The Points You Lose
Chapter V from
You Lose at Bridge (1946)
S. J. Simon
This chapter is loaded with dynamite.
Earlier in the book I bawled you out for doubling slams on
which a double to you seemed automatic. Now I am going to urge you to
double a different type of contract on holdings that appear to be
inadequate—hence the dynamite. For it is well known that
annoys partner as much as an unsuccessful double, where doubling them
into game is almost beyond the pale. So, if you are nervous, stop
reading now—or you may get fascinated.
The theory of doubling is the least understood theory in
Bridge. A mass of research has been poured into every other phase of
the game with a large lake of resultant literature into which the
student may dip. But doubling has been ignored. Certain sidelights of
it, informatory [take out] doubles, lead directing doubles, have
share of attention, but the basic principles of
straightforward honest-to-goodness business doubling—have
taken for granted. In the whole of Bridge literature I know of no
single book that has made a serious attempt to analyse the theory of
doubling, and to give the reader at least, some hint as to when to
double, when not to double, when to leave a double in, and when to take
Even the very elementals, the mere mathematics of doubling
stressed. The Bridge player is left to find them out for himself, and
how well he does it can be seen by the number of players who still
double a small slam holding, two aces. Not by you, by now, of course!
How, then, can he be expected to measure a double in
anything except the number of Aces and Kings and trumps he may be
holding ? It is not a fair thing to expect from a Bridge player,
spoon-fed from his first deal in every other department of the game by
every player who considers himself superior. Why should he be forced to
work it out for himself? And how can he possibly get it right?
Let me try and do a spot of spoon-feeding. I have only a
devote to the subject and since starting to
marshal my data I have become aware that I should like a book. Perhaps
later I may have the opportunity to write such a book. But all I can
attempt here is a short analysis of basic principles which I hope may
set you thinking along the right lines.
Let us first of all think about the varying conditions under
business doubles occur. At first sight there appear to be a great many,
but, ignoring all the minor variations, they boil down to two main
(1) When opponents have
(2) When they have not.
These are the two basic situations, fundamentally different
for quite a different technique for their successful exploitation. The
essential difference is this.
In the first case your double is final. Partner has not bid
and is not
being consulted. You double because you think you can defeat the
contract and that will be the best result on the hand. The
responsibility is all yours. It is, in its essence, a solo flight.
In the second case the responsibility can be shared. Partner
there is a possible contract of your own in the offing, and your double
now becomes an expression of opinion that that is your best result. If
partner does not like the double he can take it out. In fact I classify
this type of double as "A
proposal to partner."
or Proposal to Partner.
Clearly the requirements are very different. And now let us study the
requirements for each.
The first thing to get into your head is that, though the
responsibility is all yours, you are not doubling on your hand alone
but on the combined value of the two hands. You can see your own
thirteen cards, you have heard the bidding, you can estimate partner's
probable strength. If you think you can still defeat the contract--go
ahead and double, but remember in your estimate it is not true that: the bigger the hand, the better
the double. There is such a thing as a hand being too
It must have happened to you a score of times. How often
have you not sat gloating over some such 20 hcp collection as:
patiently while the enemy has bid up to 3NT. Rubbing your
hands, you have doubled. And then the unbelievable happens. The enemy
makes 3NT. Or 4NT. And sometimes they have even the cheek to redouble.
Think back. How often has it happened? How often have you sat
impotently while the declarer has waltzed his way to the contract,
forcing you to lead away from your tenances, putting you to
embarrassing discards and squeezing you for an overtrick as a final
And it is not bad luck. It will happen most of the time when
is as strong as that. Because it is much too strong. It is in fact so
strong that it is quite clear that the enemy are overbidding and must
have a long suit somewhere to compensate. And it is also quite clear
that if they can establish and run that suit before you can establish
your diamonds you will be put to a series of impossible discards, and
they are going to get away with their overbidding because all the
strength against them is concentrated in one hand.
For, unless opponents are complete lunatics, your partner has
the nicest Yarboroughs ever dealt to anyone. And if you still think
that your hand is strong enough to defeat 3NT with a Yarborough
partner, well, let us play out such a hand and see what happens.
You are sitting West, holding the hand in question, when
dealer bids one club. East passes mournfully, South bids 2NT.
You pass, waiting. North bids 3NT confidently. East and
South pass. You double. North looks less confident, wriggles a bit, but
finally passes. All pass. You lead the King of diamonds and dummy goes
down. This is the situation as you see it
opening bid, followed by a gambling 3NT, bid confidently to
frighten off doublers. But you were too strong to be frightened. Still,
you concede North full credit for sticking for the double. Clearly he
hoping for six tricks in clubs and the other three from Heaven.
