Doubles Troubles!


There can be few areas of bidding that cause more confusion than doubles and redoubles.  Bridge players have ascribed so many meanings to the humble red and blue cards that it is a minefield.   So this document aims to simplify the matter for those who wish to have a basic approach whilst exploring some good understandings that will really help with many competitive auctions.


The main topics here cover:

-         Take out doubles

-         Negative doubles

-         The normal redouble

-         Support doubles and redoubles

-         Lead directing doubles

-         Other uses of double and redouble that you may wish to consider.


  1. Take out doubles.

You should agree with your partner to which level and denomination you play take out doubles.   I play that if the opponents open any suit up to and including 4, then Double is for take out.  Also if one opponent opens and the other raises to anything up to and including 4then Double is for take out.   I play that a double of a NT opening is for penalties.  Usually this will be based on points or a running suit.   Naturally you will need more points or shape for a take out double at the higher levels than you might at the one level.   Similarly you will need more shape to bid after your partner makes a takeout double at the higher levels though this may not be intuitively obvious at this stage -this enters a whole area of judgment that I do not propose to cover here as it is a ‘lifetime’ topic.   There are a couple of examples however that you will find concerning dealing with pre-empts.   You should also see the document available on the web site that deals with responses to partner’s one level take out double.


The basic criteria for a take out double is that you should be able to support all the other suits (at least 3 cards) if minimum or have a rebid suit of your own (if too strong to overcall (say 17 points and 6♠)) or outside your range for overcalling in No Trumps (If you normally overcall 1NT with 16-18 and you have 19 or 20 points, double first then bid NT at the lowest level to show this hand and a stop or double and cue bid to show this, or a stronger hand without a stop).  


  1. Negative doubles and their re-opening cousin

You should agree with your partner to which level and denomination you play negative doubles.   I play that if the opponents overcall any suit up to and including 4then double is negative.   So what is my definition of a negative double?

At the 1 level it shows 6+ points and a balanced or semi-balanced hand.   The fewer the points, the purer it will be, by which I mean it will have support for both the unbid suits.  If an opponent overcalls 1 when my partner opens a minor and I have just 6 points and 4♠ I will double.   If I don’t have 4 spades on this auction and have 6-10 points, you have 3 basic options.  Raise partner’s minor, bid NT with a stop or Pass.   See the following examples.  With 11+ you have three more options.  Double, bid a new suit at the 2 level (NB prefer to bid naturally rather than double with distributional hands) or bid some number of NTs.


So you should pass with these hands on the auction above 1♣   (1)  ???

(a)                          (b)                    (c)                    (d)

♠ 983                     98                    987                  9843

J32                     AQJ762           32                    32

AJ32                   Q97                 AQJ762           QJ62

♣ Q87                   J4                     J4                     Q87


It may seem a little odd but your partner should take into account that you might have these various hands if the bidding passes quietly back to her.   Normally a reopening double is called for when you would bid as follows:  (a) 1NT   (b) Pass J (c) 2     (d) 1♠.   There are some situations where a re-opening double will not work best but 80+% of the time it will work out well as it is rarely right at pairs to let the opponents play at the one level un-doubled.  (see the material on balancing for further information).


  1. The normal redouble

If your partner opens one of any suit and the opponents Double (take-out) then how do you express a desire to collect a penalty?   The answer is the Redouble (blue xx card).   This shows 10+ points and usually a shortage (fewer than 3 cards) in your partner’s bid suit.   So your partner knows that you have the majority of the points between you and that you may double the opponent’s next bid for penalties or bid on showing 10+ and a new suit or partial fit.  


As opener you should normally pass or double your RHO’s bid (depending on your holding in that suit, to indicate that you wish to take a penalty or to allow your partner to double for penalties.   Sometimes you have opened with a distributional hand and defending is not really an option so you can bid your second suit.   Note that sometimes if you are not vulnerable and the opponents are vulnerable it may be right to pass even then.

Here are some opening hands:



Consider the following hands after you open LHO doubles for take out and partner Redoubles then RHO passes.


