All About Doubles

Doubles are used both offensively and defensively.

The phrase takeout double is used to describe a bid that requires partner to bid rather than pass. By contrast a penalty double, also called a business double, means a double made with the intent to make the opponents play the doubled contract, planning to set them. In between is a cooperative double, mildly suggestive of takeout.

Any double can of course be “left in” by passing, converting it to penalty, and any double can be taken out. But, most of the time you should respect your partner’s intent.

Your judgment must be used. For example, in responding to a penalty double, the weaker you are (relative to what your partner should expect in that situation), the more likely you should pull the double.

There are many advanced uses of the red card. See “Support Doubles And Redoubles” and “Responsive Doubles” in Advanced Bidding for example.

Takeout Doubles

When opponents open a suit, an immediate double is for takeout up to a chosen limit, say four hearts. To say that “double is takeout through 4♥” means that (4♥) X is for takeout, while (4♠) X is penalty-oriented. The standard limit is 2♠. Other popular limits are 3♠, 4♦, 4♥, and 4♠. Modern practice favors at least a 3♠ limit.

A takeout double shows an opening hand, short in their suit, with support for all the other suits. However, it is also used for two sorts of special strong hands, with the doubler bidding again on his next turn. To be precise, a takeout double shows:

  • A strong one-suited hand (16+ with a six card suit, 19+ with a five card suit); OR

  • A balanced hand too strong (19+) to overcall 1N or lacking stoppers; OR

  • A normal takeout double: - A hand you would open - At most a doubleton in their suit - At least Jxx in the unbid suits - Usually cards in the unbid major, or at least 4-3 if both are unbid.

    The day you don’t follow these rules you’ll get an auction like (1♠) X (Pass) 3♣ and notice too late that you only have two clubs or you’re at the three level with 10 points and your partner doesn’t have any at all.

A takeout double of a two-level bid shows a good solid opener, say 14-15 points, and the takeout double of a three-level bid requires 16+ points.

In competition, your partner’s double is takeout if:

  • They bid a suit below game and below our takeout double limit; AND
  • Our side has only passed up to now

Responding To A Takeout Double

Note that in a balancing situation, such as (1♠) P (Pass) X, the balancer has “borrowed a King” and partner should subtract 3 points in choosing a response.

If RHO bids, you are no longer “on the hook” and do not have to bid. Otherwise, you usually reserve a pass for a big trump stack and some significant strength, especially at the one level. Remember, RHO may have passed because he knew you had to bid, not because he’s completely broke.

Although there is the possibility that your partner has a big hand, your initial response is to the normal takeout double.

To respond in a suit:

  • With zero to about 8 points, bid your best suit as cheaply as possible. Put emphasis on responding in the major partner has promised if choices are otherwise equal.
  • With a decent 9 - 11, you must jump-bid your suit.
  • With 12+, you can bid game with a five-card major; otherwise, cue bid their suit.

You may count distributional values for suit bids – in effect, partner already bid the suit and you are supporting it.

You can pass a takeout double converting it to penalty, but be careful – the quality as well as the number of your trumps matter. Your partner should lead a trump if he has one.

To reply in no-trump you must have values; with a weaker hand pick a suit. For a no-trump response, you’ll usually have four of their suit and not have a four card major.

  • 1N requires 8-10 HCP and a stopper in their suit.
  • 2N requires 1.5 stoppers in their suit and 11-12 points; and
  • 3N requires 13 or more HCP and 1.5 stoppers in their suit.

Are You Cheap?

How do I say this? Are you cheap? Do you clip coupons and look for bargins? Did your mother make getting a good deal the goal of your life?

If so, you may be subject to Cheapness in Bridge. Besides constantly complaining about card fees, I mean. Cheapness seems to show up most strongly in responding to takeout doubles. Cheapness refuses to jump-bid in reply, concluding that it is a “waste” or that “we might get too high”. After all, they opened, this thinking goes, so we couldn’t possibly have a game. When we jump, and end up being too high, which will of course happen, an even more steely resolve toward Cheapness sets in.

You must tell partner the truth. Your side might have a game, or you might have enough to prevent opener from coming back in to the auction. Did you ever open a hand with 10 HCP using the rule of 20? Maybe they did! You and your partner may have 30 HCP between you! And by the way, Cheapness, I suspect you’re playing your lowest card on defense rather than signaling, you just can’t bear to unblock, and you never underlead a King. To be a good player, you must resist the Cheapness.

Doubling With A Strong Hand

With a very powerful hand you can double and then bid again, and need not have the shapes we just described. However, you need to know what you will do if partner gets enthusiastic. For example, over one heart you double with 18 points but no spades at all. Partner may respond 3♠ or even 4♠. It won’t happen every day but it will happen. You’re going to need a plan. A cue bid is a way to show you have a good hand, but if you do it immediately it is Michaels.

