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Your Kind of Overcall?

What constitutes a vulnerable 2 level overcall? How bad can it be? These two questions are lurking behind today’s problem. While the actual deal is a freak, the question one might ask is whether you might have put your partner in this position on this recent tournament hand. Would you have called 2Club-small? Initially, we view the deal from your partner’s point of view….and not a very pleasant one it is, too.

Bridge, bidding can be fun and at times is less so. How do you view the developments on this board? You are playing Pairs…and the vulnerability excites you no more than does your hand. Are you going off to make the coffee…and take your hand with you as it will be no use to your partner..or is the auction not yet over?

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West Deals
Both Vul
W   E
10 7 5 2
K 8 7 4
J 9 5 4 3
West North East South
1  2  Pass Pass
Dbl Pass Pass ?


Our Panel are divided with the two who decided “to make the coffee” expressing views about what their partner should hold:

Stephen Blackstock “Pass: North should have 6+ decent clubs for the overcall. Why should we have a better spot? Give him 3226 say: where do you prefer to play? At least in clubs you know how the trumps lie and should be able to endplay East once or twice. Almost certainly we are going down, but (a) others will be in the same position; and (b) down two will be OK if they have a game. Redouble would be a shot in the dark, and considering the relative strengths of my diamonds and his clubs, 2Diamond-small would be crazy.”

No doubts there…”6 decent clubs”. I will ensure our overcaller and Stephen never sit opposite each other at the table.

Nigel Kearney “Pass: I'm a pretty conservative overcaller at the two level, especially vulnerable. Assuming partner is the same, I like his chance of taking tricks in clubs better than mine in diamonds.”

However, the others are not staying put. The first move was to Stephen Blackstock’s “crazy” bid:

Michael Cornell “2Diamond-small: East is clearly trapping and I would expect 2Club-smallx to be a disaster and I will have one stab at moving.

I prefer trying diamonds rather than XX because a 5/2 here would be better than a 4/3 in spades.”

Bridge is such a wonderful game. Our top players have such different views of some situations.

Matt Brown “Redouble: I ask for partner to choose a new spot - it can hardly be worse, looking at my hand.”

The point above about being down 2 in Pairs is a very valid consideration and certainly may be a factor in passing, as bad as the contract may feel.

Peter Newell “Redouble: Good problem, and a tough choice. Pass, redouble and 2Diamond-small are all options.  I’ll redouble for rescue – my hand is terrible for clubs so it is hard to imagine 2Club-smallx being a success.  It may not be better elsewhere, but it’s worth a try as sometimes it will.  However, I think it is close, and if partner was known for sound vulnerable overcalls, I would pass. (Peter, of course, did formerly play with Stephen Blackstock)

There are a number of negatives regarding redouble. Partner will not usually have another 4-card suit as he would bid them, and will quite often have 6 clubs.  When partner doesn’t have another 4-card suit, he may only have 1 3 card suit. If it were spades, I don’t think the 4-3 fit will play well on a trump lead, or a heart through the king and possible trump switch.  2Club-small may end up making 5-6 tricks which may not be too bad as there will be plenty of other penalties or they make 3NT for 600 and we may go for 500.”

So, a reluctant redouble….sometimes it is harder for the opponents to double our second suit as it may be breaking fairly evenly and their combined strength may be unclear…”

Resigned to their fate:

Bruce Anderson “Redouble: this must be SOS. East has a club stack and 2Club-smallx will almost certainly be a bottom. It is possible that partner has 3 or 4 spades but a hand unsuitable to start with a double. Or perhaps we have a 5/3 diamond fit. If we do not have a fit, or a partial fit, a bottom is a bottom.”

Kris Wooles “Redouble: East was lying in wait with clubs. I hope Redouble will be read as rescue. No idea if this is right and will help matters but at least “operating” sometimes makes it harder for the opponents and we may end up in a more playable spot which West will likely double.”  

Well, if the redouble was left in, a calculator would be needed to work out the result as these were the four hands:

West Deals
Both Vul
Q 8
A J 6
A 8 2
K 10 7 5 3
K J 3
Q 10 9 5 3 2
K Q 7 6
W   E
A 9 6 4
A Q J 9 8 6 4 2
10 7 5 2
K 8 7 4
J 9 5 4 3
West North East South
1  2  Pass Pass
Dbl Pass Pass ?


