Most experts will agree that the hardest contract to make is One No Trump. The reason is that if someone opens 1N and partner passes, it means that opponents probably have an equal number of points or better because Opener’s partner will bid with 8 HCP. If partner passes, the odds are that she has 5 or less. That means that the points are pretty evenly split between declarer and defense.
If opponents’ bidding goes 1 of a suit-1 of a higher ranking suit-1N-pass-pass-?, it also indicates that points are pretty even between declarer and defense because declarer has 12-14 HCP and partner has 6-9. Add them up. Probably each side has 20 HCP; sometimes Declarer has as few as 18.
Because of this, defense has just as good a chance of taking seven tricks or more than declarer, probably a better chance because defense has the opening lead. Yet one rarely sees 1N doubled. Recently my partner and I had enormous success doubling 1N. The first was in a team game where we doubled an auction of 1 one of a minor-one of a major-1N. That one went down 4 after I doubled in the pass out seat and my partner sat for it. Here’s the second, a hand I picked up in second seat in a game less than a week later:
South West North East
1C P 1D 1H
1N D P P
I was in second seat and my RHO opened One Club. Even though I had 13 HCP, I have no call. I can’t double because if partner bids hearts, I don’t have a rebid, so I passed. LHO bid 1D and my partner bid 1H. My RHO rebid 1N and then I doubled in direct seat. I knew partner had enough to make an overcall, at least 8 HCP and either had a good heart suit or six hearts. Either way, I’m doubling with my opening hand, especially since I had the queen of her suit. By our agreement, this is for penalty. Since my partner knows any time I double 1N I’m hoping to defend, she passed. Here’s the entire layout:
I led the queen of hearts, which Declarer took with the Ace. He led a diamond and finessed my King. He led a spade to his king but East put up the Ace to lead another heart, which South took with the King. He led to the Ace of diamonds and then led a Club. Partner played the ten, which he let ride. East then took four heart tricks with me discarding the Queen of Spades on the first, asking for a spade lead when she got finished cashing her Hearts. She led a spade and Declarer took his Ace and the rest were mine with the Ace of Clubs, Jack of Spades, and the King of Diamonds for down 2 doubled.
The key to the hand is that my partner knows I want to play 1N doubled if at all possible and she passed with a weak six-card heart suit, but two ways to get in if we can set up her hearts.
Here are the rules for doubling 1N. I want to emphasize that these are my rules alone. You can’t play these unless you have a firm understanding with your partner that this is the way you are going to play. Not many others play this besides my partner and me to my knowledge. But I get more high boards defending 1N than on any other contract.
1. If the bidding goes 1N-P-P_?, you double with 10+ HCP and pass with 9 or less. If partner has a good 8, I want her to sit for the double. If not, she bids her longest suit and I pass. I’m not promising support for any suit she bids, so she knows we might be playing in a bad fit, like 4-2, but we’re unlikely to be doubled. We might get a bad board, but 75% of the time we get tops because even though nobody is making 1N we are the only ones who doubled.
2. If the bidding goes 1 of a suit-1 of a higher ranking suit-1N-P-P-?, the person in the pass out seat doubles with a 10+ point hand and pass with 9 or less. In this auction, it’s likely that declarer’s team has an even weaker hand than the 1N-P-P auction. Partner passes with a good 8 or with less points but both of opponents’ suits (so no suit to bid to rescue the hand). Once again, the likelihood is that declarer will be down one or two at every table, but you’ll be the only pair to double.
3. In the auction of the hand I describe above, after partner has made a call and then opponents bid NT, a double in the direct seat is penalty.
Playing 1N doubled is probably the most competitive contract you can play but it will reward you because it will be the most fun you’ll have at bridge, especially when you are successful. If you are too successful, if your percentage is too high, then you aren’t doubling 1N enough. It never bothers me to double and have the opponents make it. You must be unsuccessful occasionally. But if you’re only successful 50% of the time, you’re too aggressive. The only way to know is to start doubling 1N when the bidding indicates. As you get used to it you should slowly learn when to double and when to pass and you will start to climb towards the 75% success level. Bridge is not a game for the faint of heart. Try doubling more — you’ll like it.