Don’t let the name confuse you! As well as being called negative doubles, these have a couple of other names that you may hear, which are “Sputnik double” and “Responder’s double”. However, underneath all that, negative doubles are actually just a type of take-out double. 

Yet they only apply in one specific situation: when your partner has opened the bidding with 1 of a suit and there has been a suit overcall by your RHO. You are Responder. 

Partner: 1 suit

RHO: Overcall

You: X = negative

Yes, they are a type of take-out double; but rather than showing all of the unbid suits, the emphasis is placed on the majors wherever possible. This is important because, if you have a major-suit fit, you need to have a way of finding it when space is tight and the opponents are bidding.

Hence:

  • If neither major has been bid, double = both majors
  • If one major has been bid, double = the unbid major
  • If both majors have been bid, double = both minors.

How exactly does this work?

Let’s run through some example auctions.

1.              1 (1) X = 4-4 in and

This is the most straightforward example. If you, as Responder, only had one of the majors, you could bid that major, which would show 4+ cards in the suit. With both, you should double to let your partner pick the suit.

2.              1 (1) X = 4-4 in and

After the majors have both been bid, your negative double shows both minors. This, again, gives your partner a choice of suit.

3.              1 (1) X = 4+

This situation is a bit more interesting. Remember that bidding 2♥ here would show 5+♥ and 10+ HCP. Essentially, double shows a hand with hearts that was unable to bid 2♥: either because you did not have the strength, in which case you might have 5 or more ♥; or because you only had 4 ♥, in which case you could be any strength. 

Thus, you have one of two types of hand:

  • Precisely 4♥ (any strength), or 
  • 5+♥ with fewer than 10 HCP.

4.              1 (1) X = 4

Notice that you cannot have more than 4♠ here: you are showing precisely 4 spades. This is different from the previous case because you can bid the unbid major at the 1-level – you don’t need 10+ HCP for that, so the only thing to distinguish between is the length of the suit. Therefore, bidding 1♠ always shows at least 5 cards in ♠; a big benefit of this is that your partner can now raise with 3-card support!

5.              1 (2) X = 4-3 or 4-4 in the majors

As with Example 1, after the minors have been bid, your negative double shows both majors. However, space is short when your RHO has overcalled 2♣ in this auction and you will not always be dealt exactly 4-4 in the majors. However, to guarantee at least a 7-card fit when your partner bids 2♥ or 2♠ after your double, you should be at least 4-3.

What am I showing in terms of strength?

While your HCP are not normally the limiting factor when you are the responder, it is important to be aware that your double is still asking your partner to commit to bidding, so you should try to follow some guidelines depending on how high up your partner is forced to bid.

Try to follow this general advice:

  • If P can bid at the 1-level, you can have 6+ points
  • If P must bid at the 2-level, try to have more like 8+ points
  • If P must bid at the 3-level, you should have 10+ points

Be sensible about your decision to double, remembering that your distribution should be taken into account when deciding how many points your hand is worth.

Now see how you get on with this question! Feel free to leave your answers in the comment section below.

Q. Which hand/hands match this auction: 1 (2♠) X?

  1. ♠ 5 ♥ K862 ♦ K764 ♣ 5432
  2. ♠ KQT2 ♥ AJ5 ♦ 53 ♣ JT92
  3. ♠ 85 ♥ AK86 ♦ K75 ♣ QJ82
  4. A86 KJ974 Q4 853