16. Competing After A Suit Opening

This chapter discusses the basic tools of competition, and some special situations.

Overcalls

An overcall is a bid after the opponents have opened. This section discusses doing so when the opponents opened a suit. The range for an overcall is 8-17 points. With 18 or more, you double first.

Your partner will think it is a takeout double at first. This “power double” is discussed in Takeout Doubles.

If you don’t double first, partner will assume you have 8-17 and may pass your overcall despite having enough for game opposite your strong holding.

On the bottom end, a one-level overcall can be much more relaxed than a two-level overcall. An overcall is above all a request for your partner to lead your suit, so the first requirement is a suit you want led.

Classify your hand as usual. For a more dangerous case such as a two-level overcall, especially vulnerable, you need a good hand and a good suit. For less dangerous cases, you need one or the other. In both cases, you should want the suit led if your partner becomes the opening leader.

One case that requires special caution is overcalling a minor at the two level. Your reward is not high and your risk is high, especially vulnerable. It is really best to have a good six-card suit, and 10+ HCP.

You can overcall 1N with 15-18 HCP and a stopper (preferably more) in their suit. If they have preempted with a 2-level suit bid, overcalling it 2N means about the same thing but you really would like two stoppers, such as AJx.

With more points and the same kind of hand, you cannot bid 2N, because it is a conventional bid called Unusual Two Notrump. You double first.

You can overcall with a very strong four-card suit at the one level, and a maximum strength. Your partner may not like it but sometimes it is right.

Mike Lawrence’s “Complete Book of Overcalls” has a complete discussion. He emphasizes understanding the safety of various overcalls. For example, after an auction that begins (1♣)-P-(2♣), bidding is strongly encouraged, because RHO does not have diamonds, hearts, or spades, and has limited values; whereas after (1♥)–P–(2♥), clubs and diamonds are not safe – either opponent may have them.

When you are in fourth seat, you can overcall, but if passing would end the auction see Balancing. If they have both bid you need a very good suit, probably six cards, and very good values. This is called a ‘live auction’. For all you know the opener has a strong hand and was about to bid again. This situation is dangerous.

Responding To Partner’s Overcall

Responding to an overcall:

  • Recognize in choosing a response that partner’s range is 8-17 HCP because he did not double. You don’t have to bid if we’re not going anywhere. Resist rescuing.

  • A bid of a new suit is forcing by an unpassed hand and denies a fit for the overcall.

  • A simple raise is competitive.

  • A jump raise is preemptive.

  • A cue bid of opener’s suit is a raise. Generally, we are safe at the level of the number of trump we have together.

RHO might bid, most frequently to raise the opener. See Responsive Doubles, in which a double shows the unbid suits.

Your partner needs to learn you can be trusted. Avoid these errors:

  • Overcalling when you should really pass.

  • Overcalling with a suit you don’t want led.

  • Not leading the overcaller’s suit when you can.

Weak Jump Overcalls

A jump overcall such as (1♥) 2♠ is essentially like an opening weak two or three bid. A good suit is needed. As with a preempt, after you make this bid you should almost never bid again.

Some times you have a hand that could have opened with a weak preempt but you did not for some reason, such as having an outside four-card major in first or second seat. If you passed at first you can bid later once it becomes clear your partner is not being preempted by your bid.

By the way, your partner should respond to this as if you opened a weak two-bid. In particular, 2N should be whatever it would be for you (feature ask, for example) had they just opened 2x.

Michaels Cue Bid

An immediate or balancing cue bid of a suit opener is shows a distributional hand with 5-5 or better shape, with the suits being both majors when the opponents bid a minor, and the unbid major and a minor if the opponents bid a major.

Note

Cue bids are in general not alertable – in fact, 1♣ - (2♣) is only alerted if it is natural. However, it is not necessarily Michaels either. If opponents make such a bid, be sure to ask what they mean by it, if only at the end of the auction. This is one case when silence does not mean standard.

Advancer can bid 2N! asking for the minor. Except in unusual circumstances, advancer must choose between partner’s two suits.

The Michaels bid does not show anything more than a prudent overcall but is unlimited.

Without partnership agreement, (1x) P (1y) 2x is not Michaels but natural; this is especially possible after 1♣ or 1♦.

Over an opening 2♠, a bid of 3♠ should be Western Cue, asking partner to bid 3N with a spade stopper. There isn’t enough room for Michaels.

Some partners agree to use Michaels only with minimal or maximum hands – see Minimax.

A question arises when the Michaels bid shows a major and an unknown suit, and the responder makes a bid, but advancer has no support for the major. E.g., (1♥) 2♥ (3♦) ?. Typically responder’s 3♦ bid shows a weak hand with diamonds, if opponents are playing unusual vs. unusual, but many intermediate pairs will lack agreements. With values but lacking spade support here, and ideally holding at least two diamonds, advancer should double, asking for the second suit or a penalty pass.

Without values, of course, you are off the hook and can pass.

An advanced agreement is that the 2N reply asking for the second suit shows a good hand, while 3♣ asks for the second suit. A bid like 3♣ is a “pass or correct” bid; the Michaels bidder will pass if his second suit is clubs.

Unusual 2NT

Unusual 2NT is a direct or balancing 2N bid after a 1-level opening. It shows a hand of unstated strength that is at least 5-5 in the lowest two unbid suits. Advancer should choose the best of these two suits, except in remarkable circumstances.

Unusual 2NT is not alertable. Some partners agree to use Unusual 2NT only with weak or strong hands, see Minimax.

It is also possible to recognize other “impossible” no-trump bids as unusual. For example,

(1♣) P (1♠) 2N

would show 5-5 in the red suits. Logically, nobody has a big enough hand to bid no-trump at the two level here. 2N specifically shows the 5-5 shape, while a double would be takeout but presumably not that good a shape.

Another possible agreement: if they preempt four of something, 4N is unusual notrump, asking advancer to pick his best of the two lowest unbid suits. Double’s meaning depends on your agreed takeout double limit. Some play 4N as a two-suited takeout.

Minimax Style

Minimax is an optional style of bidding Michaels and Unusual 2N. If you are playing minimax, it means you use these bids only with a maximum or a minimum; with a medium hand you bid the higher-ranked suit, hoping to show the other later.

When playing minimax, advancer will assume the weaker hand until his partner bids again to show the good hand.

The minimum would be an adequate overcall but less than an opener, while a maximum would be more than 15 points.

Minimax allows more certainty in responses to two-suited bids, at the price of not being able to make those bids as often.

Western Cue

When we are in a contested auction a (usually) three-level cue-bid of the opponent’s suit denies a stopper in their suit(s) and asks partner to bid 3N if they have a stopper. For example:

1♦ (1♥) 1♠ - 2♣ - 3♥!(asking for heart stopper)

Responder is asking opener to bid 3N if he has a stopper in hearts. Quite often the Western Cue bidder has some help in their, such as a half-stopper, but does not feel secure bidding 3N on their own.