A new treatment of Take-Out double (by P.E. Garrisi)

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 This work deals with the Take-Out double of West on South 1’s opening. In the first part (I-III) there is a depiction of West’s hand: the yesterday’s feature is compared with the modern one. In the second part (IV-VII) are studied East’s responses. In the third one a new treatment will be showed. The translation from Italian is by Mrs. Carol Sims Prunali.

 I. Origins: Bryant McCampbell. The double by West over the opening bid by South is the very first bidding convention: it was created in Saint Louis in 1913, still in the era of Auction Bridge, the ancestor of Contract Bridge. The author was Bryant McCampbell; he published it in his major book “Auction Tactics” [1915 Dodd-Mead]. The New Yorker Charles Lee Patton has been also credited for the invention but, if he did, he didn’t publish it.

The Auction Bridge is the third step in the evolution from Whist toward Contract: Whist, Bridge Whist, Auction Bridge, Contract Bridge. It differed from Contract mainly because the declarer wasn’t bound to be at the game contract level to be rewarded by game or slam bonuses: results such as 1+3 or 2NT+4 were worth the same as 4 or 6NT. Auction Bridge is thought to have originated in India in 1902.

 A punitive double in direct seat is today unconceivable, but in the early years of Auction Bridge, since 1902 to 1912, it was normal because the dealer’s side was compelled to bid something. South could pass, but if he did, North had to bid. It often happened, then, that the player over the opener were stronger and with the same suit, then the double for business. A way to overlook the punishment was the opening in club or spade, the “low cost” suits. In facts, the value of suits was “permanent”, scoring the same as in the trick as in the undertrick, and spades were the lower rank one, as in poker. For example, pick up these cards:

AJ1085 J63 ♣762 ♠54 look up the scoring table below and let’s see how it could work out. (30 points were needed for game.)  



You must open, but you do not open 1: each doubled undertrick in hearts costs 16 points; the opening must be 1♠, the lower cost suit (at the time). Should you be doubled at 1♠, and make even only one trick, the cost will be 24: much less than what the opponents could gather playing 1NT or 2 and making game or slam. A reform took place between 1910 and 1912: spades became the major suit and the obligation to open no longer existed. In this new context the take out double was born, no longer to punish but to differentiate West’s hand and integrate with the other two alternatives: an overcall in a suit or 1NT. After a level one opening, the scheme became the following:

…1NT: 16+ points with a stopper in the opener’s suit

…A suit: unbalanced hand without a stopper

…Double: a good hand, balanced or semi-balanced, without a stopper.

Therefore in Contract Bridge, which would become the preferred game within fifteen years, the double was never for punishment.

 Bryant McCampbell is a figure of primary importance and also the author of the 4321 count for honors, the so-called “point count”. He introduced it in 1915 taking it from a game that was popular in the 1800’s, the “pitch”. In 1925 Milton Cooper Work republished the point count making it popular and receiving unmerited attribution.

 II. Natural or conventional? The fact that the take-out double has always existed has caused a misunderstanding: to consider it as a natural bid. It’s undoubtedly a convention, and even a complex one: it is a bid of “exclusion”, in that it denies what it states. The development of an exclusion bid normally requires to be planned; instead, since it is considered a natural bid, natural developments are applied to it. But William S. Root and Richard Pavlicek warn:

“The take-out double has been around for so long that one is sceptical about including it in a book on bridge conventions. Nevertheless there is so much more to its use than most players realize that we feel extensive coverage is most appropriate.” [Modern Bridge Conventions, 1981 Robert Hale, page 111.]

