Author Archives: Jonathan Davis

Bridge tales: a rare penalty double

All the hands we have played at the play and learn sessions at The Trout are pre-dealt and therefore randomly generated by computer. That makes it all the more surprising that this week we had two hands which both provided an opportunity for the defence to double a one-level contract for penalties and then defeat it. This is a rare event in bridge.

This was the first hand (reproduced using the excellent Bridge Solver software).

Trout hand 1 !2th Feb 2019

The dealer was East and the normal opening bid here is 1 Diamond (1D), preparing to rebid 1NT/2NT over any positive response from partner, showing a balanced hand of 15-16 High Card Points. This opening bid naturally was a bit of a shock to South, with his seven diamonds headed by a strong sequence. The golden rule to apply when an opponent bids your best suit is simply to suppress your surprise and pass in good tempo, as if nothing unusual was going on.

West also passed and now the onus switches to North.  The North hand just qualifies for a takeout double, which ideally shows support for the other three suits and a shortage in the opening bidder’s suit. (In some cases it may also be the only way to kick off the bidding with a strong hand that has no other obvious bid). In either event it is not a penalty double. As a general rule any low level double when your partner has not made a positive bid (that is, something other than a pass) should be treated as a takeout rather than a penalty double.

But while North expects his partner to respond to the takeout double by bidding a suit, there will be some occasions when he/she is more than happy to convert the double into a penalty double. The way to do that is simply to pass. That should only happen, as in this case, when the partner of the doubler has a particularly long and strong holding in the doubled suit and can be confident of making most of the tricks in trumps.

Beginners in bridge often find this kind of thinking counter-intuitive; “this is our suit” they tend to say “so why aren’t we trying to play the hand instead of the opponents?” The answer to that is that the objective of the game is to score more points than the opponents. It is not just to bid and make contracts. Doubling and defeating an unmakeable contract is often the simplest and most lucrative way to make a good score.

So on this hand East will be lucky to come to more than 2 or 3 tricks if left to play in 1D doubled. If that is what happens the penalty accusing to North/South will be +800 (four down doubled, not vulnerable) or even +1100 (five down doubled, not vulnerable). At the same time the only game contract that North/South can hope to make is 5D – 11 tricks in the opponents’ suit! – which would be worth +400 points. That is only half the reward for roughly twice the effort – an unattractive bargain. The moral is: if there is a big penalty on offer, take it!

Here is the second hand on the same theme that came up shortly afterwards.

Trout hand 2 12th Feb 2019

The bidding here, with both sides vulnerable, started with West as dealer. With 5-5 in the major suits, the correct opening bid is 1S, planning to rebid in hearts. North has a perfect takeout double with 16 High Card Points and a void in spades. When this comes round to South, the calculation has to be that defeating 1S is more likely than making game, so a pass is called for. True, North South may well have a fit in diamonds, but game in diamonds is unlikely and the penalty from defeating 1S is likely to be greater than the value of the game, even if it can be made.

Note however that in order to be sure of defeating a One-level contract like this the trumps you hold will need to be at least as good as the six cards headed by a strong sequence shown here. If you only something like KJ953 in the suit that has been doubled, experience shows that the declarer will do much better than you think. One reason is that the A and Q will usually be in declarer’s hand, “sitting over” your King and Jack, thereby reducing the chances of those cards making tricks.

On this hand, with perfect knowledge of where all the opposing cards are located, North South can defeat 1S by three tricks to score +800 (three down, doubled, vulnerable). In practice two down double (+500) is probably a more likely score. Note that there is no game contract that can be made by North South on best defence, although on the day at The Trout North was allowed to make 3 No Trumps at one table.

Points to remember:

  1. If no suit has been agreed with your partner, low level doubles are usually for takeout, suggesting playing in anything but the opponent’s bid suit
  2. As the partner of the doubler however, do consider passing and turning the double in to a penalty double when you have a very long and strong holding in that suit
  3. Racking up a large penalty score by doubling and defeating a contract bid by the opponents is definitely winning bridge, especially when they are vulnerable.

It is worth noting however that on the second hand, East West will have a much better chance of escaping trouble if they can find their way to play in hearts rather than spades – they can actually make eight tricks with hearts as trumps. How to rescue yourself from a One-level doubled contract will be the subject of a different, later note.



