A warmup problem
You hold an exciting hand like ♠xx ♥Kxxx ♦Jxxx ♣xxx. Your LHO deals and the auction goes
What do you lead against 3NT? You probably lead spades, partner's suit. The only time you'd lead your own suit is if you had something very exciting of your own — perhaps ♠x ♥xxx ♦xxxx ♣KQJTx.
Now ask yourself, suppose you hold the same hand and the auction goes
Partner's double shows a hand that would have rebid 2♠ if it could have. Likely a sixth spade, likely a good quality suit, but not such a good hand that he could bid 3♠.
Now that your partner has confirmed better spades than the 1♠ overcall promised, your opening lead is.. a spade, just like like it would have been if partner hadn't doubled. What good did partner's double do?
Are there hands where partner showing you extra values in spades would be enough to get you to bid --- after having already passed (1♦)-1♠-(X)? Not very many. If you had ♠Kxx ♥xx ♦Kxxx ♣xxxx you would have bid 2♠ the first time. If you had ♠Kx ♥xxx ♦Kxxx ♣xxxx perhaps you would would have redoubled to show a desire to compete (if you play Guildenstern, you certainly would have.)
If you only have ♠Kxx ♥xx ♦xxxx ♣Jxxx, and you judged not to bid 2♠ over (1♦)-1♠-(X)... why on earth would you be tempted by 3♠ over (1♦)-1♠-(X)-P-(2♠)-X-(2NT)?
The bottom line is that the standard meaning for doubling the opponent's cuebid --- "yes, really, I have the suit I bid" (or perhaps "I have a sixth card in my suit" or "I want you to lead my suit") --- is not a particularly useful one. Partner is already going to go out of his way to raise your suit or lead your suit.
A more useful message to send to partner is the opposite one: "don't lead my suit: I overcalled on something like ♠Qxxxx ♥xx ♦xx ♣AKJx. There's something else I'd much rather have led. See if you can figure out what it is."
I call these doubles lead-deflecting doubles. They've been around forever, especially among experts who agree there is no other logical meaning for such a double, especially at a high level. But they don't get featured in bidding textbooks, even advanced textbooks. I was introduced to them some 20 years ago by Polly Dunn of Seattle, after hitching a ride home with Pat and Polly from my very first Pentiction regional.
That's all there is to this agreement:
- You have opened or overcalled
- You get no encouragement from your partner, and
- The opponents cuebid your suit, then
- Doubling their cuebid means "I don't want you to lead my suit."
Example 1 is a classic textbook situation like the warmup problem.
On a diamond lead, South has plenty of time to drive out the ♠A and take at least ten tricks. On a club lead, nine tricks is the limit, and swapping the ♣T and ♣9 would be enough to defeat the contract. West is only going to get once chance to lead through North, and it's important not to waste it.
As Example 2 shows,lead-deflecting double situations can happen after you open, as well as after you overall:
On the cards as shown, a heart lead is best against 4♠: E-W can score their two aces, one high heart, and a heart ruff. Playing lead-deflecting doubles, East passes on the second round. Despite South's 2NT bid, West's default lead remains a heart. (Playing standard methods, many players would double just to say "yes, I have a solid opening and a real heart suit," and West might try a minor suit after hearing West pass and South bid 2NT.)
Example 3 is very similar to Example 2, but this time, East has a reason to want something other than a heart lead, and he tells his partner so:
Warned not to lead a heart, West will look for a minor-suit lead. The ♣T will produce a two-trick set: three fast club tricks, a fourth round of clubs to promote's West's ♠J, and the ♠A. On a heart lead, declarer is likely to come to four spades, three hearts, and three diamonds.
Lead-deflecting doubles can happen later in the auction, too. In Example 4, East has an opportunity on the third round of the auction to tell his partner whether he wants his suit led against 3NT or not:
If West leads a spade away from his king, he presents N-S with a second stopper. A club to put East in, followed by a switch to the ♠J, is the only way to beat 3NT. (East could also have doubled 3♣, but there is a risk of having it wrapped around his neck if N-S have an 8-card club fit; there is no such risk with doubling 3♠.)
In Example 5, East only has time to show one of his two suits unless he is playing Michelangelo or some similar tool to show the 4-6 shape. (The wisdom of bidding 2♣ is questionable, but let's pretend East is not vulnerable at matchpoints.)
N-S will be very disappointed when the spade finesse fails. But they can survive one
heart lead through the king by West, not two. Without a double, West would lead the ♣5
. After a dead-deflecting double, he has to decide whether it's more likely that his partner has an unbid 4-card heart suit or a diamond stack.
The fine print
If you are going to add lead-deflecting doubles to your arsenal, here are a couple details you might wish to discuss with your partner:
Does it apply even after 2 of a minor?
When the bidding starts 1♥-(1♠)-P-(2♥), it will rarely matter to your partner whether you have five or six hearts. But after 1♣-(1♠)-P-(2♣), you might only have three clubs. Partner might not be eager to lead a club, and he might not raise your clubs even with 4-card support.
Yes, you will miss some good 5♣ sacrifices that you might find if you paly the double the old-fashioned way. But you will still gain on hands like this one:
On a club lead, South will have no trouble pulling trumps and discarding a heart on the third round of clubs. On the ♥J lead, he loses the first four tricks.
As mentioned above, if you choose to play lead-deflecting doubles, West's default lead from a nondescript hand needs to be a club when you pass an opposing cuebid: even though you did not promise anything in clubs with your 1♣ opening, if you are sure that a red-suit lead is better, you will warn him.
My recommendation, for ease of memory's sake, is that 1♥-(1♠)-P-(2♥) and 1♣-(1♠)-P-(2♣) be treated the same way.
What about the slam zone?
In an auction like
the double of 5♣
asks for a club lead. What about
Here, it is my recommendation that this double confirms a desire for a club lead, and a Lightner double of the final contract continue to ask for an unusual (here usually spades) lead. This isn't the only possible agreement, however. You could agree (for instance) that this double asks for a diamond lead, a Lightner double asks for a spade lead, and doing nothing suggests a club lead.