The Lightner double is a lead-directing double of a slam contract, developed by the bridge pioneer Mr. Theodore A. Lightner of New York City, New York, United States. He was born in the year 1893 and died in the year 1981. He was one of the leading bridge personalities in the early days of the evolving game of bridge. He partnered with Mr. Ely Culbertson during the occasion during the highly-publized Culbertson-Lenz Match, which took place between December of 1931 and January of 1932.

Note: Mr. Alan Truscott, bridge columnist for The New York Times, remembers the career of Mr.Theodore A. Lightner in his bridge column dated December 19, 1981, which has also been only preserved and archived on this site in .pdf file format for future reference.


The Lightner Double

During his investigation of slam contracts and the first card to be played to such a contract he considered, being a betting man, that the opposing declarer would either fulfill the contract or fail by one trick. He considered it a requirement that only experienced opponents would bid a slam contract and even then only voluntarily. His reasoning was that a penalty double would neither be profitable, advantageous, or lucrative. Thus Mr. Theodore A. Lightner gave the call double a new meaning in certain bidding sequences, which led finally to a slam contract.

His premise is: A double by the hand not on lead is conventional.

The partner on lead is requested to choose an unusual lead which may result in the defeat of the contract. Note that it is not always possible to defeat the contract and any lead by the partner will not always defeat the contract. The concept is that an unusual lead may defeat the contract.

1. A Lightner double excludes the lead of a trump.
2. A Lightner double excludes any suit bid by the defenders.
3. A Lightner double excludes the lead of the trump suit.
4. A Lightner double may exclude any suit not yet bid, but this is conditional.
5. It is also conditional that the defender, who uses the lightner double, to expect to ruff the lead of a side suit mentioned by the opponents, or otherwise to win the first two top tricks in that suit.
6. A Lightner double may often mean the lead of the first bid suit by the dummy. Note: partnership agreement,
7. A Lightner double may possibly signify the lead of a Spade, or the highest suit not bid by the opponents. Note: partnership agreement,

Note: As a variation to the original concept other bridge experts have restricted the meaning of the lightner double and have defined the lightner double to mean that the partner must lead the dummy's first bid side suit.

In any case, using the above mentioned guidelines, the partner is more or less supposed to deduce the lead from the context of the auction. It was Mr. Theodore A. Lightner, who took some of the guesswork out of the equation. He did not establish hard and fast rules other than those presented above.


Below are two examples of the use of the lightner double and how the player on lead may deduce which suit to lead. The auction is secondary and may be unusual for the bridge player employing Standard American bids.

Example 1

East   South   West   North
Pass   1 NT   2   Double
2   3   Pass   6
Double   Pass   Pass   Pass

Source: 2000 District 16 GNT Finals, Flight A - Board 10
Richardson, Texas - May 28, 2000

Explanations to the Auction

South opens the auction with 1 No Trump signifying a range of 14-16 high card points.
West overcalls with 2 Clubs. This signifies a long Diamond holding or a 4-card Major suit and Clubs.
North doubles. This is the Stayman convention.
East bids 2 Diamonds. East shows support for a long Diamond suit possibly held by partner.
South rebids 3 Clubs, indicating at least a 4-card Club suit, and a possible 4-card Major suit holding, but little interest in playing in a final No Trump contract.
West passes.
North bids 6 Clubs, an attempt at slam. North has three good controls with two Aces and a singleton Diamond.

East doubles. This is the lightner double. The expectation of East is that his partner, West, may a) hold only one Spade or b) that the King of Spades is located in the hand of North. Two good options and possibilities. If either expectation is met, then the small slam goes down one trick.

East has also calculated a sacrifice of 6 Diamonds doubled for -1100 points against a possible +200 if he and his partner can set the contract by one trick, and decides for the possible defeat of the contract.
West leads the 9 of Spades and the declarer is caught indeed in the dummy with an exposed King of Spades. The calculated gamble of East is successful. Dummy plays the King of Spades, hoping against all hope, and the contract is shattered when East puts up the Ace of Spades and follows with the Queen of Spades.