Come to think of it, South has not got so much either. The
high cards are the
Queen and the
Jack. Clearly he holds them all and equally clearly
are not going to defeat this contract.
Try it any way you like, with any opening lead you like, and
assuming the diamonds are only stopped once, the contract is cold. By
time the declarer has run his clubs you are in trouble with your
discards and. can be squeezed or end played according to your choice.
Note that I have been very fair in the example I have chosen.
made opponents as near lunatics as possible, I have not even
given North a seven card club suit. Actually, against your holding, a
seven card suit is more probable than not, and in that case you must
take four tricks quickly or you will be squeezed into allowing declarer
to make 4NT.
I do not go so far as to advise you never to double
type of hand. Only don't expect to get them too many down and
don't be too surprised if they make it. Your hand is much too
But now supposing we make your hand weaker and
remove from it
Ace of spades and the King of clubs and we give only one of these cards
to your partner. The King of clubs for preference. This leaves your
hand as follows:
Now the opponents are no
longer near lunatics, with the
in their hands the bidding is quite sound and if you double it is
clearly a gambling double. And yet the contract, on the hand as I have
given it, will now be defeated a comfortable two tricks. For you open
King, switch to
King, and now
merely have to wait for partner to get in with the
lead through another diamond.
Interesting--isn't it? Your own hand is weaker,
the opponents are a
whole Ace stronger, and yet the contract is defeated.
And this brings us to a point which every Bridge player knows
well through painful experience, both in defending a hand and in
playing the dummy, but which very few seem to remember while the
bidding is in progress.
It is not your
strength that counts so much as the way that strength is divided
between the two hands.
If, with the
clubs bid over me, I must double 3NT on one of these
hands, I would far rather double on hand (b
) for there, at
is a chance that partner holds the club suit and can lead through a
diamond--while in Hand (a
I know that the clubs will be run off
In hand (a
I hold such strength that the opponents must be overbidding
and partner is marked with a Yarborough. In hand (b
) partner cannot
hold very much but he can hold something. And that may make all the
You are not doubling on your hand alone, but on the combined
the two hands. And, just as in the cases I have quoted, partner is
marked with Yarborough or near Yarborough, so in other cases he will be
marked with quite a good hand and action may be taken accordingly.
For every contract reached by opponents there is some sort of
as to the strength held by partner. If opponents stop in 4
and you hold a Yarborough--there is an inference that your partner must
hold a few high cards or they must be in a slam. If one opponent
refuses every opportunity to support the other in a suit in which you
yourself hold only a singleton there is not only a clear inference he
dislikes that suit, but that your partner has the rest of it. If the
opponents stop in 2NT and you have only four points, it is clear that
your partner must hold between 12-14. And so on.
The better the opponents the more certain your inferences,
weaker the less. And against complete duds you cannot infer much at
all. For as they don't know what they are doing themselves, how can you
possibly deduce anything from what they are doing? So, for
purposes of this chapter, you are playing against reasonably good
Now, the moment you stop looking at your hand alone and start
about inferring strength from opponents bidding you will realise that
there are two manners in which a final contract is reached.
The confident contracts are those in which at least one of
has not made a sign off bid during the auction, for instance:
||1 || ||2 || || 1 || ||
3 || || 1 || ||2 || |
| || 4 || || || ||4 || || || ||2 || ||3NT || |
the first two
examples above neither opponent has at any time signed
off, and either of them can hold an undisclosed balance of strength. It
may not be a very great balance for neither has made a slam try, but it
may be quite enough to redouble. Or, of course they may have stretched
their hands to the limit and beyond it. In the third example, North has
signed off with 2S, but South has jumped to 3NT and again may have
enough to spare to redouble; or he may have overbid his hand.
One point about this confident bidding is that there is
your hand to tell you whether opponents are stretching or bidding with
something to spare. As long as either opponent's hand may hold
undisclosed strength you cannot infer partner's holding with anything
approaching accuracy. And you cannot double unless you are sure you
have them down in your own hand, and pretty sure at that. And unless
you are so sure, then the contracts are not worth doubling for
confident bidding seldom goes down much and you are redoubled with an
These, then, are the doubles to avoid--the doubles of
contracts on good hands that are not good enough. Yet these are the
doubles that are most frequently made, while the players that indulge
in them allow masses of eventual contracts to escape unscathed in a
series of fifties.