 III. The West’s hand today

STRENGTH: The maximum is unlimited. The minimum depends on the opening suit and the situation of vulnerability: interfering when vulnerable is more risky, and also the higher the rank of the opening suit, the higher the probability that the partner is obliged to bid at level two or that later development is forced too high. Minimum hands are 9-10 after a 1♣ or 1 opening when not vulnerable (the doubler is not vulnerable), and 13-14 after a 1♠ opening when vulnerable. Michael Lawrence establishes 11 points as always sufficient in a three-suited hand with a singleton in the opening suit: the perfect hand, he calls it. After South opens 1, Lawrence gives the double, being vulnerable, with the following:

♠A1094 6 K982 ♣K1094 [The complete book on take-out doubles – pag. 5 – 1994 Magnus Books].

DISTRIBUTION: The double must “protect” the other suits, that is, promises at least a three card fit. A doubleton in the minor suit, but at least Kx, is permitted with a 16-18 hand not suitable to a 1NT overcall because of lack of stoppers. The obligation of protection ceases with a good hand of 18 or more points, and with 15-17 one-suited hands with a strong suit.

In the rigid natural system of the English Richard Lederer – middle thirties – the double needed the opening strength, with any shape.

Many demand that if the opening is in a major, the double must always guarantee 4 cards in the other major, even at the cost of having one or two cards in a minor; this is admissible, Root and Pavlicek also suggest this, but suggest also hoping that the short minor is not named.

Lawrence does not believe it essential to have 4 cards in the majors; in addition, in particular 4432 hands of 14-15 points he permits the double with insufficient coverage of the minor.

An important rule, underlined also by Lawrence, is that when West doubles he normally denies a 5 card major suit which could be bid at one level. Charles Goren permits the double after opening in a minor with 5-4 spades/hearts; he holds that overcalling 1♠ could be missed the 4-4 fit in hearts [“The Precision System of Bidding” – 1971 Robert Hale]. Even K-S (Kaplan-Sheinwold, 1958) admit the double with a five card major.

Finally here are the minimum hands from the Official Encyclopedia after 1♠ with unfavourable vulnerability

♠xAQxx KJxx ♣Kxxx

♠xx AJxx KQxx ♣KJx

♠xxx AQxxAJx ♣KJx

The above hands are from the 1994 fifth edition. In the sixth one (2001), they report the BWS (Bridge World Standard) consensus for the minimum after 1♣:

♠Axxx AxxxQxxx ♣x

 IV. The Advancer’s response. Usage. In accordance with usual methods, East replies as follows [from “Take-out or informatory double” – 1980 by Bill August, an American champion]:

– Reply in a suit without a jump: 0-8 points. The suit may be only 3 cards.

– 1NT: 7-9 points and stopper in the opener’s suit

– Jump bid in a suit: 9-11 points, the suit may be 4 cards, not forcing.

– 2NT: 11-12 points and double stopper in the opener’s suit

– Double jump: weak, pre-emptive.

– Cue-bid: only forcing reply, 12 points or more.

 The Encyclopedia, Root & Pavlicek, Mike Lawrence, and Amalya Kearse’s Bridge Conventions [1990 Devyn Press] suggest only little variations. The cue bid is permitted also with only 10 points, but after opening in a minor, and holding both majors.

 V. Focusing on East’s weak response. In the used developments the minimum reply has then an extensive range. West would like to know if his partner has 0-6 or 7-9, and the information is denied him. He has a problem: after the double, North can wait in ambush and pass even with a good hand; he is not obliged to redouble, since the bid will return to him. West, then, has no way to perceive a danger: that of entering into competition between strong opponents and in misfit. If East does not reassure him, showing something, he is blocked: with less than a very strong hand, he is obliged to pass after East’s minimum reply, losing the contest.

A partial solution is the “Herbert Negative” convention, known in Italy as “negative step”. If East has 0-6 points he bids the suit immediately higher in rank than the opening suit; if the opening was 1 the “step” is 1♠. This convention was introduced in 1935 by Walter Herbert, world champion in 1937 with Austria. In the following edition of the System in 1947, it was removed because:

“…If the first round is wasted by the responder’s merely announcing that his hand count less than 6, the bidding may well have got too high when it comes out to the responder again, for him to tell his partner about any distributional strength…” [Paul Stern et al: “The Vienna System of Contract Bridge”, 1947 Contract Bridge Equipment Limited].

