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Bidding Over Five Clubs Doubled  (Feb/Mar 2004)

Your LHO opens 5, your partner doubles and RHO passes.

Would you pull holding AKxxxxxxxxxxx?  If you would not pull holding the above hand, what modifications would you make to the above hand, which would allow you to bid five spades?  What rules do you use in deciding whether to sit or pull?  Does vulnerability or type of game matter?

So what is the thought process that the experts use in order to decide whether to pull partner’s double?

Point No. 1:  Some experts pull for any reason.

Bobby Wolff:  To me bridge is a game that caters to experience not sheer analysis.  I would bid 5 with your example hand.  Fifty years ago through thirty years ago I would have passed.  The next twenty I would have passed one time and bid the next, but with no particular conviction.  The last ten I would have bid.  Add that to the following caveat that as one ages in his bridge career his reflexes probably slow and his concentration may wane, but his judgment improves through his experience.  That adds up to, in my not so humble opinion, that percentage-wise it is right to bid, but I must say anything less than that hand would probably cause me to pass.

Kerry Sanborn: I would pull, since I play these doubles as takeout. Does vulnerability or type of game matter? No.

Barry Rigal: I would bid 5 with this hand.

Eddie Kantar: I would bid 5.   If there is a reasonable chance for slam, I pull. I could be wrong here and would like another spade. I guess I would be more apt to pull if we were vulnerable and they weren't.

Henry Bethe: Yes, in general, at matchpoints I would pull, although not at favorable vulnerability.   No, in general, at IMPs I would not pull, but I would bid at unfavorable vulnerability.  At IMPs I would bid with a queen or with 5422 shape. At matchpoints I would bid at favorable vulnerability with a sixth spade or with 5-5 distribution.

Point No. 2: The concept of “protection” works well in these situations.

Russ Ekeblad: This problem gets right to the heart of what I consider a very important but often overlooked, even by expert pairs, situation. Most "serious" pairs spend hours on constructive bidding methods. I think you would agree that most expert pairs, regardless of their methods, can arrive at the best, or at least a reasonable, contract when not interfered with.  On the other hand, more "expert-level" matches are won/lost on good/poor decision making in high-level competitive auctions. I have found that the concept of "protection" works well in these situations. It applies when an opponent has opened 4/4/5/5. 

Scenario #1.  The dreaded double-digit IMP loss:  a) Letting them play game (either making or down one/two) when we have a game higher than their preempt.  b) Letting them play game making when we have a down one save.  c) Letting them play game undoubled down two/three when we had a game "under" their game.

Scenario #2.  The unfortunate but small IMP loss: a) They were going down one but we bid and go down one. b) They go down two undoubled when we could make, for example, three-of-a-major.

Scenario #3.  All the "good" things that can happen when we gear our methods to avoid #1 and "live with" an occasional #2. Sometimes in 1b or 2a, the opponents misjudge and bid one more (they understand "protection" as well). Now we collect two down, doubled, instead of one down, undoubled.

The solution (not perfect, but better than the alternatives): A direct seat double of a game preempt should show an offensive hand with extra values. Invariably, the doubler will be short in the preempt suit with sufficient values to make a five-level contract reasonable opposite an indifferent 8+ HCP which contains a five card suit. The doubler's hand, while offensive in nature, is usually of sufficient strength in Aces and Kings to defeat the opponent's contract if "advancer" is weak or has no place to go and passes the double. Therefore, any bid by advancer is an offensive action; he is not pulling the double out of fear. A balancing seat double is also offensive in nature, but may be shy the strength of a direct seat double, similar to a balancing double at a lower level. Adhering to these principles should ensure that we are always bidding when we have our own fit and sufficient values to believe we have a contract to "protect." Yes, we "lose" when we are both balanced (say 16 opposite 12 or 13 opposite 13) and could have made 3NT.  But at least the opponents are higher than our makeable game, and protecting against the "both balanced" scenario is difficult regardless of our agreement.  We will also occasionally "lose" when the direct seat has a light takeout double (i.e. 4441 and 12 HCP), advancer has a balanced good hand and we defend undoubled.  But at least here a five-level make is far from assured (sometimes things don't break). Since a direct double is offensive, a bid of 4NT by advancer after 4/4 should be offensive: two places to play or slam interest in the highest unbid suit. One handy exception: when we are vulnerable and the opponents are not, after 4/4-direct double-pass, 4NT should be to play. Advancer holds Kxx thru KQ10 of their trump suit with sufficient values to be confident 4NT will make opposite a good offensive hand, and when he feels the penalty to be extracted from passing the double will be insufficient.

