Lightner Double

The Lightner Double is a lead-directing double of a slam contract, developed by the bridge pioneer Mr. Theodore A. Lightner. He considered the chance a good possibility that the opponents would either fulfill their slam contract or fail by one trick. He considered it a requirement that only experienced opponents bid the slam contract and that voluntarily. He reasoned that a penalty double would not be profitable, and gave the call double a new meaning.

His premise is: A double by the hand not on lead is conventional.

The partner on lead is requested to choose an unusual lead which may result in the defeat of the contract. Note that it is not always possible to defeat the contract and any lead by the partner will not always defeat the contract. The concept is that an unusual lead may defeat the contract.

1. A Lightner Double excludes the lead of a trump.
2. A Lightner Double excludes any suit bid by the defenders.
3. A Lightner Double may exclude any suit not yet bid, but this is conditional.
4. It is also conditional that the defender, who uses the Lightner Double, to expect to ruff the lead of a side suit mentioned by the opponents, or otherwise to win the first two top tricks in that suit.

Note: Bridge experts have restricted the meaning of the Lightner Double and define the Lightner Double to mean that the partner must lead the dummy’s first bid side suit.

In any case, using the above mentioned guidelines, the partner is more or less supposed to deduce the lead from the context of the auction. It was Mr. Theodore A. Lightner, who took some of the guesswork out of the equation. He did not establish hard and fast rules.

Below are two examples of the use of the Lightner Double and how the player on lead may deduce which suit to lead. The auction is secondary and may be unusual for the bridge player employing Standard American bids.

2000 District 16 GNT Finals, Flight A – Board 10
Richardson, Texas – May 28, 2000

Situation: Both Vulnerable

South opens the auction with 1 No Trump signifying a range of 14-16 high card points.

West overcalls with 2 Clubs. This signifys a long Diamond holding or a 4-card Major suit and Clubs.

North doubles. This is the Stayman convention.

East bids 2 Diamonds. East shows support for a long Diamond suit possibly held by partner.

South rebids 3 Clubs, indicating at least a 4-card Club suit, and a possible 4-card Major suit holding, but little interest in playing in a final No Trump contract.

West passes.

North bids 6 Clubs, an attempt at slam. North has three good controls with two Aces and a singleton Diamond.

East doubles. This is the Lightner Double. The expectation of East is that his partner, West, may a) hold only one Spade or b) that the King of Spades is located in the hand of North. Two good options and possibilities. If either expectation is met, then the small slam goes down one trick.

East has also calculated a sacrifice of 6 Diamonds doubled for -1100 points against a possible +200 if he and his partner can set the contract by one trick, and decides for the possible defeat of the contract.

West leads the 9 of Spades and the declarer is caught in the dummy with an exposed King of Spades. The calculation of East paid off. Dummy plays the King of Spades, hoping against all hope, and the contract is shattered when East puts up the Ace of Spades and follows with the Queen of Spades.

Italy vs. USA 2, Board 11
Florida 1999

West took a large risk in bidding the small slam of 6 Diamonds. North is on lead, and his partner has used the Lightner Double to request an unusual lead.

According to the actual lie of the cards, the slam can not be made as long as the defense collects their two black Aces. North, however, leads the King of Spades, partner South playing a discouraging low Spade hoping for a Club switch, but then North attempts to cash the Ace of Spades. The declarer ruffs and cashes the rest of the tricks for plus 1090 points. That is 16 IMPs to Italy instead of 5 IMPs, if North had shifted to a Club.

The declarer trumps the second trick, after North attempts to cash the Ace of Spades, leads the Ace of Diamonds on the third trick and discovers that North is void. On the fourth trick, the declarer leads the Jack of Hearts and overtakes with the Queen of Hearts. On the fifth trick, the declarer plays the Queen of Spades and discards his losing Club. On the sixth trick, declarer finesses South for the Queen of trump successfully.

Had North listened to the Lightner Double of his partner, North should have cashed the Ace of Spades and then lead, even seeing in addition the King of Clubs in the dummy, the Queen of Clubs to his partner for the setting trick.

There have been some discussions and disputes about the Lightner Double having to be alerted. The following deal is from the NEC World Bridge Championships, played in 1994 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The following is the Appeals Report #25.

Open Pairs, September 25, 1994
Chairman: Bobby Wolff
Members present: Jeffrey Polisner, Grattan Endicott, Tommy Sandsmark, Jean-Claude Beineix
Scribe: John Blubaugh

(1) Lightner Double – No Alert

The Result: East led the 9, trumped by West, who then led the 6. North went down three tricks for a plus of 800 for East-West.

The Facts: North-South maintained that the Lightner Double was Alertable and if the double had been Alerted, they would have bid 6 No Trump.

Director’s Ruling: The director believed that all bridge players used this double so it was not necessary to Alert it. The result was allowed to stand.

Committee’s Decision: The committee felt North-South should have recognized the meaning of the double (do not lead a Diamond) and they could possibly have been taking a two-way shot to get a good result. If East had made the wrong lead, they would score the slam. If East made the correct lead, they could always maintain to a committee that the double was not Alerted and they would have gone to 6NT if they had been Alerted. Wolff believed that the Lightner double was not an alertable bid and should not be Alerted. The committee agreed and the result was allowed to stand. The committee also agreed that the appeal was substantially without merit and North-South’s deposit was forfeited.

Postscript: After the committee had ended, Director-in-charge Bill Schoder told the committee that in the past some rulings have required Alerts of the Lightner Double. The committee felt that Alerting a slam double as a conventional action is both unnecessary and harmful. Acting as WBF President, Wolff reformed the committee as a Tournament Committee and moved that the Lightner double specifically should be added to the list of un-Alertable conventions. The committee agreed and the conditions of contest were so amended.

Note: The Lightner Double has no etched-in-stone rules in choosing the lead. However, using the established guidelines set forth by Mr. Theodore A. Lightner reduces the guess-factor considerably. The idea is to listen to the auction, add up the distribution of the individual hands to determine a possible void, exclude the trump suit as a possible lead, take any possible winners immediately, watch the discard of his partner as to preference, and make that calculated guess from the gathered information.