Polling You #40: Penalty Doubles, Environmental Factors 11-15, Day 6, February 14, 2011

Bridge Penalty Doubles and Environmental Factors 11-15 in Contract Bridge
Watch Your Opponents, Know Thy Partner

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Okay, we’ve covered Environmental Factors number 1-10, with only 5 more to go.  As we’ve mentioned from time to time, Bridge is an ecosystem that lives and breathes with each player’s bid, their play, their gestures and mannerisms – even knowing their style before sitting down to begin shuffling the cards.  When we first begin playing Bridge, we are so focused on ourselves and the basic mechanics of the game we have little hope to be aware of our environment.   Over time, we realize that Bridge is not a solo event;  it pays handsome dividends to both be a good partner and trust that your partner wants to help you, too.

When you stop to think about it, nurturing your partnership is the secret sauce of successful Bridge players.  But then that’s true with personal and business relationships as well, right?   Ah, there’s another secret of Bridge – the things we learn at the Bridge table are transmutable in our daily lives.

Continuing on our paradigm, at some point advancing Bridge players realize that in addition to paying close attention to one’s partner, it pays to keep an eye on the opponents, too.  Or as the Chinese General Sun-tzu eloquently stated,

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

With the above as our backdrop, it’s only right that 3 of the remaining 5 Environmental Factors monitoring on our opponents and we finish up focusing on our golden partner.

11. Analyze opponents bidding.  Pay extra attention to the meaning of opponents bids.  Did one or both of them: pass, preempt, signoff, or make an invitational bid (including a help suit game try)?  Obviously, when opponents make a signoff bid but then continue to bid the contract 2 levels in the face of competition, they seem to be willing to take a sacrifice double.   Ditto when both opponents are passed hand and belatedly bid up to the 3 level. Assuming they are competent bidders, the pair seems to be pressing their good nature and good luck.  But be on the lookout for the occasional shrewd opponent who likes to “Walk the dog!”  Having extra shape and knowing your side will keep the auction alive, the dog-walkers will slowly make what repeatedly appear to be signoff bids.   Watch out for these types who have either a really long suit or partner with a big fit and slowly overcall with apparent signoff bids.  When seemingly “pushed” to the 4 level, these sneaky players might actually make the game – how frustrating.  Then again, when your side signs off and their ploy is foiled, your side gets the last laugh.  Chalk it up to the twists and turns of Bridge – try to enjoy the irony of Bridge bidders.

12. Pushing opponents into game. Perhaps your side has shortness in their major suit, the opponents are tentative competitive bidders, their side is non-vulnerable, or you help them “discover” a double fit (making a help suit game try).  When pushing the contract to 3 Spades or 4 Hearts, be aware that when they believe you’re likely to make your contract, they may push on an outbid you.  And when enough of the above “stars are in the wrong position,” you may have pushed them into a game bid.  If so, are you prepared to punt, i.e., make a Penalty Double?

13. Observing opponents “tells.”  No doubt, the better the players the more observant they are noticing hesitations, hitches, gestures, timing/tempo, body movements and even the manner in which a bid is made.  It would be nice if we could always make a bid in 7 seconds with exactly the same expressionless, robotic movements but after all, Bridge is supposed to be fun, right?  Incidentally, the Laws of Bridge forbid a player from deliberately making a false gesture, mannerism, or the like to deceive an opponent.  “False tells” are a big no-no in our game, so never attempt an antic such as needlessly hesitating when you hold a singleton and it is your turn to play (Law 73.d.2).  Of course you are not required to play the card within one second – just play the card in your average tempo but not a moment longer.

14. Conventions.  Love them or hate them, most Bridge players cannot resist bidding candy, and conventional agreements take the cake.  The Help Suit Game Try can be a useful tool when you have 6 losers in hand.  Support Doubles are useful to discover whether partner has 3 or 4 card support of your major suit.  And Maximal Doubles can be a great tool to use when opponents have bid at the 3 level and their suit it lower ranking than your agreed upon suit.  And that’s just the beginning but let us not get totally sidetracked plunging in the depths of conventions today.

15. Partnership bidding style.  Are you or your partner a frisky bidder?  Or maybe one of you takes the conservative low road, especially to offset partner’s bidding?  In competitive bidding perhaps the mantra should go, “know thyself AND know thy partner!”  Sometimes throwing the “long bomb” (bidding game) wins the game – do you feel lucky?  Especially playing against far better players, some lessor opponents feel the urge to “mix it up.”  In Duplicate Bridge we call this going for a swing board, shooting for either a top or bottom score on the hand.