TO YOUR QUESTION finally! With AKxxxxxxxxxxx: I would bid 5. Yes, it is a tad shy of the "eight HCP" principle, but it is "pure". The opponents have at least ten clubs (on a "bad day" 5 might make), and 5 should have a play opposite club shortness and extra values. “

Point No. 3:  The number of clubs in your hand is key to pulling.  It seems that xx of clubs is the holding least conducive to pulling.  Pull with zero, one, or three clubs, and pass with two clubs.

Mike Passell: Obviously the five-level is even tougher than the hated four-level preempts. I would never bid with a balanced hand with two clubs -- my theory over four- level preempts is to bid when close with an odd number in their suit and pass with two, reducing the chances of two quick losers in their suit. Change my little club to something else, especially a spade, and I would bid. Whether partner is bidding direct or after pass-pass matters a lot to me. Whether or not the preemptor’s partner is in front of or behind partner’s good hand definitely comes into play. Obviously knowing how solid the players involved are goes a long way toward this type of problem solving. My general rule is to try to go plus anytime I have a reasonably balanced hand opposite partner’s double. I hate those pesky five-of-a-minor openers, don’t you?

Joe Kivel: I would pull with a singleton or void and some strength, pass with a doubleton, and with three, I'd probably pull as well.

Gaylor Kasle: I would pull with one or no clubs.

David Bird: It appears to be borderline to pull on this hand. If I held either one or three clubs, I would then pull to 5.

Point No. 4:  Some experts need a six-card suit or 5-5 distribution to pull.

Marty Bergen: I would bid with AKxxxxxxxxxxx. Use best guess in deciding whether to sit or pull? Vulnerability or type of game matters.

Mike Kamil: No, I wouldn't pull. I would need to add a sixth spade or the spade Q instead of x.  I usually sit as it seems random to firm rules on when to pull, but I would like at least a six-card suit or some 5-5's with decent values, i.e., KQxxx KJTxx xx x or AQxxxx xxxx xx x. Vulnerability or type of game are not relevant to me as I look at it as a randomish guess.

Allan Falk: Partner's double is supposed to show a strong notrump more or less (not much of which is expected to be in their suit), and one would usually expect at least two aces (since secondary tricks have such a nasty habit of disappearing). When your hand will offer fair play for a five-level contract opposite a strong notrump without much wastage in the enemy suit and three-card support, that's when you pull. Thus, I think AKxxxxxxxxxxx is not close; pass.  Even AKxxxxxxxxxxx is pretty iffy--your red suit finesses will be offside and you are likely to end up one down. AKxxxxJxx10xxx is just enough for 5.

Type of game certainly matters; at matchpoints you first have to go plus, then aim for the biggest plus; pulling from 5 doubled for a small plus to a minus in some five or six level contract of your own is awful, whereas at IMPs you worry about double swings.

Vulnerability is not so important--if they're taking advantage of it, that makes pass better (they'll go down extra, so in a close situation you should pass), other than if they are vulnerable and you aren't, second hand (partner) won't stretch to double (why tempt fate when you can shut up and perhaps beat them quietly when doubling might tip off how to play the hand or get partner to pull in a doubtful situation, turning a small plus into a small or large minus).

Shawn Quinn: I would want either: a) another King  b) another spade (and one less club would be nice)  c) two more spades  d) another five-card suit.

Bart Bramley: I would sit, but it's close. I define partner's double as "takeout," not just a bunch of high cards. My main criterion for deciding whether to pull is distribution.  If I have enough, I pull. 5332 is too dull for me, with potential slow losers in both red suits.  If I had AKxxxxxxxxxxx I would flip a coin. If I had AKxxxxxxxxxxx I would bid. High cards, vulnerability, type of game, and nature of my opponents are additional factors that I use in varying proportions.  At lower levels I don't worry too much about my high cards. If I have distribution I assume that one side or the other is usually making. At the five-level such an assumption is harder to justify, so if I am short of high cards I need somewhat more distribution to bid.  With KQxxxxxxxxxxx I would pass, but with KQxxxxxxxxxxx I would bid.  In short:  I am allergic to entering funny numbers in the opponents' column, so I pull these doubles more than most people.

