On about half the hands played these days both sides will enter the auction, making the bidding "competitive". You'll need to adjust your bidding style slightly, as it’s often hard to tell who’s got what, and how high to go. The size of your proposed trump fit becomes more important than ever.
A bid is known as an overcall when one (or both) opponents have already started the auction. Although you might have enough points to open and are "opening" for your side, you're still known as the "overcaller".
There are three reasons to get in there and bid.
- Lead-directing. Your side might not win the auction, but your overcall will suggest a lead to partner
- You might upset the opponents‘ bidding
- Your side might make your own contract.
An overcall at the one level e.g. 1♣ (1♥) is wide-ranging, showing from about 8 to 17 points. Having a good suit is vital. You need five+ cards containing two of the top three, or three of the top five honours (AKQJ10).
There's a difference between overcalling at the one level and the two level. You need an opening hand to bid a minor suit after the opponents have started with a major (e.g. 1♠ (2♣/♦). You don’t yet know how strong opener’s partner is. It could be dangerous to bid without a good hand. So, an overcall at the two level e.g. 1♠ (2♣/♦) shows around 12 points, with a good 5+ card suit. Overcalling 1NT shows a hand that would have opened 1NT (15-17), and has a stopper/s in the suit opened.
Responding to Overcalls (called "Advancing")
Although overcalls are not forcing, you should try to bid if possible. The fit is the most important thing in your hand. The bigger the fit, the higher you should bid.
- Hand 1: with three card support and around 6-9 points, raise to two. Bid 2♠
- Hand 2: with four card support and 4-6 points. In modern bidding, jumps in competitive auctions are weak. Bid 3♠
- Hand 3: with five card support and around 4-6 points, jump to game. Bid 4♠
What happens if you hold a good hand for partner's overcall? Now you Cue Raise (bid the opponent's suit). With three + cards, a good hand (10+ points), and a fit for partner's overcall, cue bid opener’s suit
Hand 4 below, cuebid 3♥.
With a balanced hand, no fit for partner's overcall, and a stopper in opener's suit, bid no trumps. With your own good five+card suit, bid it. This is mostly played as forcing, and asks partner to consider whether it will be possible to play in your suit, or to prefer their overcalled suit.
Overcalls over their 1NT
Want more information? These books will help you learn about competitive bidding.
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