened the bidding and the opponents have interfered, as in the above deal. Had North-South been playing them, South would have doubled at his first call to tell partner that he held 4 hearts and 4 spades and at least 10 points as he was forcing his partner to bid at the 2 level.
By arbitrarily choosing to bid hearts, the partnership ended up playing in a 4-3 fit rather than the superior 4-4 fit had they bid spades. But another bonus would have come their way if North had been declarer: the defenders could not successfully attack diamonds from the East hand. If East did lead his diamond ace the contract would have made with 2 overtricks; the lead of any other suit would result in 1 overtrick.
There is an abundance of information on the Internet on Negative Doubles, as well as many other conventions. Professional player and many-times world champion Larry Cohen has written a very concise overview of Negative Doubles which you can find online at:
When you read it, be sure to share it with your favorite partners so you are on the same wave length.