Upcoming events

The next session of Bridge at The Trout will be taking place at the usual time of 10am on Tuesday next week and for every week thereafter. To book your place simply send me an email ( letting us know you are coming and I will send payment details by return. An even easier method if you have been before is to make a bank transfer to the ARB Oxford bank account, quoting Trout and the date of the session you wish to attend (e.g. Trout 12th Feb). For genuine latecomers we do take cash on the day, but that may sometimes lead to an odd number sitting down to play and those who have paid in advance will have priority.  I have now created a separate Doodle poll for Tuesday morning dates in March and you can indicate your advance interest in those dates now by following this link. You will be asked to add your email and phone number so that we can contact you if necessary. The two sessions we have held so far have been well attended and greatly enjoyed by everyone involved, so do please spread the word and come and try one out for yourself. The first Wednesday evening session will be held on February 20th – more details shortly.  Email with any queries.

picture of the trout

This week’s play session

We are looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the Trout in Godstow tomorrow morning for the weekly morning play and learn session. Most of you have paid by bank transfer and will know who you are. If anyone intends to come but has not yet secured their place by paying, please let me know as soon as possible so we can adjust numbers if need be. There will be several tables in play and up to 32 exciting pre-dealt hands to bid and play. We will be conducting a new poll about your preferences as far as other days and times of the week are concerned in the next few days.  I have already logged the names and preferences of those who answered our poll about Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings, and these will be carried forward into the new poll.



Update on play sessions

We held the first of what will become our regular weekly play sessions at The Trout on Tuesday this week and it turned out to be both popular and, I believe from the immediate feedback, a great success. The cold weather was a bit of a negative when the roaring log fire went out without anybody immediately noticing (too absorbed in their cards perhaps?), but that is something we can readily fix on future occasions.

The next Tuesday morning sessions, which starts next Tuesday (February 5th) at 10am, has attracted even more potential interest than the first one, so I am expecting an even bigger turnout. It is not too late to book a place however – the more the merrier. I will only be totting up the final numbers on Sunday evening, so do please put your name down before then if you would like to come.

If you have a regular partner to bring they will be very welcome, and if you are on your own we should be able to fit you in provided only that we have produce a final number count 24 hours in advance. With the help of my colleague Annabel we can cope with most combinations, but the one really difficult one is if we have a multiple of four plus one turning up; in that case (and that case alone), we will have to ask one person to sit out on for just one hand in the course of the morning. I don’t think that sitting out for one hand in a three hour session should be a major hardship, but it is only fair to advise you that it is a possibility in that one particular case.

As this week, next Tuesday’s session will allow you to play a number of pre-dealt hands under supervision. I bring 32 such hands to each session and from now on they will be carefully selected to make sure that the most interesting ones are divided equally between the two sides of each table. That means everyone will get a chance to declare a number of contracts, while also being able to practise their defence the rest of the time. (There were at least six potential slam hands this week, incidentally, even though the deals were randomly generated).

We will typically aim to get through between a half and two thirds of those 32 pre-dealt hands in the three hours available. It is up to each table to decide how long they want to spend reviewing the hand they have just played.  Annabel and I are both on hand to answer queries and offer advice as and when required. Experience suggests that you cannot fail to improve by practising the bidding and play tips you have picked up in lessons or your earlier bridge life. It was also hugely encouraging to see the friendly spirit in which all the hands were played – definitely part of the Robson bridge experience – and I heard a lot of spirited and amicable chat as well.

The success of the Tuesday morning session should ensure that it becomes a regular weekly event. Support for the other two options I canvassed (Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings) means that they too may be able to start quite soon. I am keeping open the Doodle poll for all three sessions – the link to the poll is here – and hope that you will be encouraged to sign up for one or more of those if you think that is of interest to you. When the teaching term ends in March, I also hope to offer alternative days of the week for play sessions. A number of you who cannot come to a weekday event have expressed interest in a half or full day weekend session and that will also be scheduled shortly.

There is a good chance that the first Friday morning session will start running next week or the week after. Please watch this space for further confirmation. I can only apologise to those who have expressed interest for a session that has not yet taken place. I can assure you that a wider choice of sessions will be happening as soon as the timetable and numbers allow. In the meantime I look forward to seeing you as many of you as possible next Tuesday morning at The Trout.

If you want to book a place for a Tuesday morning session at The Trout the simplest way is to sign up on the Doodle poll and send an email (to to let us know that you are definitely coming, and – if you are bringing others – who they are. You will then need to book your place by transferring £15 to the ARB Oxford bank account, giving the venue and date as the reference (e.g. Trout 5th Feb for next Tuesday’s event).  We much prefer that to taking cash on the day, although we can do that as well if there is no alternative. I can send the bank details to anyone who asks me for them or does not yet have them.


PS It is always helpful if you can add your contact phone number to any email so that I can add that to our database of interested players. It makes it easier to find out where your interests lie – and for me to schedule things – if we have the option of calling you directly.