The Austrian convention safeguarded the 1NT reply: when the double was on 1♠, the negative reply was conventionally 2♣ (as in Acol). In the Lederer system the negative reply was always 1NT. Lederer died in 1941 during the war, when he was 46. According to the bridge theorist Hubert Phillips who wrote about it in 1947, he had abandoned this treatment but did not have time to publish a new edition.

 Eugenio Chiaradia takes up the Herbert Negative again but sweetens it with a binder; it is usable only if the suit to bid has at least three cards. Chiaradia’s step reply is a modest improvement; the suit to bid may be the four card suit in a 7-8 point hand, a problem also for the Herbert, or else the hand is weak but the step has 0-2 cards, not biddable.

 VI. Showing and asking for stopper in opener’s suit. In McCampbell’s original, East replied 1NT with a stopper in the opening suit; if there is no stopper the reply was in the longest suit. It wasn’t necessary for East to demonstrate his strength because, remember, we are still talking about Auction Bridge: the game bonus was granted on reaching the number of tricks bid, even if game was not declared.

When Auction Bridge evolved into Contract Bridge, in which the bonus for game or slam depended on its having been bid, the need to differentiate East’s strength arose, and for this purpose some used the 1NT reply to show a hand over the minimum, even without the stopper and with 4 cards in a major. The idea was to confirm the stopper, if it was held, with a later rebid in NT.

The idea was good but only in theory: in practice evidently something didn’t work and the idea was abandoned. In 1968 Charles Goren mentioned it as an archaism:

“Certain players of the old school treated the 1NT reply to the double as a special bid that announced a certain strength in honours, but did not promise stoppers in the opponents’ suit. No expert player nowadays follows this criterion.” [“Goren on Bridge”, Rizzoli Italian edition]

 We on the contrary hold that the 1NT reply as indication only of strength can be utilized, just we need some instruments which weren’t available in the 30’s and which, when introduced into modern bridge, weren’t applied to this case. We all know the “western cue bid” and “directional asking bid” conventions, even if we call them by other names: bidding the opening suit, they ask or show the stopper.

 The western cue bid, so-called because it originated in the bridge clubs on the West Coast of the US (but it was also used in England) asks for stopper in the opening suit. The directional asking bid asks for a part-stopper such as Qx, Jxx or 10xxx. Let’s give an example of how it might work.

South opens 1, West doubles, North passes; East says 1NT, from 7 to 9 points with or without stopper. South passes. Now West may bid: 2 western cue bid, asking for the stopper; or 2NT directional asking bid, showing a part-stopper.

 VII. How the expectancies on West’s shape affect the East’s NT responses. If West was able to double, in the best hypothesis he may have only an arrest as Ax or Kx. If he has the three cards that need for lower honour arrest (QJx; J10xx), or for a part-stopper, or for an avoiding guard as Axx, AJx, KQx (for these definitions:  The No Trump dictionary. A linguistic problem), his hand must be a 4333. With this shape and without waste points in the opening suit, he would need at least 14 points to double (that is, the third hand in the Official Encyclopedia example, see §III). With a stopper he should pass with up to 15 points, bid 1NT with 16-18 and double with 19 or more. Therefore if West doubles instead of bidding 1NT, the possibility that the pair will play a NT contract and that the stopper is in West’s hand rather than East’s, is extremely improbable. That’s why West don’t have to worry about not knowing whether East has the stopper when he replies 1NT: either East has it and therefore he is the declarer in a NT game, or else neither has it and therefore the contract will not be 3NT, or else the stopper is a divided arrest composed of two part-stoppers. Or finally, the bidding will stop at 1NT or 2NT since West has no interest in continuing. Given the above, there are two corollaries. First: West must never bid NT unless as a reply to East’s interrogation. Second: When East interrogates about the stopper, his is always a directional asking bid, that is a request for a part-stopper; he must presume that West never has the guard but only an arrest or part-stopper.