(a)                          (b)                    (c)                   

♠ -                          K765               KJ1098           

AQJ104             AQ104                        -                      

A53                    2                      AQJ104          

♣ J10432               K1043             Q103              


(a) If you opened 1 then bid 2♣ here.   You are fairly certain that the opponents have a safe exit in ♠ or so this bid ahead of partner says “I am distributional (usually 5-5+) and weak 10-12 or so.


(b)    You open 1♣ and will be happy to defend almost anything except 1 even then if they are vulnerable and you are not this may work out well… So Pass now and Pass your partners penalty double.

(c)     This time you opened 1♠ and have a distributional hand but it is stronger than (a) so pass first and, if as is likely the opponents get to 2 bid 3 this shows 5-5+ and 13+ i.e. inviting game.



On the other side of the table

Consider the following hands after your partner opens 1♠, RHO doubles for take out ..


(a)                          (b)                    (c)                   

♠ 2                         K765               K1098

AQJ4                 AQ104                        2                     

K532                  2                      AQJ4  

♣ J1032                 J1043               A1032            


I suggest that you start with a Redouble on all these hands at all vulnerabilities to let partner know you are 10+.   Thereafter you make different choices depending on where the opponents try to alight and also considering the vulnerability.  For instance, let us say that we are NV and the opponents are Vul.  Assume that LHO bids 2 and this goes P (P) back to you.  You cannot be sure of game on (a) or (b) as partner is likely to be 12-14(15) so double for penalties.  Indeed whether they bid to 2♣,  or this is the preferred action at this vulnerability.   On hand (b) since partner did not double it looks likely that they have found a 9 card fit so bid 3 or 4 ♠.  If however you are vulnerable and they are not, the decision is reasonably close on hand (b)  however Double is still correct (if they bid ♣ or ) more often than not as it will be a part-score hand.  But bid 4♠ on hand (c) unless they bid ♣ or and they are Vul and you are not.


  1. Support doubles and redoubles.


A support double or redouble shows precisely 3 card support for you partner’s (responded suit) AND a willingness to compete to at least one more level.


Consider the following auctions (opponents bids are shown in parentheses).


1♣             (P)       1        (1♠)




1♣             (P)       1♠        (2)





Let us say that you have these 3 common hand types

(a)                          (b)                    (c)

♠ 987                     K87                 K876

Q72                    72                    72

AJ7                     AJ7                  A7

♣ KQ103              KQ103                        KQ103


On the first auction if you do not play support doubles you are forced to guess to pass (best) or bid 2 with hand (a) and will bid 1NT with hands (b) and (c).  


On the second auction you should pass with hand (a) no matter what you play (you could end up playing in a 4-3 fit on a combined 18 points… you may get away with it but…) you can double to show 3♠ and a suitable competitive hand on (b) and bid 2♠ on (c) to show 4 card support.   This makes it much easier for partner to follow the law of total tricks.  Nearly always when you partner does not double in such sequences she is denying 3 card support which will help you plan the defence or get to the right contract.



1♣             (P)       1        (Dbl)


In this example, you can show a 3 card raise by using (a support) Redouble and bid 2 with 4 card support and a minimum hand.


  1. Lead directing doubles

There are many situations where the opponents bid a suit, often conventionally (e.g. Stayman) and you Double their bid to show a decent holding in that suit so that your partner may lead the suit safely.  

For example:

(2NT)        (3♣stayman)   Dbl  *nobody plays this as take-out so it says please lead a ♣!


Sometimes you have not had a chance to make a lead directing double when they bid the suit you want led, as the double would mean something else.   Here is an example where double has commonly come to mean ‘lead dummy’s first bid suit’ ( here) please.

The auctions was

(1♣)           (1)

(1♠)            (2FSF)

(2NT)        (3NT)    Dbl


  1. Other common doubles that people use.

Lightener:   This is a double of a freely bid suit slam that shows an unexpected void in a side suit and asks partner to guess which suit and lead it!

Game try:   Sometimes you have lost the room to make a normal game try in a competitive auction such as

1              (1♠)                  2        (3♠)


You would have liked to make a game try of perhaps 3♣ or 3♦ but the space has been denied, so this shows 16-18 points and asks partner to bid game with a suitable hand or pass otherwise.


