“Takeout doubles are meant to be taken out.”

Thus spoke Edgar Kaplan, but it doesn’t always work.

We played many bizarre hands at the regional tournament in Rye Brook, NY, on MLK Weekend, but one really has stuck in my craw. Neither side was vulnerable. LHO opened 1, my partner doubled, and RHO passed. The cards that appeared in my left hand literally stupefied me.

K Q J 10 9       A J    Q J 10 9 x       x

What kind of hand could my partner have? He probably had at most one spade, and if so he could have as few as eleven high-card points. Nevertheless, it was easy to picture him with a hand that would seem minimal to him but could produce twelve tricks opposite mine. I decided to bid 3, the strongest bid I could make. If he responded in clubs, I planned to correct to diamonds.

My partner quickly drew the 4 card from the bidding box and laid it on the table. At first I wondered why he was in such a hurry to get to game. Then I realized that if hearts were his best suit, he had no choice. I could not figure out any sensible way to proceed.

Here was his hand:

A 9 x       Q x x x       A x x       K x x

I would not have doubled with his hand, but the fact that he did gave us a truly amazing opportunity. At the other table our opponents brought in eleven tricks with spades as trump. I think that our teammates could have implemented a better defense, but after our bidding fiasco I was not about to mention it.

Yes, LHO opened a five-card suit headed by the eight, and, yes, RHO was void in spades.

Mel Colchamiro has published a tool called the Rule of Nine. It is used to evaluate whether to leave in a takeout double by one’s partner. You can read about it here. I have never had a hand that scored an eleven on his scale before. If I had bothered to think of this instead of being dazzled by the slam that I envisioned, I would have passed the double, and, assuming we played as well as our counterparts at the other table, we would have scored +1400 instead of -200.

I was quite familiar with this rule, but my hand looked so potentially powerful to me that I did not even consider leaving the double in. This may be the most egregious blunder that I have ever made in bidding.

Incredibly, I got a chance to atone for my sins the very next day. This time LHO opened 2, my partner doubled, and RHO passed. My diamond suit was not quite as good as on the previous day – K Q 10 9 x – but it easily qualified for a pass using the Rule of Nine.

This time, however, my partner was the one who was void in the trump suit, and the opponents scrambled for eight tricks. We had another embarrassing number to report to our teammates.

These two hands were not the only hands in which weak two bids led to our demise in the tournament. In one case my partner bid 2, and we never found our spade fit. In another he opened a ten-point hand with six diamonds at the one level, and we ended up too high. There were other examples, too. It seemed that for three days whenever a weak two bid was made, we got the shaft.

Bridge is like that. Some days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue.

I Fought the Rule of Nine

And lost.

The Rule of Nine, which was devised by Mel Colchamiro, is designed to aid in the decision as to whether to convert a low-level takeout double by one’s partner to penalty. One adds the following together:

  • The number of cards in the opponent’s trump suit.
  • The number of honors (tens count) in the opponent’s trump suit.
  • The level of the bid.

If the total is nine or more, it is OK to pass. Note: overall strength is not a factor. The choice is between offense and defense.

* * *

Sitting West at unfavorable vulnerability I saw two passes. I had to decide whether to open the following hand:

8 7 5     K Q 10 6 4     Q 8 6 3     4

Yes, I know that this hand does not meet the most (or even least) disciplined standards for weak two bids, but I hate to let the opponents use every level of the bidding box, especially when I am positive that it is their hand. So, I drew the 2 card from my box and set it confidently on the table.

South, not suriprisingly, doubled. Partner passed. Oh, that was a bad sign. He would have raised to three if he had three hearts. So, we had at most seven hearts. North paused to evaluate her hand for a few hours while I mentally enumerated the popes of the eleventh century so as not to give away my bluff. Alas, in the end North passed. I had no choice but to pass and take my medicine. This was the layout:


So, we had twelve points, and they had twenty-eight. I needed to hold it to down one unless the opponents had a rather freakish slam. Even at that, I had to hold it to down three. The first goal was obviously not possible unless they revoked two or three times while they were cashing their aces and kings, but I did manage to garner five tricks for -800.

North’s hand did not come close to meeting the Rule of Nine. Even if you change it to the Rule of Eight (because I only had five hearts), her hand fell short. So, Mel would predict that she made a big mistake in passing. Sure enough, North-South can make six spades or six clubs, and the play is not even that difficult. The only challenge is finding the Q.

Unfortunately for me, no pair had the temerity to try the Moysian slam or the eight-card club slam. Nine played in 3NT, two played in 4, and one played in 3. Moreover, only one of the three who played in the black suits managed to bring home twelve tricks. So, it appeared that I made a big mistake by bidding.

However, that club bid intrigued me. The people who played there were pretty good players. I suspect that the person sitting in my chair at that table (the most aggressive bidder in the club) must have opened 2! [I found out later that he DID open 2.] If North followed the Rule of Nine, he would have probably bid clubs in response to his partner’s inevitable double. I would have. Playing lebensohl* he would probably bid 3. At that point South would either move to a club game or, if they were playing Western cue-bids, ask for a heart stopper. The latter approach would land them in 3NT.

If North-South was NOT playing lebensohl, what would North bid? Maybe he would venture 3, and South, armed with the knowledge that eleven tricks in a minor is always difficult, might just pass because she was afraid of the heart suit. Or maybe she would raise clubs. In either case they would not find the easy notrump game.

If so, then it was all or nothing. If North violated Mel’s rule and passed, East-West got a zero. If North bid, East-West won all the marbles.

So, was I chastened by this result? No, but in the future I might be a little more careful at unfavorable vulnerability.

* The lebensohl convention after a double of a weak two bid uses a relay from 2NT to 3 so that advancer can distinguish between weak hands and ones with at least seven points.