Negative Doubles

Many bridge players base their approach on the 5-Card American Standard System. Using this bidding system, and other systems based on opening 5-card Major suits, certain requirements are a prerequisite to making a bid or call. If the opponents would remain quiet and pass, there would be no problem in bidding to the correct contract.

However, that is almost never the case. Opponents enjoy competing, opponents take delight in disturbing the auction, opponents disconnect your line of communication., and contend for the contract.

Note: An article authored in the year 2003 by Mr. David N. King accompanies and complements this presentation since the author informs the student as to the evolution of this particular double and how the defintion has changed over the years. This article has also been only preserved and archived on this site in .pdf file format for future reference.

For these reasons Mr. Alvin Roth and Mr. Tobias Stone developed the Roth-Stone system, which included the negative double as a system feature. The original designation was Sputnik, named for the Russian satellite launched by the Soviet Union October 4, 1957, the year in which the two bridge players developed the modern parameters of the takeout double.

The official designation for the satellite is Sputnik I. This first artificial and unmanned satellite, the first in the world, was about the size of a basketball, weighed only 183 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch of this artificial satellite ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik I launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age.

Historical Note:

The designation negative double was the original designation for a takeout double, which was commonly employed from the days of the game of Whist and Auction Bridge, about 1915, until the early development of the game of duplicate contract bridge, around the year 1930. From the year 1930 this concept changed to the designation of informatory double, which informed partner about the willingness to compete and of held values.

Historical Note: During the early days of the evolving game of duplicate contract bridge the developing governing bodies accepted also the definition of the informatory double as being for penalty. The student can read the bridge-related publications of this era, 1915 to 1957, and discover that the two designations were interchangeable and had become standardized. For example, in The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge published 1971, page 197, the description entered under the heading Informatory Double is: See Take-Out Double. Even 12-13 years following the Roth-Stone bidding system the official publications of the American Contract Bridge League preserved this historical data.

Historical Note: The original concept was designated takeout double and its invention is attributed to Major Charles Patton, born in the year 1851 in Mississippi, United States, and died in New York, New York, United States, in the year 1941, and independently by Mr. Bryant McCampbell born in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, and was defined as a natural convention in those card games preceding the game of duplicate contract bridge. Mr. Bryant McCampbell was one of the most successful card players of Auction Bridge and it is maintained that he was most likely the author of the first publication about the game titled Auction Tactics, which was published in the year 1915 by Dodd, Mead and Company in New York, New York, United States. LC: 15025318.

Historical Note: The bridge community employed a double with a different definition, different parameters from the year 1915 until the year 1957, at which time the concept of this specific double became firmly established. This long-term evolution is perhaps the longest development on record of any conventional call in the card game called bridge.

Negative Double

The same principle stands behind the negative double and its effect on the bridge world. It changed forever the way of bidding for every bridge player, who employs this concept. The following examples of auctions and holdings assist in illustrating the usefulness of the negative double.

This auction is fun. No intervening bid. No obstructive or competitive bidding by the opponents. No interruption in the line of communication.

North has opened the auction, East is competing by making an overcall, and South is stuck for a bid. If East had not bid, the bid by South would have been simple: 1 Heart. But now, South discovers that he has no bid.

Note: Reviewing the options of South we find that if South bids 1 No Trump, then South would indicate a stopper in Spades, a 2 Diamonds bid would indicate 5-card support and 5/6-9/10 high card points, a 2 Hearts bid would indicate a 5-card suit and 9/10 plus high card points. The only chance is to show partner any values is by employing the negative double.

Note: In general, an experienced bridge player will consider first the possible bidding options in a competitive auction. By the process of eliminating those bids, which would convey false or inaccurate information to partner, the player will almost always find the most descriptive bid or call.

South has a holding which he can bid with no intervening bid, but once an opponent has overcalled, South has no satisfactory bid. South is lacking either strength and/or length to bid a suit on the two level. This is the main reason why the negative double was developed and presently employed by almost all bridge players, who play 5-Card Major suit openings.

If the opening is a Minor suit and the overcall is a Major suit, then the negative double shows a 4-card suit in the other Major suit. By employing the negative double to show this 4-card suit, the partner will take further action based upon this conveyed information.

Important Note: It is incorrect to assume that the negative double limits the holding to 6-9 high card points.

