You bid first, dou­ble later

Cecil Whig - - & & - By Phillip Alder

John le Carre, the best-sell­ing author of es­pi­onage nov­els, eight fea­tur­ing Ge­orge Smi­ley, said, “Once you’ve lived the in­side-out world of es­pi­onage, you never shed it. It’s a men­tal­ity, a dou­ble stan­dard of ex­is­tence.” At the bridge ta­ble, it is tough to act like a se­cret agent be­cause you must ex­plain your meth­ods to the op­po­nents. There are no se­cret mail drops for part­ner only. But some­times you can spring a sur­prise on the op­po­nents, by which time it might be too late for them to reach their safe house.

In this deal, East opens one spade, South over­calls one notrump (show­ing 15-plus to 18-mi­nus points), West passes, and North raises to three no-trump. Just when ev­ery­one thinks the auc­tion is over, East jumps out of his hid­ing place with a dou­ble. What does that mean?

It must be for penalty, but what else? Some pairs play that it de­mands a spade lead, the suit bid by East. I think that is wrong, be­cause what was West go­ing to lead be­fore the dou­ble? Right -- a spade. The dou­ble is needed to ask part­ner to lead a dif­fer­ent suit, one where East is hop­ing to de­feat the con­tract. In this auc­tion, a heart lead should stand out. North-South did not try to lo­cate a 4-4 or 5-3 heart fit, and it is West’s short­est suit. Note that af­ter a heart lead, East takes the first five tricks for down one. If West leads a spade, though, South wins 11 tricks. Are you won­der­ing about South’s run­ning to four di­a­monds? Yes, he can make that (if North passes), but mi­nus 130 is still a lot cheaper than mi­nus 660.

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