“In a Force”

The following hand is another I (Julie) played in Atlanta at the NABC this past month. It was the final session of the 0-10,000 pairs, and my partner and I had over 50% in the first three sessions, so we were hopeful that a big (60%+) game would catapult us into maybe a top 10 finish.

This particular hand features doubles. Doubles tend to be one of the hardest parts of the game to get a feel for – we’ve all set the opponents undoubled 3 or 4 and wondered, ‘could I have doubled?’ And, on the flipside, we’ve all been guilty of doubling an opponent’s making contract. The best thing you can do is follow a strict set of guidelines and never assume your partner will ‘figure it out’ when you stray from these.

I was sitting South, and I picked up the following hand:

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 9.34.10 AM.png

My partner was the dealer, and no one was vulnerable. Partner opened 1♣, and my RHO overcalled 1NT.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 9.54.01 AM.pngThis part of the lesson is something you would never figure out on your own, but rather need to be taught at some point or another – When partner opens, and they overcall 1NT, your double is PENALTY. Partner would almost never pull the double by bidding, unless he had a crazy 5-5 or 6-5 hand that he needed to describe.

You can make this penalty double of 1NT with as few as 8-9 HCP. Here is the logic – partner has at least 12 points to open the bidding. RHO is showing 15-18, so we’re at 27 already. Add a minimum of 8 from us, and we are up to a bare minimum of 35 HCP accounted for. That leaves an absolute maximum of 5 for dummy. Most often, dummy will have closer to 0 than to 5. Thus, declarer will never be able to get to dummy to take finesses or set up a long suit there, meaning he is almost always going down.

So, we have plenty to double on this particular hand, with 13 HCP and a source of tricks in clubs. West now bids 2 as a transfer to spades, partner passes, and East accepts the transfer. What now? I haven’t gotten very much across about my hand – I have more HCP and a more interesting shape than I have shown with my penalty double of 1NT. What would you do?

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 9.54.09 AM.png


Importantly – once we double the opponents for penalty in some contract (here, 1NT), they can no longer play any contract undoubled. The terminology here is that we are “in a force” – we must either defend a doubled contract or declare ourselves. Well, I now trust my partner to know we are in a force, so I pass. If partner wants to double 2♠, I am happy to defend knowing we have 25+ HCP. If partner has xx or xxx in spades and can’t double, he will bid a suit as naturally as possible and we will try to scramble into a fit.

The key here is the partnership trust that we canNOT let the opponents off the hook once they have “stepped in it.” If we pass, partner will indeed come back in with a double (he’s looking at ♠AQ83) and we will beat this 3-4 for 500 or 800 points on the board. Compared to us bidding and making 3NT, which scores us 400 or 430 depending on the defense.

Vulnerability is an important factor on these kinds of hands – if you are red and the opponents are white, you will need to take them down a whopping 4 tricks to collect 800, if you assume you are making 600, 620, 630, etc. in a vulnerable game. The overarching theme here, though, is the value of partnership trust in forcing auctions – it will take you far!

Here is the full hand below. Some things that may look strange are the fact that my partner opened 1♣ with only 2 clubs an an 11 count – this is part of the system we play. Further, West transferred to spades with only 4 of them. I suppose he knew 1NTx would be a disaster, and hoped he might catch partner with a spade fit, which would take more tricks given that we could possibly ruff things back and forth.

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