The Penalty Double Has Died and Gone to Heaven

Author: Larry Cohen (with thanks to Bernie Chazen)
Date of publish: 07/07/2010
Level: Intermediate



Those were the words of my good friend, Bernie Chazen.


Sadly, he is now in heaven with those penalty doubles, but his words still ring true here on planet Earth.


In 2008, Bernie and I gave a full 2-day seminar on doubles. To start things off, Bernie waddled up to the stage (only those who knew Bernie can picture him with his 300+ pounds, suspenders, confident attitude...) and uttered those words. Then, we spent hours and hours showing how rare it is for a double to actually mean: "I want to increase the penalty."


Without going into extreme detail, here is a wonderful guideline:

A double on the first round of bidding is never for penalty.

Here are some examples:



 4?  Dbl    

North's double is NOT a penalty double. Is it really likely he will have been dealt hearts?


 4? Dbl    

North's double is NOT a penalty double. Why should this be different from #1?



 1?  4?  Dbl  

East' double is NOT a penalty double. Is it likely he has spades? Negative doubles should be played on ALL levels (not through 3? or anything like that.  In fact, the more they bid, the less likely you are to have their suit.)


 1?  Pass 4?  Dbl

 South's double is NOT a penalty double. One suit he does not have is spades.


 1?  Pass 2?(weak) Dbl

 South's double is NOT a penalty double. Cater to takeout, not to penalty.


 1? Pass 4?  Dbl

  South's double is NOT a penalty double. Same as #5.


All of these doubles are takeout/card showing. They say: "Partner, I have a good hand. I am interested in hearing from you." If the double is on the 4-level (as in 1,2,3,4,6), it will frequently be left in. Not because the partner of the doubler has good trumps (unlikely), but because he has nothing to take out to. If a 4-level bid is doubled for "takeout" you take it out with shape -- a long suit (usually 5+ cards). If the partner of the doubler is 4-3-3-3, he will typically leave it in and hope to beat them. But, don't lose the main point: THE DOUBLE IS NOT INTENDED FOR PENALTIES.

Doubles are one of Larry's favorite topics. He's talked and written extensively about doubles and you can find some of those highlights below.


Link to Larry's talk to ABTA on Doubles (audio)


There are so many more auctions to discuss, but that's it for now.  Make sure you and your partner agree that Penalty Doubles are Dead.


More guidelines here.

You might also consider getting Larry's book on Doubles and Redoubles HERE or try Michael's Doubles Webinar which you can find HERE


Updated: February 2020