This Double is Not for Takeout

Pat Harrington

With nobody vulnerable, partner opens 1 and your right-hand opponent overcalls 1NT. How would you bid holding:
♠A 9 5 2   9 2   K 5 4 3   ♣K 9 4?
It might help you to think about the entire deal. Partner opened so you can expect 13 high-card points there. Give the 1NT overcaller about 16 HCP and you have 10. What does that leave for overcaller’s partner? Very little! Do you think your opponent should be able to make 1NT? Not likely! It’s hard to play a contract when there are no entries to dummy. Without a big trump fit, it isn’t likely that your side has enough strength for game either. You could easily get the best score possible if you double 1NT for penalty.
Here is the complete deal. You are West. Your partner opened 1 and South overcalled 1NT:

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

You know what to lead – the 9, top of a doubleton in partner’s bid suit. The defense will cooperate to set up East’s long heart suit.
Poor South is declarer and has to find seven tricks in his own hand with that sorry dummy. South sees only two sure winners. Two more tricks can be developed in diamonds, and that is where South will begin his work. Declarer has to give up the lead twice and that gives the defenders time to set up hearts. East will eventually cash three heart tricks to go with the A and West’s K. The defenders can also take three tricks in the black suits to set 1NT two. Plus 300 beats any score East–West could make if West had bid instead of making the penalty double.
Would you have doubled with West’s hand? Would your partner have recognized it as a penalty double? <em>Any time partner’s opening bid is followed by a 1NT overcall and you hold at least 10 points, you should give serious consideration to making a penalty double. For those who use negative doubles, they are used after suit overcalls — not after a strong 1NT overcall.
With a penalty double available for good hands, responder to an opening bid does not show a lot of strength by bidding after an opponent overcalls 1NT. With good distribution and many points, responder can bid a long suit. For example, partner opens 1, RHO overcalls 1NT and you hold:
♠K J 10 9 6 3   7   9 3   ♣J 10 9 8.
You can bid 2♠ with no danger of misleading partner. If you had 10 points, you would have made a penalty double. Your bid is on the two level, but it is not forcing and you are
not showing a strong hand. Partner can pass even without support, so you should have a fairly good long suit.
How would you take partner’s double of an opponent’s 1NT opening bid? We are accustomed to using the double of an opening bid for takeout, but in order to make a takeout double, your opponents must have bid at least one suit, a suit that your partner can take out of the picture when choosing trumps.
In standard bidding, the double of a 1NT opening bid (weak or strong) is a penalty double. Some pairs use special conventions for bidding over 1NT openers, and some of those conventions
assign other meanings to a double. Those players will Alert their double because it is not the standard penalty double. To make a penalty double of a 1NT opening bid, you should have enough tricks to defeat 1NT.
Take some time to discuss these auctions with your favorite partners. A simple agreement to have is that any double of a strong notrump bid (opening or overcall) is for penalty. If your side’s first action (other than pass) is a double of a 1NT response (a weak bid), this is not for penalty. It is a takeout double with the opening bidder’s suit taken out of the picture.

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