Joan Butts
Joan Butts

WHEN teaching the topic of overcalls, and points required for making them, it’s good to highlight the difference between the one-level, eg 1(1) and the two-level, eg 1 (2). Most students seem to think you need only 10+ points to overcall at the two-level. They confuse it with responding at the two level in your own suit after partner’s opening (eg 1 P 2). Even that works better if responder has opening points (hurrah for two over one GF!). For a two level overcall to be safe, you need an opening hand and a decent suit. It’s quite different to the onelevel.

Look at this hand:   J 8  K Q 10 7  Q 3  A J 7 5 2

Your side is vul, and your rightie opens 1. What do you do? If you overcall 2, that is likely to end the auction. Here’s the whole hand:

K 6 3
A J 8 5 2
K Q 9 6
A 9 7 2
J 8 4 3
K 7 4
4 3
J 8
K Q 10 7
Q 3
A J 7 5 2
Q 10 5 4
9 6 5 2
10 9 6
10 8

Despite the strong hand, North should not bid again with so much strength in clubs. In Better Bridge magazine, when experts were given the East hand, not a single panelist overcalled 2.

Most chose to overcall 1 on the four-card suit! They commented that they hated the club suit, and preferred the hearts, regardless of only four of them. 2 is likely to be defeated, but East-West can make 3. If East overcalls 1, West will raise, North will make a takeout double, and the final contract will become interesting. You might think this is revolutionary, and weird bidding, but it’s the suit quality the experts were considering. They would rather have K Q 10 7 than A J 7 5 2!

Suit quality is important for overcalling at any level, and although requirements for overcalling at the one-level are decreasing, you need some “stuffing” of 10s and 9s and an honour or two at the top of your suit.

Look at this mess: (the final of the 2015 US selection trials to represent the US at the Bermuda Bowl).

Justin Lall & Eric Greco
Justin Lall & Eric Greco

Two young teams were fighting it out for first place. Youthful enthusiasm lends itself to lots of bidding, and while that makes for some exciting contracts, occasionally they go overboard. Justin Lall sat West (EW vul) with K 8 6 4 2 J 10 A J 2 10 8 2 and heard South open 1. He overcalled 1. Certainly not a good suit, and not much of a hand. The next two players passed, and South re-opened with a double. This was left in by North, and the contract became 1X. Here’s the whole hand:

A J 10 7 5
K 8 6 3
7 6 4
K 8 6 4 2
J 10
A J 2
10 8 2
9 3
K 6 5 4 3
7 4
A Q 5 3
A 9 8 7 2
Q 10 9 5
K J 9

On the Q lead, covered by the king and ace, and heart continuations, North was able to make all their trumps, and with the K J 9 sitting over the A Q, there were two more losers there. Finally, a diamond loser too meant that 1X was down 3 (–800). Ouch!

There was discussion among the players watching (on BBO – thousands of them) as to whether this was a good time to overcall. In the other room, the young player sitting in Justin’s seat passed, and avoided duplicating the bad result.

In general they decided that it was not a good move (obvious on this hand!) One less than kind commentator said that Justin had got what he deserved! Oh well… this was one bad result, but it’s all part of the swings and roundabouts of a chosen bidding style. To make it to the US finals, there must have been some great compensating bids, plays and defences on other hands, so let’s not be too hasty to criticise, until we are there in Justin’s seat!