Bridge at The Trout

Thank you to everyone who participated in the recent poll to assess your interest in play and learn sessions. I am happy to confirm that the first two of these sessions will be held at The Trout in Godstow on Tuesday January 29th and February 5th, both starting at 10 am. All those who have already expressed an interest have been notified and will be asked shortly to confirm their availability.

The Tuesday morning option has proved to be the most popular and so we will start with those. The other two options I have canvassed – Wednesday evenings at The Trout and Friday mornings in Woodstock – have also attracted support, though not to quite the same extent, and I will be following up on those shortly.


It is not too late to express your interest in a range of dates over the next month at these two venues. This is the link to The Trout poll and this is the link to the Woodstock poll. The first two play and learn sessions are also live on the Eventbrite website, although it will save you a couple of pounds to email me your intention to take part by emailing me directly ( and paying by direct bank transfer. There is plenty of parking at both venues.

I am confident that these sessions can become a regular weekly event for all those who want to put what they know (or have learnt) about bridge into practice in a friendly and co-operative environment with like-minded enthusiasts.  This is how Andrew’s club in London started and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. We are on the way to creating what I hope will be a similar success here in Oxford….

Play session poll

I have now created the links which I hope you will use to indicate your interest in a potentially regular play session with other followers of Andrew Robson Bridge in Oxford. The link for sessions at The Trout on Tuesday mornings and/or Wednesday evenings in Godstow is here: and that for Woodstock on Friday mornings is here. Please indicate any or all of these which you would be interested in joining and we can judge where the most interest lies. I will send out more formal invitations once I have seen the responses. Any other comments welcome. Many thanks.

New Year plans

I am busy putting the final touches to the schedule for the coming three months. For logistical reasons I have had to make changes to the timing and venue of some courses. The Essential course begins as scheduled on Monday January 21st at 9.45am. The starting time for the Improver course on Thursdays (starting on January 24th at the North Oxford Association) is being brought forward by an hour and a half to 10.00am. The Next Step course on Thursdays is being rescheduled. I will be contacting anyone affected by these changes directly in a separate email.

In response to demand I am also adding the Improver Plus course which will  take place on Tuesday afternoons, starting at 2.30 pm. There has also been interest in a course devoted entirely to defence and one devoted to conventions suitable for duplicate competition. If you would also be interested in either of these please let me know and I will see when and how these might be organised.

After further investigation of suitable venues, I am proposing to hold the first play and learn session of 2019 on Tuesday January 29th in the agreeable surroundings of The Trout at Godstow. As most of you will now, this is a well-known pub beside the river in North Oxford, featured in episodes of Inspector Morse, readily accessible from both the A34 (via Wytham) and the northern ring road (from the Wolvercote roundabout). There is plenty of parking.

The plan is for the session to start promptly at 10am and run until lunchtime when a buffet lunch will be available for those who want to stay. It will feature a series of pre-dealt boards that can be played and scored, with a chance to call for help during play, and to ask questions about specific hands at the end. Hand records will be available to study once the session has ended and you will have a chance, but only if you so wish, to compare your results against those who played the hands when they were originally played (in a  competition). I will also provide a bridge tip and refresher note for the day.

This way I hope these sessions will appeal to both those with a competitive urge and those who primarily value the social and learning aspects of this great game. There will be an opportunity to play against different opponents during the course of the morning, but if you simply want to come with your own group of four, simply to practise and learn, that too we can cater for. Tea and coffee will be available and there will be a modest charge for the buffet lunch if you choose to stay for that.

To gauge demand I will be sending out a “Doodle poll” shortly to find out which of the available dates over the next month you might in principle be keen to join – fill in as many of the dates as you like and if you have a partner add them as well (let me have their names and emails so I can add them to the poll). The two options currently available at The Trout are Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings, and I will also include Friday mornings at the St Hugh’s Centre in Woodstock. Dates and venues will be finalised once I have had a chance to review the results. My hope is that there will be at least one regular session every week from February onwards.

A Doodle poll is a simple online method of sampling demand for a range of different dates and options. You simply have to click on the link provided in the email and register which of the various dates you would be interested in attending (feel free to pick more than one). I am looking forward to hearing your views. I will send out a separate poll in due course to try and narrow down how many of you are specifically interested in duplicate sessions.

I do hope that as many as you as possible will come to one of these sessions once the poll is completed. The regular weekly sessions will evolve as I find out more precisely where the most demand is. They provide an opportunity to meet all the others who like the sound of Robson bridge. In the meantime I would like to wish you a Happy New Year and hope that all your bids and finesses continue to prosper.


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