Poll #35, Penalty Doubles in Contract Bridge – Part 3, February 2, 2011

Penalty Double – Business Doubles in Contract Bridge


Penalty Doubles: Extinct? No, nothing personal, it’s just business!

Click here to view Part 1 of the video commentary 

BridgeHands members – after logging in, please scroll down to view text and video…


Over the last two weeks we’ve had a handful of lessons on Takeout Doubles and Negative Doubles, and that’s hardly the tip of the proverbial iceberg on conventional doubles.   After a while, it kind of makes one wonder – is there such a thing as a Penalty Double anymore?  Oh yeah, you bet there is! 

So is there a safe way to know when a double is for penalty or if instead it’s some kind of conventional call?  Well, sorta’ yes, sorta’ no.  Or as humorist Kin Hubbard eloquently said, “The safe way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it back in your pocket!”

Generally, it’s safe to say that when the opponents cannot find a fit, then the likelihood of your side somehow finding a fit goes down in the same proportion.  And left alone to do their own bidding in a misfit situation, the opponents will either opt for a notrump contract or one of the opponents will “outbid” their partner.  In circumstances like these, we prefer not to get in the middle of their bidding disagreement but if we do come in with a Double, the most logical interpretation is that the call is for penalty.   Example:

1C – (1H) – P – (1S);
2C – (2H) – X – (2S);

On the above auction, North should not rebid 2 Hearts with a poor 6 card suit, particularly in a freebid seat (partner can still rebid).  Without a partnership fit and great tenaces behind North, the patient East bidder makes a Penalty Double.

Board 4
West Deals
Both Vul
♠ 9
K 9 7 5 4 2
Q 10 5
♣ Q 3 2
♠ A Q 8 5
A J 2
♣ A J 9 8 7
♠ 10 2
A Q J 6 3
8 7 6 4 3
♣ 10
♠ K J 7 6 4 3
K 9
♣ K 6 5 4

West North East South
1 ♣ 1 Pass 1 ♠
2 ♣ 2 Dbl 2 ♠
Dbl Pass Pass Pass

Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th
1. W ♣ A 2 T 6
2. W 10 2 J 8
3. E 3 9 A 5
4. W ♣ J Q ♠ 2 4
5. E 3 ♣ 5 ♠ 5 4
6. W ♣ 9 3 ♠ 10 K
7. E 6 ♠ 7 ♠ 8 5
8. W 2 T 4 K
9. S ♠ 3 Q 9 6
10. W ♠ A 7 7 4
11. W ♣ 8 9 8 ♠ 6
12. S ♠ K J Q Q
13. S ♠ J ♣ 7 K A


BridgeHands Free, Premium and ULTRA Members – please signin to view our Protected Content.
Please login or register to view this content.
Please login or register to view this content.

Please login or register to view this content.

We have only scratched the surface on Penalty Doubles.  And we have yet to cover the “mother” of all Penalty Doubles, the Balance of Power Double.   On the other hand, we certainly will want to expore partner’s Balancing seat Doubles, pondering whether the call might be for takeout or penalty.

In future articles, we will cover many more hands and associated guidelines associated with the occasionally nebulous, sometimes mysterious, but never uneventful action associated with most versatile call in our game of Bridge.



For our BridgeHands friends with Membership Subscription programs, please go to our Bridge Blog and sign in to access our advanced tricks, traps and techniques in our Protected Content  area with more animated card play.  Additionally, you are welcome to download a copy of our lesson documentation (Creative Commons: AT-ND-NC)

Thank you for attending our online Bridge virtual training class.  We appreciate your support and look forward to supporting your Bridge instructional needs.

Happy Double Trouble,





  1. BridgeHands says:
    Well Bridge pollsters, it looks like the “jury is out” when it comes to getting a quorum regarding which of our Doubles is for takeout or penalty. After the first day of polling, here’s the votes:
    35 percent:
    1D – (1H) – 2D – (2H);
    20 percent
    (1N) – X
    18 percent
    1D – (P) – 2C – (2H); X
    14 percent
    1H – (1N) – X
    14 percent
    1H – (X) – XX – 2D;
    The popular vote goes to the “OBAR” bidding scenario – Opponents Bid And Raise (in the same suit) at a low-level contract. This is a very common agreement by competitive Bridge players – when the opponents have a trump fit at the 2 level, a double of their bid is “takeout,” more specifically a Responsive Double in auctions as is shown here:
    In second place was doubling RHO’s 1 Notrump opener. If the opponents are playing low-level opening Notrump bids (10-12, 11-14, etc), then doubling for takeout against weak Notrumps does have the advantage of potentially allowing the doubling overcaller to compete. However, this approach is not without risks since the doubler’s LHO might also have a opening hand. Especially when vulnerable, the opponents could enjoy a belated PENALTY DOUBLE in this situation. And for the same reason, when the Notrump opener begins with 15-17 or 16-18 points and a balanced hand, doubling opponents strong Notrump bid is typically not for takeout. Playing for penalty, the doubler does not hold an “equal hand” of 15-17 points. Instead, the doubler might hold a shapely 6 Losing Trick Count hand as:
    S: xxx H: KQx D: AKQxxx C: xx
    Of course, some seasoned players use conventional agreements to instead use the double after opener’s Notrump to show a special hand shape. For instance, Marty Bergen’s DONT (Disturbing Openers NoTrump) is a popular convention. They use a Double after opponents Notrump to show a one-suited hand:
    The last bidding scenario we will cover today is:
    1D – (P) – 2C – (2H);
    For many, this is a bread-and-butter, classic Penalty Double. That is, when your side has more than 23 HCP and RHO enters the auction it’s wise to reserve the meaning for penalty and not takeout (since opener is already forced to rebid when responder shows 10+ points.
    We will cover these and more Penalty Double bidding scenario is the coming weeks.
    Happy Trails, Michael

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.