The origin of the penalty double is unknown. However, it is known that the penalty double is older than the organized game of bridge with its scoring methods devised in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the card games preceding such scoring methods the penalty double was effective in acquiring a larger score and was mainly devised to painfully punish their opponents for their audacity in competing. But such was the frivolous attitude of the more inexperienced player of those eras. See, for example: Dalton's Complete Bridge, page 122, under Chapter VII, heading Doubling, published in the year 1906.

Quoted excerpt: In the early days of Bridge doubling was far more common than it is at the present day (i.e. 1906), partly because the principles of declaring were not throughly understood, and some players' declarations used to be very wild and unsound, and partly because in those days certain players imagined that there was a sort of poker element in the game an that it was possible to bluff with success. Experience very soon proved that any attempt at bluffing had a way of recoiling sharply on the head of the would-be bluffer, and the recognised declarations are now so well known that the opportunities of doubling are by no means common.

First of all, a review of the take-out double. The take-out double is a low-level double under certain circumstances requesting partner to bid an unbid suit as a means of obtaining the contract following a logical conclusion that the opponents have reached their best contract. This means that this, as a result, increases the chances of the opposing side of obtaining a better score.

The penalty double is just that, a double for penalty points. In discussing penalty doubles, there are several elements the player must consider. In the world of bridge, these penalty doubles have been given names to differentiate them from other doubles. A partnership should become well acquainted with them, and then make them a part of the written partnership agreement.

When to Apply

The application, the employment, the use of the penalty double can and will vary according to the specific auction, according to the vulnerability, according to the possible seat opening, according to the bid of a suit as opposed to a No Trump opening bid, according to the range of the No Trump bid.

The employment can also vary according to different approaches such as Acol, 5-Card Major bidding systems, Precision-style bidding systems, according to the level of the opening bid, according to the aggressiveness and gambling nature of the player, according to the number of held winning tricks, and other such features and/or parameters.

All these elements should be considered by the player, who doubles for penalty. Several more experienced bridge players maintain that a higher-than-normal rate of doubling for penalty produces over time a higher percentage in the score. This observation cannot be confirmed except on an individual level.

Note: Mr. Bernard Magee writes (quoted): To start off with, most players would improve their results if they doubled three times as often as they do now - and perhaps even more often. A good player will not mind the opponents making their contract every now and then, for although you get a bottom on one board out of ten, the other nine times your double will get you a top.

Note: Mr. Bernard Magee is widely recognized as a leading bridge personality of Britain, who has authored several publications and also, in the digital age, makes use of the CD as a teaching tool.

Many bridge authors have addressed the penalty double and have very similar, but also differing views. The bridge player would make a wise choice to read these publications and become acquainted with such views, guidelines, and advice on when to employ the penalty double.


As with all doubles, the vulnerability and position at the table become major deciding factors in making this call. Many bridge players occasionally decide to compete based on instinct and a perhaps gut feeling for the cards, but the more advanced players understand well the significance of the different doubles and base their bidding on experience, understanding that their opponents have overbid their hands, realizing that their opponents are stretching their luck, and logic.

Following are several general guidelines which can prove helpful in understanding the significance of the double by your partner.

Note: One good source on the web for discovering more information is Better Bidding by Bernard Magee.

Positive Doubles

The positive double can be employed by the partner after several different bidding sequences. For example after a preemptive opening and a double by partner. The conversion to a penalty double can also be triggered following a No Trump opening. Other bidding sequences in suits are shown immediately below, followed by a general outline.

South   West   North   East   Meaning
1   1   Double   Pass   Takeout double.
Pass               Converted to positive double.
Redouble               Converted to positive redouble.
1   2   Double   Pass   Takeout double.
Pass               Converted to positive double.
Redouble               Converted to positive double.
1   3   Double   Pass   Takeout double.
Pass               Converted to positive double.
Redouble               Converted to positive double.

The employment of a redouble in such auctions must be used cautiously upon conversion to a positive double. The opposing side must be left with very little chance and opportunity to escape to another suit and/or No Trump. Although not specifically defined, the general thought behind the takeout double (and/or a redouble) by North in the above bidding auctions is understood to signify the following:

1. Shows 10/11 plus high card points.
2. Game forcing to semi-game forcing.
3. Normally indicates the unbid suits but demands that the opener choose a rebid.
4. A double, with this particular understanding, does not deny a fit.

These represent only a possible partnership understanding and can be altered to meet the requirements of the partnership.

The general outline is shown below:

South     West     North     East
Preempt on the 3 level     Takeout Double     Pass     Pass
Preempt on the 4 level                 East converts Takeout Double
Weak Two Bid                 into a Penalty Double.
No Trump                 East may have long trumps.

Example: South has the following holding:

1. West doubles for takeout.
2. North has 2-card Heart support = 9 Trump, and passes, thinking 3 doubled equals game.
3. East converts the takeout double of his/her partner into a penalty double.
4. East has AJ109 in addition to the values of his/her partner.
5. East converts the Take-Out Double of his/her partner into a Penalty Double.
1. South must decide what to do.
2. South has sufficiently described his holding.
3. South can not escape to any other suit.
4. In this case, South should accept the double, which becomes a positive double.