Note: When East doubles, then West must deduce that partner wishes a Spades lead. This deduction is made by referring to the agreed guidelines of the lightner double. In this example the decision is rather apparent, namely the lead of an unbid suit, which is either Hearts or Spades. Since West holds the King of Hearts, then, by elimination, East desires a Spade lead.


Example 2

Again the auction may seem foreign to many Standard American bridge players, but the partnership agreement of the Italian bridge players is quite different. The opening bid of 2 Diamonds shows a very strong holding.

South   West   North   East
Pass   2   4   4
5   6   Pass   Pass
Double   Pass   Pass   Pass

Source: Italy vs. USA 2, Board 11
Florida 1999

West took a large risk in bidding the small slam of 6 Diamonds. North is on lead, and his partner has used the lightner double to request an unusual lead.

According to the actual lie of the cards, the slam cannot be made as long as the defense (North-South) collects their two black Aces. North, however, leads the King of Spades, partner South playing a discouraging low Spade hoping for a Club switch, but then North attempts to cash the Ace of Spades. The declarer ruffs and cashes the rest of the tricks for plus 1090 points. That is 16 IMPs to Italy instead of 5 IMPs, if North had shifted to a Club.

The declarer trumps the second trick, after North attempts to cash the Ace of Spades, leads the Ace of Diamonds on the third trick and discovers that North is void. On the fourth trick, the declarer leads the Jack of Hearts and overtakes with the Queen of Hearts. On the fifth trick, the declarer plays the Queen of Spades and discards his losing Club. On the sixth trick, declarer finesses South for the Queen of trump successfully.

Note: Had North, per agreement, listened to the lightner double bid by his partner, North should have cashed the Ace of Spades and then lead, even seeing in addition the King of Clubs in the dummy, the Queen of Clubs to his partner for the setting trick.

Note: Although not technically a lightner double, but considered more within the parameters of a lead directing double, the sponsoring authority and also the reporters of the auction designated the double by South as a lightner double. No doubt a matter for bridge purists.

To Alert or Not To Alert

There have been some discussions and disputes about the lightner double having to be alerted. This action is especially considered since the call of double is, in most cases, in the game of bridge not alerted. There are only a few exceptions such as the support double.

The following deal is from the NEC World Bridge Championships, played in 1994 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The following is the Appeals Report #25.

Open Pairs, September 25, 1994
Chairman: Bobby Wolff
Members present: Jeffrey Polisner, Grattan Endicott, Tommy Sandsmark, Jean-Claude Beineix
Scribe: John Blubaugh

Board 21
Dealer: North
Vulnerable: North/South

North   East   South   West
1   2   3   5
6   Pass   Pass   Double (1)
Pass   Pass   Pass    

(1) Lightner Double - No Alert

Result: East led the 9, trumped by West, who then led the 6. North went down three tricks for a plus of 800 for East-West.
The Facts: North-South maintained that the lightner double was alertable and if the double had been alerted, they would have bid 6 No Trump.
Committee: The committee felt North-South should have recognized the meaning of the double (do not lead a Diamond) and they could possibly have been taking a two-way shot to get a good result. If East had made the wrong lead, they would score the slam. If East made the correct lead, they could always maintain to a committee that the double was not Alerted and they would have gone to 6NT if they had been Alerted. Wolff believed that the Lightner double was not an alertable bid and should not be Alerted. The committee agreed and the result was allowed to stand. The committee also agreed that the appeal was substantially without merit and North-South's deposit was forfeited.
Postscript: After the committee had ended, Director-in-charge Bill Schoder told the committee that in the past some rulings have required Alerts of the Lightner Double. The committee felt that Alerting a slam double as a conventional action is both unnecessary and harmful. Acting as WBF President, Wolff reformed the committee as a Tournament Committee and moved that the Lightner double specifically should be added to the list of un-Alertable conventions. The committee agreed and the conditions of contest were so amended.

Note: The Lightner Double has no etched-in-stone rules in choosing the lead. However, using the established guidelines set forth by Mr. Theodore A. Lightner reduces the guess-factor considerably. The idea is to listen to the auction, add up the distribution of the individual hands to determine a possible void, exclude the trump suit as a possible lead, take any possible winners immediately, watch the discard of his partner as to preference, and make a calculated guess from the gathered information.



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.