Anywhere, anything would be better than playing this collection in 2Club-smallx, unless it was played by East (who can make 10 tricks as declarer..and probably as a defender, too.) The “runners” were right this time with North choosing diamonds where it seems they can amass 7 tricks, though with no game makeable for East-West, even -200 is a poor result for North-South, though psychologically better for North than -1400 (5 light) in 2Club-smallx.

North was saved at the table by West who reopened with 2Diamond-small and East-West finally rested in 3Heart-small, making after a lead that probably matched the overcall (Diamond-smallA).

I asked our two passers whether they would have overcalled on the North hand. The answers were pretty definite:

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With apologies!   

Nigel Kearney “Sorry, 2Club-small on that hand vulnerable is not even bridge, Non-vulnerable, it would at least be poor bridge not non-bridge. And I say that as someone who likes to bid, a lot. The reasons are too numerous for a short comment. Double is an option but I prefer pass.”

Stephen Blackstock “2Club-small on that hand is horrible. I could use other less favourable descriptions! A quality international will have a good six card minor most of the time – any lesser suit would be seen as technically poor and forced because all other options are worse (which of course can happen, just not often).

Pass is the best choice on this 14 count. Double isn’t awful but will mislead partner about our offensive prospects. At IMPs I would rather bid 1NT than 2Club-small.”

So, neither player would have conceded 1400 on this deal even though they passed out 2Club-smallx. Nigel also offered to explain why 2Club-small is such a bad overcall and this is a shortened version of what he said:

“ Two level overcalls are about playing strength not points. A good way to think about it is that the starting point is a maximum weak two bid. Of course, you can be stronger than that. You would not open a weak two bid vulnerable with a balanced hand and a suit of KTxxx and, when overcalling, everything is worse for your side.

The opponents have got in first. They are well placed to double because responder can pass with club length and opener will nearly always double. Compared to opening a dodgy weak two when the next hand may bid 2NT and let you off the hook because they can't risk it being passed out.

Their opening bid also means your upside is much less because you have consumed much less bidding space and they've already exchanged information. A weak two is a calculated risk in order to make things much harder for opponents when it is their hand. You aren't making it much harder for them when you bid 2Club-small over 1Spade-small.

Your suit is lower than theirs. This is a vital point. In order to outbid them, you have to contract for one more trick than they do. That requires more playing strength. What’s important is your ratio of offense to defence, or ODR. Balanced shape, side suit aces and Qx of their suit are more defensive. Your Spade-smallQ is probably useless if you declare but may help you beat their 2Spade-small contract if you defend.

The biggest loss from overcalling on hands like the one above is not conceding penalties. It is that partner will not be able to compete on hands where you actually have enough to outbid them. Imagine you holdSpade-smallxxx Heart-smallxxx Diamond-smallKxxx Club-smallAQx and the auction is (1Spade-small)-2Club-small-(3Heart-small) to you. You would like to bid 4Club-small and find partner with a good playing strength hand such as Spade-smallxx Heart-smallAx Diamond-smallQJx Club-smallKJ10xxx. It may be down one, but they probably make 3Heart-small or 3Spade-small and you might push them up. But you don't want to bid 4Club-small and find partner with a junky balanced hand like the one above that looks like a weak notrump opening not a two-level overcall.

I hesitate to give rules because Bridge is a game of judgment not following rigid rules. But you will not go far wrong if you never overcall at the two level with 5332 shape and never with a five-card suit that has fewer than three honours. Vulnerable you want to be even better, generally a six-card suit or very strong five card suit. Outside honours do not compensate for your own weak suit and can even be a negative if they're in the opponents' suit.”

The opponents will not always have 8 trumps in one hand against you. You could say North got very lucky this time though they still got a bad result on the board. Be warned. So, what are your vulnerable 2 level overcalls like?

Routine Plays.

Maybe…just checking:

West Deals
N-S Vul
6 2
K 4 3
A J 10 9 8
A 9 6
W   E
K J 10
A Q 62
K 4 3
10 8 3
West North East South
2  3  Pass 3 NT
All pass      


2Spade-small promises 5 spades and at least 5 cards in a minor and less than an opening hand. West leads Spade-small3 to East’s Spade-small8 and your Spade-smallJ (just a little false-card…don’t tell them where Spade-small10 is!). Plan the play.

Richard Solomon


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