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The Negative Double

  by Richard Pavlicek

Bill Passell of Coral Springs and Jack Schwencke of North Palm Beach captured two major events at the Mexican Nationals, an annual tournament held February 17-23 in Mexico City. They took no prisoners in the Open Pairs, compiling an incredible score of 446 (over 71 percent) with games of 218 and 228 on a 156 average. They also won the Swiss Teams on the final day of the tournament.

Today’s deal occurred in the last match of their team victory and illustrates a popular bidding convention — the negative double. In the old days Passell, North, would have responded one spade to his partner’s opening bid despite the enemy overcall. But the modern treatment is to use this response to show at least five spades, and to double to show exactly four spades. Penalty doubles are uncommon at such a low level, so the negative double is a practical, effective device. Schwencke, South, then jumped directly to the obvious game contract.

4 S South
None Vul
S Q J 7 5
H J 7 2
D A 9 5 2
C 5 3

1 H


1 C
4 S
S 2
H K Q 10 9 6
D Q 10 7
C J 9 8 4
TableS 10 9 8 6
H 8 5 4
D J 6 4
C A 7 2

Lead: H K
S A K 4 3
H A 3
D K 8 3
C K Q 10 6

The play in four spades presented no problem when West led the heart king, taken by the ace. The ace and king of trumps were cashed; a low heart was led to the queen; and West returned a heart to dummy’s jack (South throwing a diamond). A club was led to the king; a spade to the jack; and then three rounds of diamonds allowed South to score a ruff with his remaining trump to ensure the contract.

The negative double might seem to be inconsequential here, but look a little further. Notice that South became declarer in spades and West, the opening leader. As so often happens when the enemy bidder is placed on lead, declarer gained a trick (the heart jack became a winner). This proved to be crucial.

At the other table, North became declarer and East’s heart lead gave away nothing. Declarer still could have succeeded, but with uninspired play he was down one.

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© 1986 Richard Pavlicek