Responsive:   Your partner doubles for take-out and the RHO bids and you have no suitable bid to make. E.g.

(1)           X         (2)     Xresponsive

In this case it denies 4♠ and shows 11+ points in a balanced hand but no suitable stoppers.


SOS Redouble (Koch-Werner):  This Redouble screams “HELP!!!”

Consider this auction where you play a prepared or short ♣ opening.

1♣             (P)                   P          (X)

P                (Ppenalty)            XX!    

You may have a hand like




























Hand 1  Dealer N Love all   Bidding 6; Play 4; Defence 2;


♠ A982

♥ 32

♦ AKJ75

♣ J10

♠ 765                                       ♠ KJ104

♥ Q987                                    ♥ AJ65

♦ 943                                       ♦ Q

♣ 432                                      ♣ K985

♠ Q3

♥ K104

♦ 10862

♣ AQ76


How the bidding went:

N         E          S          W

1        X         XX       1

P          P          2NT     P

3NT     All pass

East has a classic take-out double and South a slightly off-centre redouble due to the good fit.  East bids her best suit (does not show values of course).  North has her opening bid but is not able to double 1 for penalties.   South should judge that 1X may not go far down so tries for the game bonus and North should oblige.


Also Board 2 Dealer E, NS Vulnerable Bidding 8; Play 5; Defence 5;


♠ 62

♥ K743

♦ K93

♣ 10432

♠ 853                                       ♠ Q7

♥ J92                                       ♥ A106

♦ Q654                                                ♦ AJ1087

♣ 765                                      ♣ KQ9

♠ AKJ1094

♥ Q85

♦ 2

♣ AJ8


How the bidding went.

N               E                      S          W

                  1NT                 X         XX

P                2                    2♠        All pass


The auction should be fairly normal, though too many people think it is right to overcall 2♠.   If you double and West has no agreement that Rdbl is for take-out then after cashing 6 ♠, East will have had 4 awkward discards telling South how to exit, Usually A then J♣ should see the contract down 4 for +800 vs +140 for 2♠.


Board 3 Dealer S, EW Vulnerable Bidding 7; Play 6; Defence 4;


♠ KQ107

♥ AJ93

♦ 8

♣ A1084

♠ 982                                       ♠ A653

♥ 5                                           ♥ Q76

♦ KQJ7653                              ♦ A2

♣ J2                                         ♣ 9765

♠ J4

♥ K10842

♦ 1094

♣ KQ3


How the bidding went:

N         E          S          W

                        P          3

X         P          4        All pass

Occasionally a pre-empt will propel the opponents into a game they would not otherwise have bid.   South should look at his working cards and no wasted values in so bidding the easy game.


Board 4 Dealer W, All Vulnerable Bidding 8; Play 5; Defence 3;


♠ A2

♥ KQ97

♦ K53

♣ QJ104

♠ KQ10543                             ♠ J

♥ 53                                         ♥ AJ104

♦ J                                            ♦ A842

♣ K765                                   ♣ A832

♠ 9876

♥ 862

♦ Q10976

♣ 9





How the bidding might go:

N         E          S          W


Dbl       P1         P          3

3NT     X         All pass


1 East can redouble here but often things get better if you pass in this position. 

NS do not know the Lebensohl convention so N has to guess whether South is max or min for the 3 bid.  3 should be down one but 3NT will be a massacre and can go down 5.


Board 5 Dealer N, Vulnerability NS Bidding 5; Play 3; Defence 4;


♠ A743

♥ KQ9

♦ AKJ7

♣ A8

♠ J                                            ♠ Q10865

♥ A765                                    ♥ 42

♦ 104                                       ♦ 986

♣ KQ10943                            ♣ 765

♠ K92

♥ J1083

♦ Q532

♣ J2

How the bidding went:

N         E          S          W

2NT     P          3♣       X

3♠        P          3NT     All pass

If you chose to lead the 6♠ or if partner fails to double the Stayman bid or South doesn’t bother to look for the 4-4 fit, then the game rolls home. 2♠, 3, 4 and 1 ♣ = 10 tricks.