And all because they have never reflected that, whereas in a
contract partner's strength can only be hoped for, in an "eventual"
contract it is practically guaranteed. I hope you all know what I mean
by an eventual contract. It is a contract just staggered into after
both partners have shown the limit of their strength, and it is
occurring all the time. For instance, this is a typical
North has bid 2
, not forcing under any system that I
have ever heard of, and showing a clearly limited hand. Over 2
South has bid 2NT, showing a fair hand (else he would have passed) but
denying the strength to bid 3NT. North has managed to find the extra
strength to bid one more for game--but clearly neither side has
anything to spare.
Now I do not say that this contract is seldom made; it is
often. But it goes down nearly as often and as it goes quite a lot down
not infrequently. The result depends on how the opposing cards lie for
a declarer. When they lie well, he makes his contract. When they lie
badly, he goes down. When they lie very badly, he goes a lot down.
But when they lie very badly, the opposing strength is
the two hands, so for the moment, he is going a lot down undoubled
the defenders are looking at one another, shaking their heads, and
agreeing that neither of them had a double.
And that is nonsense. What they mean is that neither of them
enough to diagnose that together
they had a double. For, as neither of them had bid, neither felt
entitled to place the other with any strength at all. And that is just
bad thinking--a relic of early teaching that "a bid shows strength and
a pass shows weakness." It is true most of the time, but not all of the
Once you get it into your head that a pass does not compel
assume that partner has a Yarborough until proved otherwise, it is an
easy transition to the point where you can recognise the occasions when
partner is definitely marked with some strength on the bidding. And
once you can recognise these occasions, the diagnosis of the double
becomes very simple.
All you have to do is to look at your own hand and decide
cards in it are lying well or badly for the defense. Sometimes you will
be unable to form an opinion. Sometimes it will be clear that they
could not lie worse. But sometimes it will seem to you that they could
not be lying better. And
then you will know that you have a double!
to the bidding I have given earlier:
Suppose that against
this bidding you are holding the following:
Now, if you
are sitting West, this is not so good. You are sitting
under the spades and your partner is sitting under the diamonds. The
indications are that the cards are lying well for the declarer. True,
the contract might still be defeated--for the cards might not be lying
so well for him as the bidding indicates; for instance, if South holds
Queen your prospects are much
improved--but the odds are
against the double. You won't be redoubled, but you won't get them many
down and they might even make an overtrick.
But if you are sitting East, this is a peach of a hand. You
over the spades and whatever diamond honours your partner may hold are
sitting over the bidder. And in addition you have a suit which can be
established in two rounds--or one round if partner has an honour. And
why shouldn't he have? The bidding has marked him with quite a lot of
The double stands out. It might be worth as much as four
down. And even
if the cards do not turn out to lie as badly for the declarer as you
thought, the chances are that he will still go down. And he will
certainly not make an overtrick. The odds are all in your favour.
Now take another example of everyday bidding:
There is not even the
beginning of a reason for doubling. There is no
reason at all why partner should be able to produce a trick. He
possibly holds a few high cards in a side suit but high cards in side
suits are uncertain values against a suit contract.
The opponents have reached 4
missing the two top
honours in the suit. They will have their compensating values
elsewhere. Your hand does not contain anything in the nature of a
surprise for them. The declarer will have allowed for losing tricks in
trumps. But supposing you hold:
Now that is
quite different. Declarer still has high card strength
against him--only your partner holds it. The bidding shows that. But he
is not reckoning to lose many tricks in trumps--one at the outside. And
you have quite a nasty surprise for him. Your partner's hand may well
be something like this:
or even better.
If your partner is educated in diagnosis he might well
himself double 4
. The fact that he is void is an
incentive. It means that you must have quite a few.
There is a great deal to be achieved in the intelligent
suit contracts by inferring partner's trump holding. A secondary suit
is usually bid on a four card suit. The support is seldom more than
four cards. If, therefore you hold a singleton in that suit, your
partner is marked with four. And if you have a void, he has five. It
helps quite a lot if you realise it. And so my advice on solo flight
doubles boils down to this: against confident bidding, wait for a moral
certainty. But against eventual contracts, when you can infer that
cards are badly placed for declarer, double on a couple of picture
cards and hope.
Of course, inevitably there will be cases where you will have
incorrectly and then you must resign yourself to accepting the
reproaches of your partner who will want to know how you dared double
when he held two honour [quick] tricks and they still made it.
