Doubling After a Preempt – Part 1

Handling a 3-level Preempt

Hand #1:  You are vulnerable against non-vulnerable opponents.  Your right-hand opponent opens the bidding with with 3  Holding a 3.4.2.4 hand with, say, 13-14 hcp, do you double or pass?  If you choose to pass, and partner reopens with a double, what is your call now (your diamonds are weak)?

Did you bid the "obvious" 4, or did you stop to consider that partner might have reopened with, say, a 5.3.4.1 pattern (as he should)?  If that is the case, then you would want to play in spades.  The question is, how do you get there?

Hand #2:  You hear the same opening bid, and you have the same 13-14 points, but this time your pattern is 3.4.4.2.  Would you be more likely to double yourself, and why?

Hand #3:  Your right-hand opponent opens with with 3.  This time you have a 3.3.4.3 pattern.  Do you double?  Would you rather have had 3.3.3.4?  Or 3.3.2.5?

SIM answers these questions on the following chart, based upon 100,000 deals:

So!  It seems that a suitable trump fit is highly likely.  And here's the most interesting revelation of all:

• Once RHO's pattern is constrained and yours is fixed, the same number of major-suit cards are available to be dealt randomly to your partner, irrespective of whether your own minor suit configuration is 3-3, 2-4, 5-1, or any other 6-card total.

This mathematical identity is well-worth assimilating.  SIM verified the principle by generating identical fit-percentages for various minor-suit holdings.

* The likelihood of a major-suit fit is independent of your minor-suit pattern!

Hand-1 (3424):  One solution would be to cuebid 4 over partner's balancing double!  That way, he could bid his 5-card suit, if any.  Holding 4-4 majors, partner could send it back to you with 4.  Of course, an understanding to that effect would be in order.

After a 3 opening bid, however, that option would not work.  Were you to cuebid 4 after partner's double, then holding 4-4 majors he might choose the wrong trump suit.  An agreement always to bid hearts with 4-4 would not suffice either, because what if your own major-suit pattern were 4-3?  You would have to pass in case partner had five hearts.  So this tricky maneuver would work only if your action guaranteed one major or the other by agreement, making it available only half the time.

The solution?  Double yourself in the direct seat, even with length in RHO's minor.  You never will lose your 8-card fit that way.

* Bid on the presumption of a suitable major-suit fit.

Hand-2 (3442):  Intuitively you would be more likely to double here than with Hand #1, because "I have support for the unbid suits, partner."  Yet the contract rates to play better if you hold Hand #1, with the long clubs behind opener!  No overruffs.

There is something to be learned here.  Waiting for the "correct" shape for a takeout double may well not be the best course overall.  Many European players double with virtually any pattern, and it seems to work for them.

* Double in the direct seat with the right stuff; that way, no fit will be lost.

Hand-3 (3343):  Even with minimal major-suit support, it still is 2-1 odds in favor of a good fit.  This suggests that with, say, 3-3-3-4 and 17-18 hcp, it is better to double than to try 3NT.  Partner would have little reason to introduce a 5-card major at the 4-level even when it might be best.

* Prefer any reasonable double to an alternative.

SIM Says:  Get into the bidding; the fit will take care of itself — most of the time, that is.

Handling a Weak-Two Opening

When your right-hand opponent would tend to have only a 6-card suit, there is room for an extra major-suit card in his hand; therefore, the likelihood of an 8-card fit for your side is slightly lower than after a longer-suit preempt.  Here are the numbers:

* Double 2 with any opener and 3-3 or better in the majors.

The differences from the first table are but a percentage point or two — not enough to assuage our optimism.  Here, it is all the more important to bid as soon as possible, before LHO robs your side of bidding room with a diamond raise or nonsense-bid.  But that sounds like material for another study.