If your partner makes a takeout double and then bids again (including another double or redouble), you must mentally cancel your expectations of his hand shape; he has just told you his suit or that he’s balanced, and that he has the requisite points. The notion that he has support for the other suits is now null and void.

Rebids By The Doubler

Unless advancer jumps, the intervenor (the person making the takeout double) may not bid again unless they have 17 or more points. Raising partner’s suit also requires 17 or more support points.

Why? Consider (1♠) X (P) 2♥; (Pass).

Advancer may have NO points at all and has at most 8 points. To raise to 3♥ with any safety requires a big hand, and there is no point in taking the risk unless the total number of points between the hands may be in reach of game.

After (1♠) X (P) 3♥; (Pass) the advancer has shown 9-11 HCP, so it would still take extras to raise to game.

When They Make A Takeout Double

After partner opens one of a suit, and RHO makes a takeout double, we basically respond the same way as if the double had never happened. If playing 2/1, the forcing 1N and 2/1 bids are off, so replies are standard bids. However there are two special bids to show a 10+ point hand.

  • A bid of 2N is a limit raise of partner’s major suit. (Jordan)
  • A redouble shows 10+ points and usually the inability to raise partner’s suit.

Note that raising partner to the three level is a weak, preemptive bid now, not the limit raise.

Doubling A Preemptive Opener

To make a takeout double of a preemptive opener requires the right shape and the right number of points. Whatever you do, you won’t always be right.

Generally, use ESP - Expect Seven Points. That’s a conservative estimate of how many your partner will have, on average. So over two spades, to be safe at the three level you need about 23 - 7 or 16 points. Cheat it a little and call it a good opening hand. To bid over a three-level preempt you want to be closer to 17 or more.

Why ESP? Given that a preempt might average 8 points, if you have 16-18, that leaves 14-16 for the other two partners; that is, around 7-8 for your partner.

When they open a weak two and partner doubles, you answer in more or less the same way as a takeout double. Generally, if you have about the expected number of points, you will not jump in your reply; with many more you will. Because you may jump on good news, woe be the doubler who did not have the right shape, because surely you will have the “wrong” suit.

To reply in no-trump you would be wise to have two stoppers.

There is a dilemma when your suit is lower-ranking than the preempt suit. Consider:

(2♠) X (Pass)

Suppose you have a weak hand with six diamonds. Then you want to bid 3♦ and have your partner pass. However, if you have the same diamonds but a game-forcing hand, you want to bid 3♦ as game forcing.

Since one bid can’t have two meanings, you must agree what a 3♦ bid will mean. Because of the relative frequency, the only choice is the weaker meaning.

The Lebensohl and Rubensohl conventions described in Advanced Bidding solve this problem, but are quite difficult for most people. A simplified version is given in Imprecise Precision.

Negative doubles

A negative double is a double after we open a suit and they overcall with a bid up to our negative double limit. The standard limit is 2♠ although you can use 3♠, 4♦, 4♥, or 4♠, by partnership agreement. As with takeout doubles, modern practice favors at least a 3♠ limit. It helps reduce confusion if you make the negative and takeout double limit the same.

Agreeing to “negative doubles through 2♠” means that 1♥ (2♠) X is negative but 1♠ (3♣) X is penalty-oriented.

Generally the focus is on finding a fit to your major suit. However, you also need to be prepared for your partner to bid the other unbid suit.

Point-wise, a negative double at the one level requires six points. At the two or three level this rises to 8 to 10 points. If vulnerable, these requirements edge upwards a couple of points.

More importantly, to make a negative double, you have to have the right shape:

  • The auction 1♣ (1♦) X promises 4-4 in the majors. You can bid 1♥ or 1♠ instead with 4 cards, so there is no reason to double when 4-3, and if you have a five card suit(s) you bid the (higher-ranking) five card suit.

  • The auction 1♣/♦ (1♥) X promises exactly 4 spades; with more you bid the suit.

  • The auction 1♣/♦ (1♠) X promises exactly 4 hearts; with more you bid the suit.

  • The auction 1♥ (1♠) X promises one minor and a decent rebid. For example:

    1♥ (1♠)    X   (P)
    2♣ (P  )  2♥

    Here responder has a diamond suit and two hearts, and can stand to go back to hearts if opener cannot support his diamonds.

  • A negative double of a bid at the two level promises at least one unbid major and a rebid. It does not promise both unbid suits.

At the two level, you sometimes want to show a five card major but do not have the requisite 10 points. You can use a negative double. For example, after 1♠ (2♦), holding ♠64 ♥KQ954 ♦KT54 ♣98, you do not have enough points to bid 2♥, but you do have enough for a negative double.

