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The “Standard BBO Italia” System by Mario Martinelli (5) The Sputnik double

Posted on 17 February 2012

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Mario Martinelli is a Neapolitan excellent player and accredited bridge teacher. He is an expert about systems and he developed the system “Standard BBO Italia”. The last version of it (2012) can be browsed on Vincenzo delle Cave’s BBO Italia website. Mario is also the nephew of Eugenio Chiaradia, the creator of the Neapolitan Club, a system which our magazine is dedicated to. Neapolitan Club will publish a summary of the system developed by Martinelli both in Italian and in English. In todays’ article we publish the third part of chapter about “The Sputnik double”.


The Sputnik double

Third part



Double of preemptive overcalls

If we look at partnerships’ convention cards in international tournaments, we find some differences in the level up to which doubles are considered to be negative. Most players play negative double up to the 4 level (4, 4, or 4S), but some play them up to 5 or 7, which is equivalent to having no limit. How is it possible that such a high level double is negative? After a preemptive bid, the word “Sputnik” or “negative” highlights that the double is not for penalties. Responder’s double, that is, does not promise defensive tricks in opponent’s suit and opener can take it out any time he thinks it is best to play a contract at a high level. This is because it is much more likely that responder has a good hand due to its points (10+) and controls, but no strength in opponent’s suit, rather than a hand suitable for a penalty double, based on trump tricks. It would not be a good idea to consider these doubles for penalties, because this would leave the more frequent constructive hands without a good bid.

Given this, it is reasonable to assign a high limit to the negative double (in the Standard BBO Italia 2012 it is 5), or to leave it limitless. It is clear that the probability of opener passing for penalties are directly proportional to the level of the preempt, and within the same level, to the rank of opponent’s suit. Opener will rarely pass a double against three of a minor, without a trump trick and a suitable hand, but at the level of four of a major, pass may be the only option without attractive alternatives, even without trump tricks.

As we said, the negative double shows the unbid majors, but it is unrealistic to expect that this requirement be met regardless of the level and rank of the overcall. After a 3 overcall, and even more after a 3 or 3♠ overcall, responder needs the negative double to show a hand too good to pass (from 10 points up), but without the other major. An important element to take into account is that 3-level preempts do not remove a 3NT contract, so responder, without a stopper in opponent’s suit, is not happy to bid a minor suit at the four level, before knowing that opener has no stop either. One should then remember that in these sequences the double does not necessarily show length in the majors as lower level doubles do. In his “Negative doubles” Marty Bergen gives a specific names to doubles after 3, 3, and 3♠ overcalls, i.e. “Thrump Double”, short for Three No Trump Double. According to Bergen, doubles of these preempts do not promise or deny four-card majors, but rather ask opener to bid 3NT with a stopper in opponent’s suit.

When the preemptive overcall is at a higher level, there is no reason to worry about 3NT, but if the double had to necessarily show the unbid major, too many good hands could not be bid. Opener has to take this into account when he decides whether and how to take it out.


Double when partner opened 1NT

South West North

1NT 2 Double

South West North

1NT 3 Double

Is double negative when partner opened 1NT? The modern professional style takes it to be informative (“negative”) after two-level overcalls or higher. In these cases the most popular limit for a negative double is 4, but also 4 and 4♠ are reasonable choices, made by many pairs. There is a problem though: the traditional method, often taken to be standard by many players, has it that double is for penalties after two-level overcalls.

It is thus clear that this may lead to annoying misunderstandings if players have not previously discussed the topic. In American systems (Sayc or 2/1) it is more likely that double should be penalties, but this is just an approximative guideline. The suggestion is the following: always talk about it with your partner.

In Standard BBO Italia double is negative (up to 4), which reveals the preference of the author. We particularly recommend an extensive use of the negative double and the Rubensohl convention, as described in “Optional conventions” section.


Double when partner opened 2NT

If opponents overcall after a 2NT opening, responder’s double is preferably negative. It does not harm, also for memory reasons, to give this double the same limit as the previous one (which is 4 in the Standard BBO Italia 2012).



The Standard BBO Italia System by Mario Martinelli. English edition by Laura Cecilia Porro for Neapolitan Club.

February 17, 2012


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