South also has a hand worth an opening bid, but he can not bid 2 No Trump since he does not have a stopper in Spades. South can not bid 2 Clubs, even though South does have the strength, because he does not have the length. Using the negative double South informs his partner about his 4-card Heart suit, and keeps the bidding alive. In the case that North does not have a 4-card Heart suit, but does have a Spade stopper, then North will bid 2 No Trump to indicate this.

It is very important to remember that the negative double normally shows an unbid 4-card suit. If the responder does have a 5-card suit and also the required strength, then the responder has the obligation to bid this 5-card suit. Through this manner, the partner of the responder will know the true length of the suit and act accordingly.

Although many partnerships limit the use of the negative double to the one-level, there is no law saying that this should apply to every bridge partnership. If this is part of your partnership agreement, then that is how you should play. For those partnerships who wish to use the negative double at higher levels, please review the following example.

South does not have a 5-card suit to bid, although South has the strength. South employs the negative double to indicate the two unbid suits. South is making a very descriptive call. South is denying Spade support. South is showing at least 10 plus high card points. South is showing no 5-card suit.

By employing the negative double, South is providing North the opportunity to make his rebid on the two level. North can bid 2 Spades, if North has a 6-card suit, or 2 No Trump if North has a Heart stopper, or 3 Diamonds since partner is showing at least a 4-card suit in both Minor suits.

Another important factor in deciding whether to use the negative double is the use of an immediate double of an overcall to mean a penalty double. This argument does not hold water. Either the double means a negative double or a penalty double. You cannot have two interpretations of the double. The following example should illustrate this point.

In a situation such as the one above, if South doubles, then North will assume 10 plus high card points and two 4-card suits in Hearts and Clubs, the two unbid suits. This would not be a descriptive bid. If South doubles, intending the double to be a penalty double, then he has broken the partnership agreement, and North will bid 2 Hearts, keeping the auction open.

South would like to penalize the overcall, and therefore, pass is the only alternative open to South. This pass puts the ball into the court of North. If North has minimum strength, and West passes, then North should pass. If North has more strength, then North should reopen the bidding, if West passes.

Appeals Case

Understanding the negative double and employing it as part of a partnership agreement is essential. Otherwise, a misunderstanding can occur as it did during the 42nd Generali Europeans Bridge Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, on June 17th – July 1, 1995.

Facts: West called the Tournament Director after the board had been played, and complained about the explanation he had received about the alerted double.

Result on the board: 7 tricks to E/W; N/S +200.
Ruling of the Tournament Director: Score stands.

Appellant: East/West

The Players: West complained that South had explained the double as negative. To him, a negative double would only show point count values and no distributional values. After the alleged misexplanation, 3 Clubs was, to him, a cuebid asking for support in Clubs. He maintained that if he had known that the double meant at least 4-4 in the Major suits, the meaning of the 3 Clubs bid from his partner would be natural and he would have passed 3 Clubs. South, on the other hand, thought that negative doubles were primarily meant to show distributional values in the other suits, in this case, both Majors.

The committee: The committee was of the opinion that West had been misled by his own interpretation of the concept of negative doubles. The normal worldwide interpretation of a negative double is: When you open the bidding, LHO overcalls and your partner doubles (according to partnership agreement, up to a certain level of overcall), that is a negative double. Normally, there is a partnership agreement as to how many high card points are required. The most wide spread agreement is that at the on-level, only 6 high card points are required, at the two-level at least 8 high card points, and at the three-level, more than that. If you and the overcaller have bid a Minor and a Major, the double shows 4 cards in the other Major. If you and the overcaller have bid the two Majors, the double shows the Minors. If you and the overcaller have bid the two Minors, the double shows the Majors.

Consequently, the committee strongly felt that the description of South, “negative”, was accurate, and in accordance with the universal conception of this term. Being well aware of the fact that negative doubles may have special meanings in some countries, the committee still felt that in a European Championship one should apply the universally accepted meaning. The logical consequence of this is that when such a negative double only shows point count values, and no distributional values, there would be a need for a more specified explanation. In this specific case, West should have known that the general idea of negative doubles in his country did not match the universally accepted concept, and therefore, he could, and should have, asked South about a more specific meaning of the double.

The Decision of the Committee: The committee unanimously upheld the decision of the Tournament Director. The deposit was forfeited.