Active Ethics: Hear no Evil

By Larry CohenEddie Kantar

Courtesy of

What do you think of the following (from a recent Regional):



With both sides vulnerable, LHO opens a 15-17 notrump and your partner doubles. It’s not my favorite method, but this pair was using penalty doubles. RHO passes and it is your call.

With balanced hands (even bad ones), you should usually sit for a penalty double of 1NT. But with this hand, I presume you removed to 2. Your partner, as you might have expected (or feared), bids 2. No doubt he has a hand that was too good to simply overcall in hearts, so he has doubled first to show a really good hand with hearts.

Would you leave well enough alone, or correct to 3?

I think I would pass (partner hasn’t promised diamonds) — he could even be void in diamonds. But let’s say you do correct to 3 as the player who held this hand chose to. So far, no big deal.

Now, partner makes the call you dreaded. He bids 3. I guess you should have passed 2. Surely, you will pass now before the doubling starts, right?

Wrong. This player persisted with 4. And his partner removed to 4. This was getting ugly. RHO doubled. Surely, you’ve had enough? No. ‘Redouble’ said our scrambling man. Even though the redouble was meant as S.O.S, everyone passed. Final contract: 4 doubled and redoubled! Yikes!

What is going on? Here is some missing information.

It turns out that your 2 bid was alerted by partner as a transfer to hearts. The alert was correct. The 2 bidder had forgotten that they play ‘system on’ over their own penalty doubles. So 2 would have been Stayman, and 2 and 2 were supposed to be transfers. Oh dear.

Panic time. You have shown hearts, but you are void in hearts!

So, partner ‘takes the transfer’ to 2. You now expect you could be in a 3-0 fit, so you run to 3. Over partner’s 3, you run to 4. Over the double of 4, you try to run again. Is all of this okay?

No. Let me repeat that, no!

This is a difficult concept for most players to understand. See if you can follow:

When you (not ‘you’, but the player with this hand) bid 2, he thought it was natural. He is not entitled to hear the alert and be woken up! Let me repeat in a different way: he thought he had shown diamonds — and he had diamonds. When his partner bids hearts, he has to pretend there was no alert. So partner is supposed to have his own heart suit (even though you know from the alert that he thinks he is responding to a transfer).

Let’s try one more way. When I first told the story, wasn’t your inclination to pass 2? Or, certainly you’d have passed 3.

So, now with the ‘unauthorized information’ (that’s the technical term), you are not entitled to continually run from partner’s heart bids. You have to pretend he is bidding his own hearts. I don’t know how else to put it — I hope you get it.

Surely this ‘running’ act was subconscious, or unintended, because the player who did this is a very ethical human being. He wouldn’t intentionally break the law. Maybe he didn’t realize the implications and obligations of hearing the alert (but he will if he reads this).

Anyway, the proper action would have been rewarded in a big way. Partner actually held a big heart hand! It was so big (KJ52 AKJ10987 K) that nine tricks made, so you would have been +140 for passing him in 2 or 3. As it was, 4 redoubled was down only one, but minus 400 was costly. The price was 11 IMPs (the score was 140 at the other table) and maybe a lesson learned?