Apologize, and pass on to the next hand. On no account explain that on
the bidding you expected him to hold three quick tricks and that he has
let your down by only holding two. He won't understand. [Unless he has
also read this chapter!]
But quite seriously, reflect on all the contracts that you
defeated by several tricks because "neither of you had a double." I
think you will find that it is worth being wrong sometimes.
It is well known that the juiciest penalties are obtained by
opponents in low contracts. Modern bidding has improved enough to make
really satisfying doubles of high voluntarily reached contracts a
rarity, and as we have seen, the ones that can be successfully doubled
are defeated more on the rocks of distribution than any unsoundness in
the bidding. Occasionally a plum from a super-misfit and
taking-each-other-out partners, may fall into your lap but that is of
financial interest only. You did not even have to pick it.
It is at the low levels, where players are tempted to butt in
bid, that the opportunities still occur. And most of them are still
allowed to escape. For, unless the player sitting over the butter-in
was about to bid the suit himself, he seldom doubles. Either because he
does not know how, or because, as happens frequently in my own case, I cannot trust my
partner-of-the-moment to take out the double if he does not like it.
Therefore I offer you this suggestion: Arrange with as many of your
partners as you can to treat all business doubles [below game] as
following section is now (2006) out of date, as the majority of modern
players use negative doubles (and many use support doubles as well) at
the low levels (up to 2
in SAYC, and to 3
or higher in other systems). The modern way of making a low (one or
two) level penalty double is for the partner of the negative doubler,
lacking support for the implied suit, to pass the negative double,
thereby converting it into a business double. I have left the section
in, however, because the principles expressed here by Simon continue to
be relevant, although applied slightly differently nowadays.]
Take the following bidding for instance:
| ||N ||E
| 1 ||2 ||Dbl ||pass |
| || ? ||
|| || |
The majority of Norths would not dream of disturbing
unless they had opened under strength, or with a psychic, or because
they would rather try for game. But on all other occasions
they will pass, satisfied that so long as they have their two quick
tricks, nothing else is open to them. And while this situation exists,
it is clearly impossible to make speculative [cooperative] doubles for
opponents will make far too many of them with overtricks, and partner
will be demanding indignantly what you doubled on.
It may seem impossible to double 2
on such a holding as:
And yet, to my
mind, this is not only the best bid on the hand; it is
the only possible bid. Study the alternatives. 2
? Clearly misleading--the suit is too
? Now what do you expect partner to bid
over that? 3NT? Is there any reason to think he can make it? 3
? Now, that is really obliging of him.
Actually you know as well as I do that he is far more likely to bid 3
. And what are you going to bid then?
But the double has endless potentialities and, if partner's
fits, might turn out to be sensational. Supposing partner holds
The contract is unlikely to be defeated less than two tricks,
three, and possibly four. And yet, there is no game in the hand for you.
Yet, how can you reach for this dazzling prospect if partner
to pass your double on some such hand as:
Here you have a probably small slam in hearts and the enemy
certainly make 2
, if not three. But what are you to do
if your partner stoically regards your doubles as entirely your own
business, considering his responsibility at an end as long as he has
his bid? If you cannot double, you may be missing a sizable penalty
with no good contract of your own. If you do double, they may make it
with overtrick and there might be a small slam of your own to be made.
Clearly, partner must learn to cooperate. he must be taught
double of low contracts is not an order to pass, but merely a
suggestion to be considered. And when he has grasped that, he must be
taught what the features are in his hand that should cause him either
to accept or refuse the invitation. And before you can teach him that,
you must understand yourself what are the features in your own hand
that cause you to favour a double rather than finding a contract of
Let us therefore study the qualifications that make a good
tentative business double of an intervening bid. The essential point to
grasp is that a double is not a success unless it scores more points
than you would have scored in your own contract. For instance, if you
double their non-vul 1
and get it seven down [1,300 at the time Simon wrote this, and 1,700
today], it is not a success but a downright failure if you can make
So the first essential to bear in mind when making a
double is that it should, at the moment that it is made, seem to you
your best prospect of collecting the maximum number of points on the
deal. And that is the message your double sends to your partner. Later
on, you may change your mind--but that is later.
