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Use of Support Doubles in a Weak No Trump System

#1 User is offline   Tramticket 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 04:00

In a thread in the N&B forum I critisised the use of Support Doubles in a Weak No trump system and said that support doubles were invented to fill a weakness in standard Strong No Trump / Five-card Major systems. This prompted this rebuke from MikeH:

 mikeh, on 2018-August-02, 09:34, said:

No they weren't.

They were invented by Rodwell to fill a weakness in which his then-partner occasionally responded in a 3 card major.


Fair enough. MikeH is a far more experienced player than I am, but I suspect that he has less experience of playing Weak No Trump systems. I stumbled across my copy of an Eric Rodwell article on Support Doubles and this prompted me into putting together a more detailed response. On one level MikeH is correct - here is a direct quote from Rodwell in the article:

Quote

I invented this convention originally to avoid playing in a 3-3 major suit fit. [...] I thought it clever to bid 1 or 1 on a three-card suit, My partner, Mr Bloom, thought it right to raise on three-card support.


But let's examine this more closely. Rodwell doesn't give any hands for these 3-3 "fits", but I think that it is a safe guess that these three-card suits were in balanced hands and that opener held a Weak No Trump hand type. The first hand that Rodwell quotes is (i):



Rodwell argues that, holding two-card heart support, South should pass and try for a plus on defence. He contrasts this hand with (ii) A874 Q92 AK87 93 where a double would show three-card heart support and (iii) A87 Q952 AK87 93 where you raise to show four-card support. This is all very neat, allowing accurate part-score competition, based on the level of fit with three bids (Pass, Double, 2) describing the heart length and allowing partner to judge how high to compete in line with the Law of Total Tricks. These are bread and butter auctions in a Strong No Trump system and Support Doubles are recommended (even at the expense of using two, otherwise useful, bids - Pass and Double). Without support doubles, you will face a difficult problem with three-card support and not knowing whether an eight-card fit exists.

But note that all three of Rodwell's example hands fall within the Weak No Trump range. This is not a surprise and the fact that this is a high frequency auction type was understood by Rodwell who later in the article describes a 12-14 balanced hand as a "normal hand". I still contend that an implied assumption when developing the system was a Strong No Trump context, where judging competition on these part-score normal hands was key.

Now consider the situation if playing a Weak No Trump system. These normal balanced hands are opened 1NT, so if opener is balanced the hand will be 15+ HCPs. Let's add a king to Rodwell's first hand to see the effect of opening 1m in the Strong No Trump range (iv) A874 92 AK87 KQ9. This doesn't prove to be a problem with ace-to-four in opponents suit, you simply rebid 1NT as originally intended when you made the opening bid, completing the picture of your hand. Partner can use whatever version of check-back you are using to inquire further. The problem is if you hold no stop, or an inadequate stop in the opponent's suit - say (v):



Things have subtly changed when you compare to Rodwell's 12-14 strength hands:
- This is a lower frequency auction*, both because a balanced 15-17 occurs less often than a balanced 12-14, but also because the opponents have fewer values to barge into our auction (particularly if they have to do it at the two level) and fewer values to raise when they do interfere.
- We have at least our fair share of the points.
- With additional values we now need to factor in the possibility of game our way. (When we opened with a balanced 12-14 we didn't need to consider game, since it was only likely if partner held opening values, in which case partner could take control).
- We also need to keep alive the possibility of extracting a penalty if opponents have an inadequate overcall.
- Most importantly, we can't afford to make a non-forcing pass to show our doubleton support. It would be unfortunate to defend 1 with game available our way.
- With no other bid available, we really need to use Double to show this hand type.

This is the key to my belief that Support Doubles are a bad option to combine with a Weak No Trump system. You need to double on Strong No Trump type hands - whether or not you hold three-card support for partner.

I am not saying that you can't find hands where a Support Double might have been useful in a Weak No Trump system. Rodwell gives an example hand that clearly works whichever No-trump you play (vi): AQ9 654 AK10765 3 on the auction: 1, (1, 1, (2), Double. But I suggest that on grounds of frequency and utility it is better to play a double to show a Strong No Trump hand with an inadequate stop. It is usually possible to find an alternative bid on these unbalanced hand types. In this example you have three possibilities: bid 2, notwithstanding the three-card support; bid 3, showing the good quality six-card suit or Double treating this nice hand as worth 15+.

Doubling with a Strong No Trump type hand defines our hand type and strength in a single bid and allows partner to judge the future auction including game (or even slam!) possibilities or judging to pass for penalties. Passing conveys the meaning that opener has a limited unbalanced hand (or maybe length and strength in the opponent’s suit). Both of these calls are helpful in allowing partner to judge the auction and would be unavailable if harnessed to the Support Double cause.


* If playing the style of four-card majors where you open a major before a minor this is an impossible auction!
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#2 User is offline   Stephen Tu 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 06:02

Quote

- Most importantly, we can't afford to make a non-forcing pass to show our doubleton support. It would be unfortunate to defend 1♠ with game available our way.
- With no other bid available, we really need to use Double to show this hand type.

Basically I think these are overstatements. One can pass. Partner is aware we are playing a weak nt system and know you either have 15-17 bal or unbalanced with length in the opponent's suit, and plan his balancing strategy accordingly, not always choosing the same actions he would playing a strong nt system. Pass will be the strong balanced hand most of the time, he can double with game ambitions opposite that, compete in some suit, defend only with his weakest hands.

Unbalanced hands will often want to bid again, unless holding a trap pass with length in the opp's suit, which can also pass and await a re-opening double.