If you have the requisite points, bid a five-card suit directly rather than make a negative double. Example: 1♦ (1♥) 1♠ shows five or more spades, and 1♦ (1♥) X shows exactly four spades. But 1♦ (1♠) X is simply at least four hearts, but could be more, because 2♥ would have required 10 points, not merely the five hearts.

If opener has a trump stack he could consider passing, especially non-vulnerable vs. vulnerable. However, the negative double is of unlimited strength so use caution.

Reopening With A Double

Part of negative doubles is protecting your partner after you open and there is an overcall. What if your partner only has the suit they just bid? He cannot double for penalty – a double would be negative.


As responder, doubling because you have a juicy holding in the overcalled suit is a very common error. Your partner cannot pass it, because you just made a negative double!

Here is a hand where responder cannot double after 1♦ (1♠):

♠KQ983 ♥A32 ♦87 ♣J84

The correct solution is to pass, and for the opener to know that if the overcall is passed around to him, and he is short in the overcalled suit, to reopen with a double. This allows the responder to pass again and make it a penalty double. For example, in this case the bidding might go:

1♦ (1♠) P (P)
X ( P) P

converting to a penalty double. Responder without such a holding bids his four card suits up the line.

Opener has some discretion here; if he opened light, for example, and his partner was a passed hand, he need not double.

Reopening Doubles After Notrump Openings

Suppose you open 1N, and LHO bids a suit, say 2♠. If the next two players pass, a double here is takeout.

By contrast, if LHO and partner pass, and RHO bids a suit, a double is penalty-oriented. The difference is in the position of the overcaller; one is over you, while you are over the other. Of course, penalty-oriented doubles give partner a choice, so depending on the strength of his hand and vulnerability he way wish to escape to his best suit. The paradox is that the weaker you are, the more urgent it is not to pass.

SOS Redoubles

If they double our opening bid and try to pass it out, a redouble is a takeout. Partner should bid their best suit. The reasoning is, especially at matchpoints, if you could make a doubled contract it is likely a top already – there is no point trying for a higher score with a redouble, so this bid is available as distress call. This is also called an SOS Redouble.

Contrast this with the case that we open, the next player doubles, and the responder redoubles. This shows 10+ points and suggests no fit. The opponents may be in severe trouble.


After partner opens 1N and RHO doubles for penalty, if we have a very weak hand our side may be in trouble. If we have a five-card major of course we will transfer to it, but if not, what can we do?

A redouble asks partner to bid 2♣!(relay), which we will pass or correct to diamonds. Opener must then pass. At the worst we’ll be in a six-card fit.

Again, the logic is that if we can make 1N doubled, it is already likely a top score. Therefore, redouble can’t be to make the score better.

There are fancier runouts than this one, but this one is easy to remember.

Lead-Directing Doubles

They are bidding away and you are going to end up on defense. Wouldn’t it be nice to tell your partner what to lead? Sometimes you can!

Principle: Any double of an artificial bid is lead-directing.

Example: Your LHO opens 1N, and your RHO bids 2♥, announced as a transfer to spades. If you want hearts lead, double the artificial 2♥. Naturally, you do this at your own peril – the opponents may leave your double in if they have hearts. So do have a good shape or some strength to go with your heart suit. The lower the level of their bid, the more careful you must be.

In fact, failure to double for the lead may cause your partner to infer that you may not want a heart lead.

A very important opportunity for a lead-directing double is when opponents are making artificial replies to Ace-asking bids. If the reply is the suit you want led, you double to tell partner about this.

When your partner doubles their slam contract, this demands an “unusual” lead from you; if nothing else presents itself from the bidding, lead the suit the dummy bid first. Generally, you double a slam because you believe you will set it if and only if you get this lead. Since you will get a good score just by setting it, and a really horrible score if you double it and are wrong, you usually only double a slam for the lead. Of course, if you have an Ace to lead against 7NT, be my guest.

When your partner doubles their final contract less than a slam, a trump lead is expected, although you might refrain if it would cost you a natural trick.

Equal-Level Conversion Doubles

This convention (ELCD) widens the range of hands that can make takeout doubles over one of a major. Most experts use this convention, according to Larry Cohen. Be sure to agree with your partner on it.

Suppose they open a major, say a heart, and you have ♠KQ82 ♥92 ♦AQ962 ♣Q7.

Without ELCD, you cannot double here to try to show your four spades. You’d have to just bid 2♦ and risk losing the spade suit.

ELCD says that you can double here and then bid diamonds if your partner bids clubs, to show 4 of the other major and 5+ diamonds.

The downside is that with an 18-point hand with diamonds, you can no longer bid diamonds over clubs because partner won’t think you have the big hand.