In their Own Words

Sputnik and its Satellites

Doubles in the Roth-Stone System

by Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone

We have found that many doubles which are used for penalties in “go-as-you-please” are better played for takeout. This treatment permits us greater freedom and flexibility in competitive auctions yet, as you will see, still allows us to obtain our share of lucrative penalties.

Each of our methods can be useful to you, even if you do not play The System. But even if you do not adopt any of them, we hope to familiarize you with them, because you are likely to encounter them at the table. However, because of space limitations, we cannot present as complete a discussion as appears in our book.*

The Roth-Stone Double (Sputnik)

Everyone is familiar with the standard takeout double (Opener: 1; Opponent: Dbl). The extension of this convention to the opening bidder is also familiar (Opener: 1; Opponent: 2; P; P; Opener: Dbl). We take the next logical step by introducing takeout doubles by the partner of the opening bidder (Opener: 1; Opponent: 2; Responder: Dbl). Although in other systems this is a penalty double, we use this bid as a takeout double. (“Sputnik” as this type of double has come to be called, was first used humorously by Stone and Oswald Jacoby in the expert rubber game at the Cavendish Club in New York in 1957. Others in the game, including George Rapee, Howard Schenken and Sam Stayman, adopted the term enthusiastically.)

Suppose as opener you hold:
♠ Axxxx   Ax   xx   ♣ A Q J 10

The bidding proceeds: 1♠, 2♣, P, P. You would like to double for penalties, but you must pass. The double would be interpreted as takeout. But if partner had made a sputnik double, you would convert it to a penalty double by passing.

Similarly, as responder holding:
♠ xx   xx   Kxxxx   ♣ A J 10 8

If the bidding proceeds: 1♠, 2♣, you must pass. Partner will reopen with a double on hands with which he would have accepted a “go-as-you-please” penalty double. He will bid a suit on distributional hands. He will only pass with a minimum hand with length in the opponent’s suit, which will almost never happen when you also have length in the suit. So you have not lost the opportunity to punish an unsound overcall.

Then what have you gained? The responder can now compete on hands which cannot be adequately handled by standard methods – either because the hand is too weak for a free bid or because no descriptive bid is available. A Roth-Stone double should not normally be made, however, with a hand satisfying the requirements for a free bid.**

In the Roth-Stone System, the maximum for a “sputnik” is quite high – just under a free bid or a free raise. The minimum varies from a bare seven points at the one-level; 1♣, 1, Dbl:
♠ Kxxx   xx   KJxxx   ♣ xx

to an opening bid at the higher levels: 1♣, 4, Dbl:
♠ K Jxx   xx   A J 10 x   ♣ Axx

The opener acts in accordance with these strength limits. He may bid or jump in a new suit or notrumps, or rebid his suit if it is very strong or cue-bid the opponent’s suit. (This would be the only absolute force on partner.) Or he may pass the double with great strength in the opponent’s suit.

Note that opener is under no obligation to take out a high-level double, even lacking strength in the opponent’s suit, as his side should have sufficient high cards to yield a substantial penalty. Consequently, when partner opens with a major (which shows five cards in the System) and the opponent pre-empts, we hardly ever double when we have support for partner’s suit, as he may pass. We have therefore lowered the free-raise requirements at higher levels as follows: 1♠, 3, 3♠ is not forcing, typically:
♠ Kxx   xxxx   A Qxx   ♣ xx

1♠, 3, 4♠ may be bid with a hand which would have rated only a maximum game invitation without the intervening overcall, typically;
♠ Kxx   Qxxx   A Qxx   ♣ xx

The situations we have been discussing occur after an opening bid of one of a suit and an overcall – direct or jump, strong or preemptive, up to and including four spades. In only one other situation is the responder’s double “sputnik:” when the opening is 1NT and the opponent makes a natural 2♣, 2, 3♣ or 3 overcall; the double would then show support for one or both major suits, but is not forcing to game*** Opener may choose to pass the double with a good holding in the opponent’s suit, but more often he will bid. With interest in a major and a strong hand, responder may cuebid the opponent’s suit, thus forcing the hand to game. Any suit bid at the two level is purely competitive and requires no particular high-card strength, whereas any bid at the three level would be forcing for one round.