Perhaps you could provide some examples where you feel the strong NT double allows responder to do something clever that would be impossible if opener passes?
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#3 User is offline   Tramticket 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 06:43

 Stephen Tu, on 2018-August-17, 06:02, said:

Basically I think these are overstatements. One can pass. Partner is aware we are playing a weak nt system and know you either have 15-17 bal or unbalanced with length in the opponent's suit, and plan his balancing strategy accordingly, not always choosing the same actions he would playing a strong nt system. Pass will be the strong balanced hand most of the time, he can double with game ambitions opposite that, compete in some suit, defend only with his weakest hands.

Unbalanced hands will often want to bid again, unless holding a trap pass with length in the opp's suit, which can also pass and await a re-opening double.


Perhaps you could provide some examples where you feel the strong NT double allows responder to do something clever that would be impossible if opener passes?


I have not come across anyone who uses pass to show the Strong balanced hand type, but I can understand the idea. It does mean that you have to find a bid on unbalanced hands where the suit order makes a rebid awkward.

But it still doesn't give you back the Support Double, because Support Doubles conscript TWO calls: Double to show three-card support and Pass to deny three-card support. You can't use Pass to show a Strong No Trump hand type and use it to deny three-card support.
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#4 User is offline   Stephen Tu 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 07:56

The people using support doubles aren't using pass PROMISES strong NT. They are using pass INCLUDES strong NT without 3 cd support. So it's double = 3 cd support (or 18+), pass = deny 3 cd support (strong NT with 2 cds in partner's major OR unbalanced hand that doesn't have a suitable rebid).

These people include people like Kokish and Woolsey, so I can't really believe this style is unplayable.

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#5 User is offline   Tramticket 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 08:09

 Stephen Tu, on 2018-August-17, 07:56, said:

The people using support doubles aren't using pass PROMISES strong NT. They are using pass INCLUDES strong NT without 3 cd support. So it's double = 3 cd support (or 18+), pass = deny 3 cd support (strong NT with 2 cds in partner's major OR unbalanced hand that doesn't have a suitable rebid).

These people include people like Kokish and Woolsey, so I can't really believe this style is unplayable.


You are now using Pass to cover a wide range of hands. How is partner to judge whether to push to game or try for penalties by passing the double?
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#6 User is offline   The_Badger 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 08:33

Support doubles are here to stay: us Acolites better get used to them. Personally I think they are a great convention. Fills a useful gap in low-level bidding.
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#7 User is offline   Stephen Tu 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 11:08

 Tramticket, on 2018-August-17, 08:09, said:

You are now using Pass to cover a wide range of hands. How is partner to judge whether to push to game or try for penalties by passing the double?


I'm not quite understanding this question. Perhaps you could clarify by giving some example hands and auctions.
There's no "try for penalties by passing the double" because opener passed, he didn't double. So it's hard to double them for penalties if responder has a stack and opener also has length. But this is going to be rare. You do get some penalties by passing support doubles with good trump holdings, and by opener with a stack passing then letting RESPONDER double.
As for the other hands, well, with inv hands responder will do something invitational and opener with strong bal hand will accept the game try, perhaps cue bidding to show lack of stopper. And opener with the weaker distributional hand will decline, perhaps showing the extra shape that they were not able to earlier. With < inv hands opposite a strong NT responder will do something NF like pass, rebid their own suit, support opener's minor, etc.

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#8 User is offline   steve2005 

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Posted 2018-August-17, 19:40

The green card is highly under-rated. :huh:
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#9 User is offline   helene_t 

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Posted 2018-August-18, 01:45

 steve2005, on 2018-August-17, 19:40, said:

The green card is highly under-rated. :huh:

Yeah. I am OK passing with a balanced 15-16 when opps interfere at the 2-level. So I don't need double for those hands.

OTOH, holding
Axxx
Kx
x
AQxxxx
and it goes
1-(p)-1-(2)
I would like to double to show my 4 spades and hearts tolerance. Playing weak NT there's the bonus of the double showing long clubs OR 15+ points, although arguably strong notrumpers shouldn't double with a 4234 minimum. So I am not a big fan of support double in this auction, regardless of notrump range.

Support doubles is a luxury: if you don't play them you can always raise with 3-card support. So I prefer only to play them if I don't need the double for anything else.
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#10 User is offline   Tramticket 

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Posted 2018-August-18, 08:03

 helene_t, on 2018-August-18, 01:45, said:

Yeah. I am OK passing with a balanced 15-16 when opps interfere at the 2-level. So I don't need double for those hands.


It might be a balanced 17. Or even a balanced 18/19 (although this is true in a Strong No Trump system too).

The bidding starts 1, (Pass), 1, (2) and you pass with:

Q7
AK3
AJT96
QT4

LHO raises: 1, (Pass), 1, (2); Pass, (3), Pass, (Pass), ?

What now? Pass again?
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Posted 2018-August-18, 13:19

 Tramticket, on 2018-August-18, 08:03, said:

It might be a balanced 17. Or even a balanced 18/19 (although this is true in a Strong No Trump system too).

The bidding starts 1, (Pass), 1, (2) and you pass with:

Q7
AK3
AJT96
QT4

LHO raises: 1, (Pass), 1, (2); Pass, (3), Pass, (Pass), ?

What now? Pass again?


I pass again. Partner would have doubled 3!C with something like S: Axxxx, H: Jxxx, D: xxx, C: x (yes, conceding 3!CX making when you are 1354 minimum is a risk; 2254 in range opens 1N) or any but the worst 9 count. Partner knows you are 15+ or 2 suited when they passed 3!C - a minimum one-suited diamond hand rebids 2!D at the first opportunity.

Not that I do this, but in a 12-14 1N context, I would rather play 1D-(P)-1S-(2C)-2H as minimum unbalanced nonforcing and 1D-(P)-1S-(2C)-P as promising 15+ or clubs than give up support doubles.
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