An Introduction to the Redouble

(A column of particular interest to newer players)

First things first:  let me say that we are utterly impressed by the dedication of our beginning players to the learning of this very complicated game.  Julie and I have run our Monday limited game for just a few weeks now, and the activity on the 0-49 side of the room is a wonder to behold.  There is a constant discussion and interchange of ideas among the newer players after every hand, and we feel a bit guilty having to interrupt those discussions to move the game along so we don’t get out too far past everyone’s bedtime.

The following hand 14 on Monday evening, Feb. 12 caused a good deal of agida for the player in the North position.  She held the following hand:


The bidding proceeded as follows:


North, with her 16 count, shortness in diamonds, and at least 3-card length in all the other suits, had made a very nice take-out double. But upon seeing East’s redouble card on the table, our North player had no idea what to do.   She had apparently had not run across a re-double before.  A redouble is, after all, one of the rarest bids in the game of bridge and so it was not surprising that a beginning player would be unfamiliar with the bid.   North had no idea what the redouble meant, or what she could do in reaction to the bid.  Confused and even a bit distraught, she called me, the director.

The only thing I felt comfortable doing as director — and this, frankly, this was pushing it — was to explain the literal meaning of the bid; how it would impact the scoring; and further explain to her that since there were now 3 passes in a row, she had a right to make another bid.  Obviously, I could not advise her what bid to make.  My explanation did nothing to help the situation whatsoever, and, still confused and distraught, she passed.  Two diamonds doubled and redoubled made easily, and the result was a bottom board for North/South, and not a particularly pleasant experience for this new pair to the game.

Three days later I overheard North’s partner discussing with her teacher, Pam Barry, the same hand and the distress it caused.  Hearing the redouble, North’s partner took no action, because she thought that the redouble cancelled the take-out double, so that the double no longer had any impact or consequence.  Pam explained that that was not the case, and attempted to console her student by explaining the bottom board as “that’s just bridge.”

So what exactly does a redouble mean, particularly on the bidding shown.  And what should North (and also South) have done in this particular, somewhat unusual, situation?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

We will only discuss the literal meaning of the redouble in this article.  Additional conventional meanings of the bid will follow in later blog posts.

A re-double is a bridge bid made by the side whose bid has been doubled.  Here, North doubled West’s bid, and East, West’s partner, made the redouble.  The literal meaning of the redouble is a simply a challenge to the double — a double literally means “I don’t think you can make this contract” (although it rarely means that anymore), and so the redouble means, literally, “oh yes we can!”

So here, North’s double, in its literal, penalty sense, expressed doubt that East-West could make 2 diamonds.  (Of course, the double was not intended in its literal, penalty, sense — it was a takeout double, showing values and asking partner to bid something).    The redouble, in its literal sense, means, “Oh yes we can make 2 diamonds!”  When the redouble has its literal, non-conventional, meaning, experienced players call this a “business redouble.”

The scoring impact is this.  Normally, every trick more than 6 East West makes in a minor suit contract is worth 20 points, so East/West would make 2 × 20 = 40 points for making 2 diamonds (plus 50 for the part score, for a total matchpoint score of 90).  But making a doubled contract means that the 40 points is doubled to 80; and making a redoubled contract means that the score is doubled again to 160!  160 is greater than 100 points, and so the redouble effectively transformed this measly 2 diamond bid into a high-stakes game contract, worth either 400+ points or 600+ points depending on the vulnerability.

So what should North have done when presented with this uncomfortable situation?  Here are all 4 hands:


In this case, East’s redouble was intended in a business sense — East had extras (15 very nice high card points here (most players would open this hand 1NT nowadays) and had every reason to think that he could make two diamonds.

Given that North has only two diamonds (and hence no trump tricks) and her partner is a passed hand, North has absolutely no reason to believe that her side could set 2 diamonds.  To avoid the disaster of having doubled the opponents into a game that they can easily make, North has to bid something.  Admittedly, North may be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, as she might get doubled by East/West, but it is better to gamble by trading a sure disaster for a possible one, than to just face the sure disaster by passing.  The “deer-in-the-headlights” approach is seldom winning bridge.

What should North have bid?  Pretty clearly, 2♥ here.  She has four cards in the the suit and you certainly can not question their quality.  2♥  probably would have saved the day.  As luck would have it, her partner has 5 hearts and so that contract goes down one or two (3, actually on perfect defense), which, even if doubled (unlikely), is a far better score for North/South than 2♦ by East/West doubled and redoubled, making game.

So this is an example of how to handle a low-level redouble intended in its literal (business) sense of “oh yes, we can make the contract which you have doubled.”  All aspiring players need to learn someday how to handle this bid, and this is as good as any place to start.

Once this meaning is well-understood, there are many other forms of the redouble to learn, such as the meaning of a redouble over a take-out double, the support redouble, the control-showing redouble, and the striped-tailed ape redouble!  But those are lessons for another day.  Stay tuned.

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