 VIII. The main principle of the Garrisi Treatment. The 1NT reply shows a balanced hand of 7-9 points; it does not exclude a 4 card major nor guarantee a stopper in the opening suit, which will possibly be ascertained by western cue bid or directional asking bid combined with Stayman.

 IX. General: Opening 1x, Double, Pass: East’s reply

– Suit without jump: 0-6 points, the suit may be 3 cards

– Suit with jump: 7-11. At least five cards

– 1NT: 7-9 points, balanced hand, not excluding a 4 card suit which could be bid at level one, does not guarantee stopper. Excludes a 5 card major, could have a 5 card minor.

– 2NT: 10-11 balanced, does not guarantee stopper and excludes a 5 card major.

– Cue bid: 10-12 points, depending on the opening suit (as usual)

– Double jump: pre-emptive (as usual)

 X. East’s NT responses: opening 1♠ (1♠, Double, Pass, 1NT or 2NT)

1NT. West interrogates with 2♣ to learn about hearts and stopper. East replies:

2: no stopper and no hearts

2: no hearts, has part-stopper

2♠: has hearts, with or without stopper

2NT: has stopper without hearts

East replies 2NT. In this case, only after 1♠ opening, the stopper is guaranteed. With 10-11 points East could give the cue bid, therefore 2NT has the usual meaning. West interrogates with 3♣, East replies: 3: has no hearts; 3: has it.

 XI. East’s NT responses: opening 1 (1, Double, Pass: 1NT or 2NT)

1NT: West interrogates with 2♣ to learn about spades and stopper. East replies:

2: no stopper and no spades

2: no spades, has part-stopper

2♠: has spades, with or without stopper

2NT: has stopper without spades


2NT: West asks with 3♣. East replies:

3: no stopper and no spades

3: no spades, has part-stopper

3♠: has spades, with or without stopper

3NT: has stopper without spades

 The system always follows the same outline: the first step denies the major and stopper, the second denies the major and shows part-stopper, the third shows the major, the fourth shows the stopper and denies the major.

 XII. East’s NT responses: minor opening (1♣/1, Double, Pass: 1NT or 2NT). If West has both majors, after 1NT he does not interrogate but bids directly 2♠. East replies:

– 3 in the opening minor: denies majors and stopper. West possibly rebids 3 or 4 expecting to play in a 4-3 fit.

– 3 in the other minor: 5 card suit, therefore the stopper is guaranteed. In the lack of stopper, the reply with the five card suit would have been a jump, not 1NT

– 2NT: stopper without majors

– 3/3♠: four card fit in the suit bid.

 With only one four card suit, West follows the usual system, after 1NT interrogating with 2♣, to which East replies:

2: no four card major, no stopper

2: has four hearts, excludes four spades, no stopper

2♠: has four spades, excludes four hearts, no stopper

2NT: has stopper with or without four card suit. West may bid his own four card suit and East decides.

 The reply 2NT (1♣/1, Double, Pass: 2NT)

After the 2NT reply and after interrogation on the major suits has been negative, West assumes assume that East has always at least a part-stopper in the opening suit. West interrogates with 3♣ even with both majors, and East replies:

3: no four card major, no stopper (but we suppose there is a part-stopper)

3: four hearts, excludes four spades, no stopper

3♠: four spades, excludes four hearts, no stopper

3NT: stopper with or without four card major

 XIII. Last but no least. With his takeout double, Bryant McCampbell first sowed the modern thought: the double as bidding tool. Nevertheless, the most famous praise of punitive double is his, and we love to end quoting it: “If your doubles are never beaten, then you are not doubling often enough”.


by Paolo Enrico Garrisi

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