Arthur Bennett is a long standing member of the Hastings Bridge Club, a Grandmaster, an astute player, student and commentator on the game. From time to time Arthur produces articles on particular aspects of the game and is happy to share these with interested players.
Many beginning players of the modern era sometimes confuse Duplodicus effugius with Duplodicus punitus, not even being aware that the latter is extinct. Perhaps they learnt their bridge from a yellowed copy of Culbertson from their grandfather’s chest. I shall quote now from my ancient copy of Badsworth on Bridge, published in 1903 by the Knickerbocker Press in New York. “If you hold a suit of seven cards or more headed by a tierce major, and have the lead, you double.” They had opened 1NT and in those days declarer’s partner had to stay silent and they were obliged to sit for the double! That double, dear beginners, is now dead as the dodo. If they open 1H in front of you and you hold long, strong hearts, you must pass! If your partner opens 1D and they overcall 1H, with long, strong hearts you must pass! If you try to use a Diplodicus punitus, your partner would no more expect you to have long hearts than he would expect to see a unicorn walk out of the woods. “So, what do I bid with those long hearts?” you wail. You pass! Get used to it.
Now, give a big hand for Duplodicus iterus, the reopening double. Your partner opens 1S, they overcall 2H, you and the next player both pass. Now, your partner doubles. In no way whatsoeer is this double a penalty of their 2H bid. The only time that you can ever pass, thereby converting his Duplodicus iterus into a Duplodicus punitus, is when you, not your partner, have a veritable stack in hearts, at least 5 if not 6 good hearts. Other than that, the reopening double is absolutely forcing. You cannot pass because you have 4 hearts; you cannot pass because you are extremely weak; you cannot pass because you cannot decide which suit to bid. Your partner is saying, “my shape has not changed. I still have the 5 spades I started with. I am short in their hearts and I have at least 3 cards in each of the unbid suits. I am however stronger than an average opening hand, so just bid 2S, 3C or 3D and all will be well.
Just as the presumed extinct Takahe was discovered alive and well in a Fiordland valley, so in fact has the presumed extinct Duplodicus punitus been discovered thriving in one special reserve. This is over their opening 1NT. In this situation, each partnership has to decide whether their double is the effugius or the punitus species. It can’t be both. You can’t have the situation where you double their 1NT for penalty with a marvellous hand, only to have your partner pull your double to your doubleton suit with the lame excuse that he was weak.
So now, as you wander through thorny thickets of modern bridge bidding, be sure to have your dog-eared copy of Bennett’s Handbook to the Species of Duplodicus with you, so that you can identify any doubles you come across. There are many more than the few I have mentioned in this extract. Some might assume chameleon properties of camouflage, but don’t be fooled. Remember, that once you have correctly identified your leopard, jaguar, or species of double, it cannot change its spots. A Duplodicus effugius can’t magically turn into a Duplodicus punitus. If you come across a double that is a shape-shifter, it will generally not be a Duplodicus species at all, but a Superclamius simplex. Occasionally it might be the rare Duplodicus crescens, so in either case it pays to ask.