Thus, if it seems probable to you after your partner's
opening bid that
the hand contains a game, then clearly the points you expect to gain
from the double must exceed the value of the game. As a rough guide
this means that you have to defeat a vulnerable overbid by three tricks
and a non-vulnerable overbid by four tricks to show any worthwhile
profit. And that, except against the rapturous "it was only an overcall
partner" butter-in, now rapidly becoming extinct, is a
lot to ask, particularly if your hands fit. And the very fact that you
can see prospects of a game argues that you have a fit in the suit bid
It has probably never occurred to you that a fit in partner's
suit is a
in doubling a contract in another suit. Reflect on it and it becomes
obvious. The fact that, between you, you hold most of a suit, means
that the enemy holds few of it and that therefore you cannot hope to
make many tricks in that suit. If your partner bids 1
and you hold five hearts, you are
unlikely to make more than one trick in the suit and you might well
make none. And you have excellent prospects for a game in hearts. But
if you hold a singleton, you will almost certainly make all the high
hearts your partner holds and ruff some of the small ones in the
bargain. Correspondingly, your prospects of a game in hearts are poor.
Therefore as a general rule, a tentative [cooperative] double
not contain too good a fit with partner's suit. Three cards should be
the extreme limit. With four the result is unlikely to be good. And
with five the loss, except in very rare cases, is a certainty.
To my mind the ideal tentative double contains a singleton in
suit, no particularly good suit of one's own, a few trumps to an
honour, and a total point count of about nine. This is a hand
on which prospects of game seem remote and as little as two down
doubled an excellent result.
This, then, is the tentative [cooperative] double. But what
features in partner's hand that should decide whether to leave the
double in or take it out? Well, there is only one governing feature
that is decisive. That is the trump-holding. All the others are
subsidiary to it. The rule is this: The better the trump-holding, the
less strength is needed elsewhere to let the double stand. And vice
Here are the rules I have made for myself for low level
three trumps or more, leave in the double on the weakest of opening
bids or even slightly weaker. With a doubleton, leave in on any good
opening bid of three honour [quick] tricks or more. With a singleton
take out the double on anything under 3 1/2 to four honour tricks. With
a void--take it out irrespective of anything.
For it is not
an advantage to be void in the suit your partner has doubled at a low
level. It does not mean only that your partner must have a lot but that
dummy will have quite a few. And if dummy has quite a few trumps a
double of a low contract is not going to be a success. But you know
that as well as I do. You have seen far too many powerful trump
holdings ruined by dummy's possession of something like 986 to dispute
the point. If partner could have led trumps through even once--it would
have made all the difference. But partner couldn't. He was void.
Now, a few pages back, when we were discussing a double of an
contract at a high level, I wrote that a void in enemy's suit was an
incentive for it meant that your partner might have quite a few. Here,
for a low level double, I am rubbing in that a void could not deter you
more. This is not a contradiction, it is a logical extension.
A high level double does not expect to make more tricks than
declarer. To achieve success it relies on high card tricks plus
whatever trump tricks may be going. Therefore, it is far better to hold
a void in trumps than three small ones. It increases the chances of
your partner having a trump trick.
But a double of a low level contract, for any worthwhile
take more tricks than the declarer. It is, to all intents and purposes,
playing the hand in the declarer's suit. If, for instance, you double 2
and get it three down, it means that
you have made eight tricks with spades as trumps, i.e., that you have
yourself. Viewed from this angle
everything becomes beautifully clear. It is obvious now why it is
necessary to have a few cards in the suit partner has doubled.
For if partner doubles 2
and you leave it in with
a void, it means in effect that you are permitting him to play a spade
contract with a void in his suit. And, you never do that if you can
help it, do you?
Thus, every extra trump you hold is invaluable. Not only does
increase your own joint trump holding, but it decreases declarer's. If
you hold three trumps, dummy is unlikely hold more than a singleton.
With a doubleton you can lead trumps through twice, which may permit
your partner to draw trumps.
with a singleton
you can lead
through once. But you cannot lead
through with a void. So, unless your partner's trump holding is so
strong that he can afford to draw trumps himself, declarer will make
his small trumps (and far too many tricks) for your satisfaction. In
low level doubles, it is just as essential for the defense to
stop declarer making his small trumps as it is for the declarer in high
contracts to stop the defense from making their
are, of course, hands on which it is better for
declarer not to
draw trumps but play for a cross ruff. Just so there are such hands for
the defense. You can recognise them as you meet them. They in no way
affect the principle that most of the time it pays to draw trumps. And
that in low level doubles the defense can seldom draw trumps if the
doubler's partner is void.
* This classic
article was written by S. J. Simon and originally published in 1946. I
have made a few minor grammatical changes and coalesced many of the
author's successive one and two-sentance paragraphs found in the