Board 6 Dealer E, EW vulnerable Bidding 8; Play 3; Defence 3;


♠ 7

♥ 9876

♦ Q865

♣ 9876

♠ AJ102                                   ♠ Q9864

♥ KQ54                                   ♥ AJ32

♦ 2                                           ♦ 1073

♣ AJ32                                    ♣ K

♠ K53

♥ 10

♦ AKJ94

♣ Q1054


How the bidding went:

N         E          S          W

            P          1        X

21       2♠        P          4♠

All pass

  1. North might pass.
  2. East will bid 2♠ whether North passes or not.


Board 7 Dealer S,  All Vulnerable Bidding 9; Play 3; Defence 5;


♠ AJ10

♥ A4

♦ K32

♣ AJ973

♠ 4                                           ♠ Q9872

♥ KQ1097632                         ♥ 8

♦ A54                                      ♦ 986

♣ 4                                          ♣ K1065

♠ K653

♥ J5

♦ QJ107

♣ Q82

How the bidding might go:

N         E          S          W

                        P          4

X         All pass

If South chooses to bid 4♠ East may double this and it should have no chance.


Board 8            Dealer W, Love all Bidding 8; Play 6; Defence 7;


♠ KQ93

♥ K94

♦ A75

♣ Q32

♠ J7                                          ♠ A10862

♥ AQJ83                                 ♥ 2

♦ 10964                                   ♦ K32

♣ AJ                                        ♣ K976

♠ 54

♥ 10765

♦ QJ8

♣ 10854




How the bidding went.

N         E          S          W


X1        XX       2♣       P

P          X         All pass


1 Not recommended but at least understandable opposite a non-passed partner.

The East hand has no guarantee of game though 3NT can be made on careful play, however 2♣ has no chance.


Board 9 E/W vulnerable dealer N  Bidding 8; Play 5; Defence 3;






♠KQ76                                                ♠A1032                                  

♥AK103                                  ♥Q98                                      

♦9876                                      ♦K5                                        

♣J                                            ♣A543                                    

♠ J98

♥ J765

♦ 32

♣ 10762


How it should go

N         E          S          W

1        X         P          21

P          2♠2       P          4♠

All Pass


1  This bid is forcing and usually says bid your better major but also asks whether you have extras for your bidding to date.


2  This bid shows 4 card ♠ and denies 4 and a minimum 12-14 double.  Note how much easier 4♠ is on the 4-4 fit than than 4.











10. Vulnerability: All    Dealer: E  Bidding 6; Play 8; Defence 8;


♠ K972

♥ 10962

♦ J108

♣ J7

♠ J1086                                    ♠ 54

Q874                                    ♥ K53

`64                                         ♦ Q932

♣ 654                                      ♣ AK32

                        ♠ AQ3

                        ♥ AJ

                        ♦ AK75

                        ♣ Q1098


How it should go:

N         E          S          W

1♣       X         P         

1        P          1NT1    P

2♣       P          3NT     P

3NT  all pass

1  This bid shows 19/20 as an initial NT overcall would show 15-18.

2♣ is Stayman.



11. Vulnerability: Nil    Dealer: S  Bidding 3; Play 5; Defence 9;


♠ AJ76

♥ KQ105

♦ J

♣ Q732

♠ 10                                         ♠ K985

J                                           ♥ A642

`KQ10963                             ♦ 87

♣ AJ854                                  ♣ K106

                        ♠ Q432

                        ♥ 9873

                        ♦ A542

                        ♣ 9


How it should go:

N         E          S          W

P          1

X         XX       1        2♣

2        X         P          3♣/3

  all pass

West has a normal 1 opening.  North a normal take-out double and East a normal Redouble.   South could bid 1 or 1♠.   Either way, West does not have a suitable hand to defend 1 of a major so bids 2♣ effectively deny his partner a chance of a low level penalty double.   This bid ‘in front of partner’ shows a weak hand (often less than 12 points) and a distrbutional one 6-4 or 5-5.   If you have a stronger hand and such shape you await partner’s penalty double and then bid your second suit.