Special Note: BridgeHands has changed the play of the cards format – here’s the new format:






1. S

♠ 6


♠ J

♠ 5

2. W

♥ 7

♥ 10

♥ 2


So from now on, each player play will be uniformly displayed in the same column (South lead the first trick and is always in column one on the above example).  West won trick one, the Ace is underlined.  So on trick two, the row begins with “W” to show West won the prior trick.  West led the Heart 10, followed by the H2 by North, the HQ by East which won the trick (underlined), to South’s 7 (wrap around to column one), etc.   The advantage of this format is that you can quickly scan down a column to see each card played by a given player and determine the number of tricks a player earned (the number of cards underlined).   We hope you enjoy this new format.

Polling You #40, Board 1a

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

West North East South
1 1 ♠ 2 2 ♠
3 Pass 4 All pass

Trick South West North East
1. S ♠ 6 ♠ A ♠ J ♠ 5
2. W 7 10 2 Q
3. E 6 8 K A
4. E ♣ 3 ♣ 2 ♣ 7 ♣ Q
5. E ♣ 4 ♣ A ♣ 10 ♣ 6
6. W ♣ K ♣ 5 ♠ 3 ♣ J
7. S 4 J K 5
8. N 2 8 6 7
9. W 3 Q ♠ 2 9
10. W J A ♠ 4 10
11. S ♠ 7 ♣ 8 ♠ 9 3
12. E ♠ 8 9 ♠ 10 4
13. W ♠ Q ♣ 9 ♠ K 5

While West has 5 Clubs, with a 1=3=4=5 shape and most honors in Diamonds, thoughtful West’s will open 1 Diamond.  This way if partner bids 1 Spade, opener can rebid 2 Clubs to show 9 cards in the minors with Spade shortness (opening 1C and rebidding 2D shows a reverse, a 17+ HCP hand).  With a very nice 7 card Spade suit and 4 losers outside Spades, North bids 1 Spade.  East has a good 5 card Heart suit and a working 9 HCP hand (Queen-Jack-third in Clubs), responding 2 Hearts is a reasonable bid.  While South has 4 Spades, the hand has poor environmental factors – spread honors (even Jack-third in Hearts) and a pancake 4-3-3-3 shape – no ruffing power.  Additionally, jumping to 3 Spades will likely push opponents to  game.  West has a difficult bid – 4 Hearts is a bit pushy with poor trump (opponents might begin playing top trumps); in direct seat, West invites bidding 3 Hearts.  North should pass, downgrading hand after East bids 2 Hearts which negates the value of North’s Heart King.   Based on West’s 3 Heart freebid, East bids 4 Hearts.

South leads the Spade 6 to West’s stiff Ace, returning a trump Heart to finesse North’s King.  Playing the Heart Ace drops North’s King with everyone following.  Considering the “Rule of 1” and no transportation problem, the declarer plays the Club Queen which South smoothly ducks and North plays low to avoid revealing the Club 10.  Next declarer plays a low Club to dummy’s Ace, only catching North’s 10.   Conceding a Club to South, a Diamond is returned to North’s King.  South will eventually win the Heart Jack, East making the 4 Heart contract.

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Warm Regards,



  1. BridgeHands says:
    Happy Valentines Day Bridge Pollsters,
    Since our blog was not viewable until noontime Pacific time on Monday (we apologize for our technical glitch not initially turning on the blog visibility for our Poll 40 posting), we will allow our pollsters another day to enter their votes. So far the momentum seems to be swinging in the expected direction, yet questions like the one on today’s poll are more subjective and qualitative than offering a definitive quantitative response. So feel free to give it your best shot on our polls – it’s all about comparing your responses with your colleagues than having the classic “story book” response!
    Okay, after day 2 we’ve tallying our results and the leader is:
    65 percent – Nice 5-4 major suit trump fit and 5-3 side suit fit, 2 doubletons with 24 HCP
    20 percent – Nice 5-4 major suit trump fit, one doubleton with 25 HCP
    So as much as we all love a 9 card suit, most agree that having a good double 8 card fit is worth giving up 1 point. This seems reasonable since this combination allows for more working honors, promotable suits, side suit ruffs, etc. And as we saw in some of our hands, the Law of Total Tricks underscores the value of a combined 17 or even 18 card double fit!
    So after all these weeks of “double talk” we will be advancing forward to discuss slam bidding – everyone’s favorite contract! See you at the table…
  2. fjlieb says:

    Can we get example hands for weak two’s?

  3. BridgeHands says:
    Hello fjlieb
    Yes, please view our three part newsletter on preemptive weak two bids here:
    Issue 11 – Preemptive Opening Bids – Part 1
    Issue 12 – Preemptive Opening Bids – Part 2
    Issue 13 – Preemptive Opening Bids – Part 3
    Happy Bridge Trails,

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