NEGATIVE DOUBLE

Many bridge players base their bidding on the 5-Card American Standard System. Using this bidding system, certain requirements are a prerequisite to making a bid. 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 love to bid, opponents love to disturb the auction, and opponents love cutting off your line of communication.

For this reason Mr. Alvin Roth and Mr. Tobias Stone, developed the Roth-Stone system, which included the Negative Double. The original designation was Sputnik, named for the Russian satellite launched by the Soviet Union October 4, 1957. The official designation for the satellite is Sputnik I. This first artificial 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.

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. We hope that we have done it justice with our description.

Example One
Dealer: North
Vulnerable: North-South

North

East

South

West

1

pass

1

pass

This auction is fun.
No intervening bid.
No obstruction.
No interruption in your line of communication.

Example Two
Dealer: North
Vulnerable: North-South

North

East

South

West

KJ9
AQ75
Q832
Q5
AQ1087
862
AK9
87
54
KJ104
7654
A63

1

1

North has opened the auction, East is being a pest by making an overcall, and you are stuck. If East had not bid, your bid would have been simple: 1 Heart. But now, you discover that you have no bid: 1 No Trump would indicate a Stopper in Spades, 2 Diamonds would indicate 5-card support and 9/10 high card points, 2 Hearts would indicate a 5-card suit and 9/10 high card points. Your only chance is to show your partner that you have some strength by using the Negative Double.

South has a hand 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. That is why the Negative Double was created and is used now by almost all bridge players.

If the opening is a Minor suit and the overcall is a Major suit, then the Negative Double means a 4-card suit in the other Major suit. By using the Negative Double to show this 4-card suit, your partner will take further action.

It is wrong to believe that the Negative Double also limits your hand to 6-9 high card points.

Take a look at the following hand.

North

East

South

West

KJ9
AQ75
Q832
Q5
AQ1087
862
AK9
87
54
KJ104
J107
AK96

1

1

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 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 length 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.

Example Three
Dealer: North
Vulnerable: North-South

North

East

South

West

AQ1087
J7
K832
K8
K65
KQ1094
A74
54
J9
862
QJ96
AQ109

1

2

South does not have a 5-card suit to bid, although South has the strength. South uses 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 giving 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 can not have two interpretations of the double. The following example should illustrate this point.

Example Four
Dealer: North
Vulnerable: East-West

North

East

South

West

AQ1087
KJ97
32
K8
652
AQ6
AQ875
J5
J9
852
KJ1096
AQ10

1

2

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.

We hope that the concept of the Negative Double is clear. We hope that the Negative Doubler stays within the required boundaries of length, strength and distribution. The examples should provide the guidelines for a working basis, but we know that the subject has not been exhausted here. If you decide to employ the Negative Double, then we urge that you make it part of your partnership agreement.

Understanding the Negative Double and employing it as part of your 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.

Appeal # 3
Open Teams Round 5
Reported by Tommy Sandsmark
Appeals Committee: Steen Moeller, Denmark (Chairman), Ron Andersen, USA, Barry Rigal, Great Britain and Tommy Sandsmark, Norway.

Board: 13
Game: All
Dealer: North

J1072
QJ1052
K83
2
K9
K93
AQ762
Q74
8653
A4
109
KJ963
AQ4
876
J54
A1085

North

East

South

West

Pass

Pass

1

1

Double*

1 NT

Pass

2 NT

Pass

3

Pass

3 NT

Pass

Pass

Pass

 

(*) alerted at both sides of the screen, and explained:
From North to East: Both Majors.
From South to West: Negative Double.

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 one 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.