Marinesa Letezia: Yes, I would pull most of the time.  I would like a sixth spade. All doubles are takeout, therefore a real trump stack must pass.  The higher the level of preempt, the more trump length I like to have to bid. Flatter hands are the ones I would sit on. Obviously vulnerability and type of scoring does matter.

George Jacobs: I would pull if I held AKxxxxxxxxxxx.   I would not pull with the original hand.  I am more likely to pull vulnerable.

Kit Woolsey: I would pass with the hand given. To pull, I would want both a sixth spade and a stiff club, and even then I'd think twice about it. Vulnerability and type of game does not affect this decision. The five-level belongs to the opponents.

Jon Wittes: I would not pull the double holding the given hand. I would expect to get 5 doubled for at least 500, and with that distribution, I would expect whatever high cards we are missing to be offside, given the 5-opener. With a more distributional hand, I would consider pulling, but probably only vulnerable against not. The only other consideration, and it is a valid one, is partner could have a monster, in which case slam is a distinct possibility. Of course, once again, if we have any finesses to take, they rate to be off.

Point No. 5:  Some experts are very conservative about pulling the double. The five-level belonging to the opponents is the reason that when in doubt they pass.   

Robert Lipsitz: Answer depends on specific agreements.  I think you need a nearly independent suit (e.g., AKJxxx), or a hand strong enough to cuebid.

Larry Cohen: I wouldn't pull in a million years at any colors with this 5332 shape (or any 5332 shape) unless I had slam interest.  Also I wouldn't pull with a bad hand where I didn't expect to have a chance to make at the five-level.  Pulling shows either extreme shape or a decent hand.  Partner is allowed to raise to slam when we pull.  I would pull by changing a low club to a low spade on the given hand (AKxxxxxxxxxxx). 

Dave Berkowitz: I would need to find a new partner if I bid 5 with the example hand.  Since bidding 5 is forward going, another ace or king would help.  Also, xx in clubs is very bad, likely duplication--xxx would be preferable.

Joel Wooldridge: I would not pull.  There are many reasons to sit with this hand. Those include the flat shape, quick tricks on defense (I hope), and a doubleton club--the death holding. Vulnerability and type of game always matter, but for what's not clear.  I'm probably more likely to pull these types of doubles at matchpoints than teams because getting +650 versus +500 can be a lot of matchpoints.  Usually what I use to decide on whether or not to pull are these factors:  The extremity of my distribution, my length/shortness in the opponent's suit, and how well my suit will play opposite a doubleton.  I'm more inclined to trust shortness in their suit than three or four small.  Modifications I would need to make to the above hand would have to be something like a sixth spade, and a void in clubs.  Something like AKxxxxxxxxxxx -, I wouldn't mind terribly when I pull.  I would not pull on AKxxxxxxxxxxx.  However, I might be talked into pulling with: AKxxxQJxxxxxx -.  What I'm pulling to is a little less clear, but I think it's right.  Whether that's a 5, 5, or a 5NT bid is less clear -- maybe even 6 if that's pick with a first round control, but I think that's a little strange with this...too weak.  What is 6 there, anyhow?

Ron Smith: I would double five-of-a-minor, or 4 for that matter, with a bunch of high cards, but I don't require a takeout double shape.  I could easily be 4441, but I'd also double on QxAQxxAQxxxAx.  I play that taking out a double at the five level is somewhat constructive.  It seems silly to try to stop on a dime in five-of-a-major, so a five-of-a-major bid should logically imply some interest in slam.  I'd pass with Robinson's hand because partner might have my example double, in which case 5 would be a disaster.  Against some opponents, I'd be more likely to bid in borderline situations for fear of 5 making.

Conclusion:  I would have expected the experts to be more in the--when in doubt pass and take the plus score--camp. What I found was the opposite.  The five-level belongs to the opponents, while still true, takes a back seat when the opponents could make their contract. So, in some instances, you could open 5 with xxxxxxxxxAKQJ, and if the opponents had the rest of the high cards and each of them had three clubs, they would bid at the five-level, and you could laugh at them when you cash the first three club tricks.