Perhaps you wonder what we do when an opponent makes a Roth-Stone double of our partner’s overcall. We treat this very much as we would a standard takeout double. With support for partner’s suit, we raise as high as our hand permits (the jump raise is preemptive). We redouble to show high-card strength.

Responsive Doubles
When opener’s suit is freely supported, a penalty situation exists. Therefore, if partner doubles or overcalls and the opener’s suit is supported at the two-, three- or four-level, we play that a double is a takeout for the unbid suits – a “responsive” double. Example: 1♠, Dbl, 2♠, Dbl:
♠ x   Qxxx   Kxxx   ♣ Qxxx

How can this hand be handled adequately without responsive doubles?

If partner has overcalled, a responsive double requests him not to rebid his own suit unless it is self-sufficient. He may bid any three-card suit with assurance of support. Example: 1, 2♣, 2, Dbl:
♠ K 10 9xx   K J 10xx   xx   ♣ x

It is important to note that if responder’s bid is anything other than a support of opener’s suit, a double is for penalties.

Takeout Double by Overcaller
Often a player will have a hand strong enough for a takeout double, with one long suit and support for the other suits. If he doubles and the responder preempts, he may be unable to show the suit. Therefore he should overcall, planning to double at his next opportunity to indicate support for the unbid suits.

The overcaller requires no extra high-card values to reopen the bidding with a takeout double. However, in a “live” position, considerable extra strength is needed.

West North East South
1♠ 2♣ 2♠ Pass
Pass Dbl

♠ x   Kxx   Axx   ♣ K Q 9xxx

West North East South
1♠ 2♣ Pass Pass
2♠ Dbl

♠ x   K Qx   A Kx   ♣ K Q 9xxx

Two-Suit Takeout Doubles
There are a number of situations in which a double after the opponents have bid two suits is for takeout, showing support for the two unbid suits. For example:

West North East South
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
2♠ Dbl


West North East South
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
2 Dbl


West North East South
1 Pass 1NT Pass
2 Dbl

A typical hand might be:
♠ xx   K J 9xx   xx   ♣ A Q Jxx

With length in the opponent’s suit, partner can pass the takeout double with assurance that the doubler has some high-card strength. With a very distributional hand, we use the unusual notrump rather than the double. So, with
♠ xx   K J 10xx   xx   ♣ K J 10xx

we would bid 2NT in each of the above sequences.

Note that a double of a suit rebid after a 1NT response is for penalties.

West North East South
1♠ Pass 1NT Pass
2♠ Dbl

♠ A Q 10 9x   x   A Qx   ♣ K Jxx

The Roth-Stone use of doubles for takeout in situations where they have traditionally been played for business lends itself to flexible treatment. “Classic” hands have been used for illustration in this article. However, the expert can adapt these techniques to many other hands, as long as he is prepared for partner’s responses. For example, having overcalled, he might double not having support for a lower-ranking suit, if his own suit were strong enough to rebid. If the bidding proceeds:

West North East South
1♠ 2 2♠ Pass

the overcaller could double holding:
♠ xx   A J 10   A K J 9xx   ♣ xx

If partner responds 3♣, the doubler will rebid 3, but if partner had responded 3, a superior contract would have been reached.

In summary, let us state that the Roth-Stone double (Sputnik) can be used only when partner opens with one of a suit and, in some cases, with 1NT. Responsive doubles, on the other hand, may be used with opponents open with one, two or three of a suit. For example, Opponent:: 2♠ (weak); Partner: Double; Opponent: 3♠; You: Double; would be responsive.

* Bridge is a Partnership Game (E.P.Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1958).

** Bear in mind that we practically never bid freely with four-card suits. For example, if partner opens with 1 and the opponent overcalls with 1, suppose we hold:
♠AQ9x  Jxxx  K   ♣AJxx.
We would double first (Sputnik) and, at our next turn, cuebid if convenient, thus driving the hand at least to game.

*** If the overcall is artificial, a double shows strength in that suit and is primarily lead-directing. A bid of that suit at the next level shows at least six cards and is preemptive.

About Al Roth and Tobias Stone

Al Roth (1914-2007) and Tobias Stone (1921-2012) are both members of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. They met in 1935 at City College and formed what came to be a legendary partnership. Together they created the world-famous Roth-Stone System, which enjoyed great popularity upon its publication in the 1950s.