Arthur's articles

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.


Very long suits

Weak Two's

Double Trouble

5 Card Majors

Demon Defence

Modern Warfare

Plague Leads

Trumpitis & Suit Quality

1NT with 5 Card Major


Extract from “Bennett’s Handbook to the Species of Duplodicus”

By Arthur Bennett


There is no such animal as the double. Instead there are many animals called the double. There is a multitude of species, some extant, some extinct and some merely mythical. Once upon a palaeolithic time in the antediluvial era of contract bridge there existed a primitive creature, now extinct, which was the evolutionary ancestor of all the doubles alive today. Its name was Duplodicus punitus, or in the common tongue, the immediate penalty double. Your opponent opened 1H and you held ª©AQT98 ¨K62 §A843. “I double you, you arrant knave. Your hearts are not worth the parchment they are inscribed upon. Verily I shall take you to the cleaners.” You were using the Duplodicus punitus, but sadly it was totally ineffective, because, warned of the danger of hearts, they retreated to a nice safe contract of 2C. Duplodicus punitus prowled those primeval forests, but generally its intended prey escaped its clutches and this species of double starved to death. A new species arose to dominate the green beize jungle, Duplodicus effugius, or the common takeout double, easily identified by its lilac crest and its shortage in the enemy suit. 


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.


Here is a different species of double, Duplodicus hortator, the encouraging double. Note the silver wattles and the occasional wink. Your partner opens 1D, they overcall 1H and this is your hand: ªA943 ©653 ¨85 §KQT4. You have enough points to want to participate in the auction. You cannot bid 1S or 2C, because that would imply a 5-card suit. Essentially, you have 4 cards in each of the two unbid suits and importantly, you have tolerance for partner’s diamonds. You double, and partner, whipping out his dog-eared copy of Bennett’s Handbook to the Species of Diplodicus, recognizes it as Diplodicus hortator. His hand was ªJT2 ©¨AKT943 §A87 and he duly bids 2D and all is well. Some time later partner opens 1D once more, and once again they overcall 1H. This time your hand is somewhat different:  ªQ943 ©QJ53 ¨§KJT54. This 9 HCP is not a Diplodicus hortator. It is a gangrel, mongrel mutt that should have been drowned at birth. Sure, it would be nice if partner rebid spades or clubs, but he is most likely to rebid his long diamonds and you would be doomed.


Sometimes in the rank undergrowth of the beginners and intermediate bridge bidding jungle, you will come across a Diplodicus mimic. Once upon a time it was misidentified and named Diplodicus spurius, or the false double, but it is in fact just a sheep in wolf’s clothing. It is nothing more than an individual of Superclamius simplex, the simple overcall. You open 1H and Fred on your left doubles with this hand: ª42 ©T94 ¨AQ6 §AQJ75. He has a perfectly ordinary 2C overcall, but instead he chose to double. Fred is a member of a tribe that has stayed out of contact with mainstream bridge civilisation ever since they finished their bridge lessons and retreated to the boondocks of suburbia. There, left to their own devices and visited only by the occasional bridge missionary, they developed their own heathen system. They propagated the pagan idea that an overcall was always weaker than a double, so that if you had opening strength points, regardless of the shape of your hand, you had to double rather than overcall. They forgot about the teachings of Saint Lawrence, who in his treatise on doubles and overcalls, exhorted the faithful to believe that a double followed subsequently by a correction of partner’s suit, promised a mighty hand of at least 17 HCP and a self-sufficient suit. Saint Lawrence referred to this rare creature as Duplodicus crescens, the increasing double. During the mating season the males have a large inflatable throat sac. On this occason your partner raised you to 2H, Fred’s partner bid 2S, Fred bid 3C, and Fred’s partner, duly impressed with Fred’s hand, raised him to a doomed game.


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.

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