Quick summary

Opponents look weak, and the bidding is about to end.Two players have passed the opening suit bid. You're in the 4th seat.

You can "borrow" a King

After a suit opening, unbalanced

After a suit opening, balanced

After a NT opening

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Bridge Venue

Example Deal


«  0107  »

Overcalls. Balancing (protective) bid

4th seat & 2 passes. Should you pass with 8+ HCP?

Probably not. To decide if you can bid in the 4th seat after 2 passes, you can "borrow an imaginary King" from your partner, and reassess your ability to bid as if you were in the second seat.

Your partner will remember that you've done this when he responds.

A so-called "protective double" can be made in the 4th seat with as few as 8 high card points if both the RHO and your partner have passed the opening bid. It's sometimes called a "balancing double". It requires less strength than the conventional takeout double.

The point is that your partner could easily have 10 points, possibly even 14, but might not have been able to overcall or double because of the distribution. For example, he might lack a good 5-card suit, or may not have the 15 or 16 HCP needed to overcall in a NT. He may not have a 3-suited hand and thus feel unable to double for takeout.

Your opponents also seem weak, and that's the point. In fact you know they might have as few as 12 points! Certainly opener's partner has no more than 5 HCP, and could have none. So there is a chance that you can either get them down, doubled, or find your own contract, or even, more rarely, find a game contract.

So you can keep the bidding going with as few as 8HCP.

The protective double keeps you in the game, and either allows you to penalise the enemy if your partner is strong (he will pass again), or make his own bid, knowing that you have at least 8HCP.

After 1heart Pass Pass, if you have this hand:

Hand 1
S Q 8 7 3
H 8 4
D 10 9 5
C A K 10 5

. . .you can bid a "protective double" to tell partner you have 8+HCP, and ask him to bid his best suit or pass for penalties. Partner might have had a hand like the one below, and was thus unable to bid at first, having only two suits and not able to double for takeout.

Hand 2
S 6
H A Q 10 9 3
D A K J 8
C 9 6 3

In this instance, on hearing your "protective double", he will happily "pass" for penalties, knowing that we have at least 22HCP and with 5 good trump cards sitting on top of the declarer.

In other circumstances, if your partner decides to bid his suit rather than pass for penalties after your double in the 4th seat, he will remember that you doubled with as few as 8 points.

Protective double after 1NT opening - two different views

What has happened after 1NT - pass - pass ? Your partner might have as many as 15 HCP, in extremis. He could easily have 12 HCP, but still not be able to overcall at the two level. Of course he could have none but, if that were so, why the "pass" from your RHO, who has anything from 0-10HCP. So, in summary, your opponents have 12-24 HCP, seem happy enough with NT, but could be in trouble.

By the same logic you could have 16-28. They could easily be in trouble.

(view 1) It's for penalties of course, with 16+ HCP

If you are not a gambler, don't borrow the king. Only double for penalties on the usual 15/16-18 with a balanced hand. Bear in mind also that the enemy's stronger hand is now following your strength, whereas with a standard double 1NT the enemy has to play his good cards underneath your partner's stronger cards.

(view 2) It's for takeout, with 12+ HCP, asking partner to pass for penalties

If you're a bit of a gambler (or the vulnerability is favourable) then you could use the principle of borrowing a King, and double with 12+ HCP. (You are in the 4th seat, but remember that doubling a NT in the second seat is for penalties and requires 15/16-18 HCP).

But it's not such a gamble really, so long as your partner understands your bid clearly. In the worst case, if your partner has the minimum possible 4HCP out of the 14-16 possible remaining, giving you 16+ altogether, you will give your opponents extra points as they make their 1NT with one over. Doubled with an overtrick starts to get expensive. Partner will probably takeout your double.

On the other hand, with average 8 HCP of the remaining 14-16 in partner's hand, you have 20 and might still just struggle to get them down depending on your shape. Partner will decide what to do.

Of course, with anything in the 10-15 points range, giving you a combined total of 22-27, your partner will elect for "lambs to the slaughter" if the opponents are vulnerable by passing your double, or will choose our own game if we are vulnerable and they are not. Deal number 6261 shows an example of this in action.

Whatever you do, do not follow the usual guidelines of a protective double with 8 points. Or you could be the lambs on the skewers as they redouble and go one or two over.

Protective 1NT overcall over a suit

"Borrow a King" applies again in the 4th seat after 2 passes. You can bid 1NT with a standard balanced hand with only 12-14 HCP. This is in contrast to the normal strong meaning of a 1NT overcall made directly over a suit bid.

Partner will reply to you exactly as if you had opened 1NT, with the added bonus of knowing something about his Right Hand Opponent.

Protective suit overcall

In the 4th suit after 2 passes, you can again "borrow a king", and overcall your long suit with as few as 9 points, but you need to be wary because your stronger opponents cards will be played directly after yours.. and they just might after all have as many as 24 HCP ! A double is usually safer, especially if you are vulnerable.

However, see Deal 6240 shown on quiz 0102, Q.7 - Q.10, for an example of this working very well indeed after a 1NT opening.

Even weaker opponents

Similar considerations apply after overcalling in the fourth seat after a 'Weak 2' opening.

Later rounds

A balancing double occurs in later rounds of bidding, in situations where opponents have found a fit, but stopped at a low level. You can therefore place some points with your partner. West starts the bidding:

1club - pass - heart - pass
2heart - pass - pass - X

It is normally done with a relatively weak hand and the distribution need not be perfect. South, with 10HCP and no 5-card suit, with spadeQ873 heart1084 diamondK1084 clubAJ is not strong enough to double in the first round. However, he can expect the partner to have shortage in hearts, of course, and probably have 4 cards in spades or diamonds. He should make a late "balancing" takeout double.

Deal number 6258 shows an example of this in action, with interesting consequences on the card play.

Reopening double

A Reopening double is a form of takeout double bid by the opener himself, after his left-hand opponent has overcalled and partner has passed. As with a normal takeout double, it shows support for unbid suits.

Now try the quiz

Can you put all this into action ? Try the quiz for this subject by clicking on the link at the top left of the page, just below the main menu.
(You can try quizzes for any other subjects too while you're there. Look out for the thin red line).

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