To Bid or not to Bid: Answers

Today's panelists: Bobby Bodenheimer, Curt Hastings, Ed Davis, Kent Hartman, Mike Shuster, Roberto Scaramuzzi, and Web Ewell

IMPs, none vul, you hold:

 S:Jx H:J108x D:AK109 C:AQx

1NT Pass2H: Pass
2S: PassPass?

1NT was 15-17; 2H: was a transfer.

Do you agree with your first action? What now?

Yes. Dbl.
I'll defend. This would be much tougher at matchpoints, especially at this vulnerability.
Of course. Dbl. This gains when (my estimates)
a. you bid and make something (20%)
b. 2S: was making and you go down 1 or 2 tricks undoubled (30%)
c. 2S: was making and you go down 1 trick doubled (10%)
d. They bid 3S: and don't make (20%)
e. Partner passes the double and they go down (4%)

Of course it is IMPs so the magnitude of the result makes a big difference and the magnitudes are in favor of the pass. Still... gaining small amounts 84% of the time is more than enough to offset the larger minus numbers occurring 16% of the time. [Ed later downgraded the chance of win to 75%. --Jeff]

Yes, I agree with the first action, and yes, I pass again.
No. I would have doubled if that was takeout of spades (as it would be in most of my partnerships). If my first double would have been hearts, then I double now. This could work out poorly, since I have major tenaces in the minor suits sitting under the NT bidder, but any high heart honor partner has will work overtime. Takeout of spades is pretty obvious and this should be unanimous, except maybe Kent.
I don't have a problem with the first action. Now I would double for takeout. It's not clear they have a fit, but is partner has 4 spades he may be able to transform and we may even beat it...

At the table a lot would depend on (the opponents') table action. If righty hitched over 2S:, for example, I would pass smoothly. If lefty hitched over 2H:, it's an indication that they have a fit, so I would be even more likely to balance (and it would be safer, since they would almost always go to 3H:; if they bit 4H: and make it, that's just too bad...)

I will apply the Hartman convention to this problem. If I had a convenient convention like the double of 2H: is an advance takeout of spades, I'd use it, otherwise I agree with the first pass, and will pass again.
Double 5-3, but the doublers are much more confident than the passers.
pass. The whole hand was
S: xxx
H: K9x
D: Qxx
C: 9xxx
S: KQx
H: AQx
D: Jxx
C: K108x
S: A10xxx
H: xxx
D: xxx
C: Jx
S: Jx
H: J108x
D: AK109
C: AQx
2S: went down on a diamond lead, even though the auction was identical to ours (until my hand passed). In fact, it went down two; I have no idea how this was managed. Partner played 3C: well and held it to down 1. Lose 4. Not a big deal, but there was a difference of opinion at the table.
Mike and Web suggest that an initial double of 2H: is takeout of spades. I play that against weak (12-14ish) NTs, that it is; against minis (10-12) that it's just general values; but against strong NTs, that double shows hearts. Mike vehemently claims that double as takeout is a better treatment. Is it? It wins when there's a business double of spades over the bidder, when getting in early is safer than getting in late, and when we find a thin game because the doubler can double twice to show a good hand. It loses when a heart lead is needed, when the business double backfires (either through their bidding or making), when it helps them decide how to play the hand when we didn't belong in the auction, when we see a blue card from our left, and when partner can't reject a heart lead by negative inference. I'd judge that the big factor is that we don't know we belong in this auction and telling them we are short in spades when they are about to bid 3NT or 4S: is just not a great idea. I think those losses will be frequent and all the other cases will be rare, so I think that standard is superior to this tinker. I might be wrong, having not seen it in action.

If a double here is takeout, the panel thinks it's pretty obvious. Ed tried to argue that it's so good as to be a total non-problem. I'm not convinced; I think it's closer than that. But I think it's still pretty clear to double, regardless of the result.

Curt brings up the question of matchpoints. Doubling is utterly obvious at MPs; the downside is minimized and the upside is increased. No problem.

Jeff Goldsmith,, Feb. 4, 1998