Positive Double

In reviewing the positive double, the following newspaper article by Mr. Alan Truscott is also presented and quoted:

New York Times
November 16, 1981
By: Alan Truscott
Bridge: Negative Double Can Ruin An Opportunity for Penalty

Virtually all American experts use negative doubles when an opponent overcalls an opening bid of one of a suit. This solves many problems for the opener's partner, but it does sometimes permit a juicy penalty to remain unplucked.

Holding a hand with which he would like to make a penalty double, the responder must just pass. In theory, the opener can reopen with a double to allow a penalty pass, but in practice that does not always work. In the diagramed deal, for example, it is far from clear that East would reopen with a double after opening with one Heart and hearing a 2 Diamond overcall. He would have reason to fear that somebody would bid Spades.

The deal was reported in sorrow by Richard Staelin of Riverside, Connecticut, and was played in the weekly rubber bridge game of the Greenwich Retired Men's Association. He sat South and ventured an overcall of 2 Diamonds when East opened one Heart. Vulnerable overcalls at the two-level normally need a six-card suit, but it is hard to blame him. His hand seemed likely to take six tricks, and in view of the part-score, 2 Diamonds was a game bid. However, the punishment was unusually heavy.

Desire for Penalty Indicated

Luckily for East and West, Jack Adams and Phil Jones, they were not using negative doubles, and West could immediately indicate his desire for a penalty. It was hard for North-South to judge that they could save some points by an abnormal rescue into two no-trump, and the bidding ended.

South   West   North   East
2   Double   Pass   Pass

West led the Spade Ace, and dummy produced two trumps and two Kings. Unfortunately, these proved to be worthless to South and the defense picked him clean.

On viewing his partner's Queen, West continued with the Spade Jack and dummy's King was ruffed. The Heart Ace was followed by a Heart ruff, and West cashed his Spade winner. East regained the lead in Clubs to give his partner another Heart ruff, and another Club lead left East to play in this position:


It did not matter what East led. West was sure to score the trump ten as well as the king, for if South ruffed with an honor, West could discard. The positive double had netted 1,400 points and left South in a state of shock.

Note: End of quoted article by Mr. Alan Truscott

Low-Level Doubles

South   West   North   East
1   1   Double    

If North doubles after his partner opens and there is an immediate intervening overcall, the double of North is almost always a negative double. See negative doubles.

If this is not your partnership understanding, then you have a different partnership agreement. The double of North then becomes a penalty double, and then, in general, the following guidelines apply.

1. Pass the low-level double with at least 3 quick tricks (winning tricks) in defense. Make that educated guess whether you can score better in defending than in competing for the contract.
2. Re-enter the bidding with fewer than 3 quick tricks (winning tricks) in defense. Ascertain first the trick-taking ability of your trumps and then make a judgment call.
3. Re-enter the bidding almost always with an unbid 5-card suit. In this case, your distribution will be the key to a successful contract after you have described your hand to your partner.
4. After considering all of the guidelines above, there is still one more thing which the player must contemplate. The question is: if you are on lead, will your lead be crucial to successfully bringing home the doubled contract, thereby giving your team the better score.
5. A double of a 1 No Trump opening also becomes a penalty double, and not a takeout double. This overcall is usually made with any hand containing 10 high card points or more. Invariably the opponents have the majority of the points, but if the partner of the 1 No Trump bidder decides to pass on a borderline hand, then the doubled contract does not equal game. However, if the partner of the 1 No Trump bidder decides to redouble, then you or your partner have to perform a save.

Game Doubles

If, during the auction, you realize that the opponents have reached a game contract, which is obviously a mistake in their bidding, a double is for penalty. Your objective is to gain as many points as possible from your opponents by defeating the contract. This penalty double is based on an educated estimation of length and strength of the hands of the opponents from the auction, and it is not an uncalculated risk. It could be that the opponents are attempting a save, or have escaped to another suit which you have already doubled for penalty.

The penalty double of a game contract is based on an educated estimation and visualization of their card holdings. If there has been no intervening bid by you or your partner, then a penalty double is not a wise choice because you have no picture of the holding of your partner. You must have a visual picture of the holding of your opponents and their distribution.

Offering a penalty double based solely on the amount of high card points is not good bridge. If you hold 4 quick tricks (winning tricks) in the Major suit game contract of your opponents, then, of course, a penalty double is an absolute must. A penalty double should always be based on the visualization of the holding of your opponents, and not on guts or instinct.

It is always good bridge to discuss these different doubles with your partner before sitting down at the bridge table. They are good tools to have and to understand. They must, however, be understood, because the meaning of a double can change its meaning throughout the auction period. Your partner should be aware of this eventual change in meaning and adjust his bidding accordingly. The significance and interpretation of doubles should be ultimately included in your written partnership agreement.



If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.