Every now and then, you
are going to find yourself with some sort of goodish hand and your RHO
opens the bidding. Feeling like you should take some action, but
finding nothing convenient, you pass and later discover you had some
game or partial available on a hand where neither you nor partner had
been able to enter the auction. Certainly there are hands with which
you would open the bidding but which you can't compete after an opening
bid. Some of these hand, however, can be handled through the tactic of
overcalling on a four card suit. There are many cases where this is
correct but there are not many generalities available. So, instead,
the usual examples.
With no one vul, RHO opens 1
K Q 10 9
A Q 6 5
K 5 4
Bid one spade. One of the few generalities I can give is that
overcalling on a four card suit requires a very good suit. Partner is
going to raise you whenever possible and three small should be quite
adequate support if his hand is otherwise suited. Responder should not
have to be too worried about the quality of your overcalls. Holding
A Q 10 7
10 7 6 5 4
Bid one heart after RHO opens 1
If the possession of five
cards in the suit opened bothers you, forget it. Your length in
diamonds plus opener's length assures you that your partner (and LHO)
are also short. This means your partner is likely to have heart
support. The length in diamonds therefore is not a minus but, rather,
an asset. Perhaps the two hands are something like this:
A 9 7 6 4
J 8 3
7 6 3 2
A Q 10 7
10 7 6 5 4
With a diamond lead and a heart return you should make between seven
and nine tricks. Not bad considering that dummy is not all that good.
If dummy had a fourth heart, ten tricks would be possible and if you
found dummy with five of them, game would depend on winning either the
club or heart finesse. With the opening bid on your right, game should
be nearly a cinch.
Now, if game is on opposite (see below)
A 8 4 2
J 9 5 4
J 9 4 2
it would be nice to bid it. Or, if you can't get to game, at least get
to hearts. Making 170 is better than being -110 or -90 or some such
part-score. If you don't bid 1
right away you will
never be able to reach four hearts or, for that matter, hearts, period.
Consider this hand after RHO opens 1
K Q J 9
J 8 7 4 3
Bid one spade. This hand may appear similar to the prior hand, but it
is, in fact, quite different. There is a rather subtle difference. The
points are the same. The distribution is the same. The hand contains a
good four card suit and a crummy five card suit. Neither hand contains
The difference? It is in the auction. In the previous hand the opening
bid was in your weak five card suit. This had the effect of implying
that your partner would have substantial distributional support for
your four card suit. Even if you found partner with no high cards at
all, you were assured of some kind of fit.
In this hand, however, the opening bid was in one of your doubletons.
Therefore, even though it's correct to bid one spade, you do so in the
hope, rather than the expectation, that partner can provide some sort
of fit. If worst comes to worst, you will probably take three spades
tricks and the ace of hearts. But my estimation of this hand is that
you will seldom get less than five tricks, even opposite nothing. There
are many hands with five cards suits on which nearly everyone would
overcall which could easily end up taking fewer tricks.
A Q 8 6 2
A Q 3
9 7 3
The hand above, if doubled in a one spade overcall could conceivably
take only two tricks. While two tricks is, admittedly, unlikely, the
possibility of taking three or four is very real. And yet, nearly
everyone would hasten to bid one spade on this hand, and hasten equally
quickly to pass the hand just being discussed with K Q J 9 of spades.
My own feeling is such that I would be quite pleased to hold
K Q J 9
J 8 7 4 3
and be able to overcall one spade at matchpoints, rubber bridge, IMP's,
or, for that matter, board-a-match.
There is another aspect of this hand which is important to recognize.
If you elect to overcall one spade, you have to be prepared to lose the
club suit. There is no way you can ever hope to get the club suit
mentioned without partner assuming (rightly) that you have as many or
more spades than clubs.
Hands like these are inflexible. Either you don't bid at all, or you
bid (as in the example) one spade and then forever subside. It is true
that you may bid again. You may accept a game try if you have a
maximum, or if partner bids notrump, there are hands on which you could
raise. Perhaps, once in a while, your partner will bid your side five
card suit and then you can raise. But, for the most part, once you've
overcalled, you will take no more voluntary action and will essentially
leave it up to partner.
There are conventions which you might be using: Michaels, Hi-Lo cue
bids, Astro cue bids, etc. If it suits you, you might use one of these
if you happen to be using the right one at the right time. But, if not,
then consider the overcall. Far better to describe some
of your hand
than none at all.
You may wonder why overcalling on four card suits is so effective.
Aside from the usual reasons, a four card suit overcall needs a good
suit by definition, so it is certainly a suit you want partner to lead.
The fact that you have such a good suit suggests partner would not have
much in the way of high cards in that suit and it might not occur to
him to lead it without a suggestion from you. Furthermore, the quality
of your suit is such that the opponents may be shy about contracting
for some number of notrump. They may credit you for a longer suit and
decide on a part-score when three notrump is cold.
Having only a four bagger works out additionally in that when partner
leads it, you may find yourself taking two or three tricks in the suit
against a suit contract. Each opponent, holding three or even four
small may have been hoping his partner held shortness in the suit. When
this happens, you will occasionally find the opponents getting two high
in the wrong suit. It's not bad when your opponents miss a game; but
when you can get them into the wrong game and then beat it when another
game (usually 3NT) is cold, it's even better.
By now, if you've not been convinced that overcalling on four card
suits is a good thing for your side if done properly, do this: first,
review the two hands at the introduction of this chapter. Then, during
the next session or two you play, note the ease or difficulty you
experience when your opponents overcall.
If you are convinced it's right to compete, then consider this: it is a
fact that most people do not compete with four baggers. If a
partnership which did not tend to do this decided it was right, then
they would be in a position to compete on from one to three or four
hands more per session than they had been in the past. My experience
suggests that, in general, my matchpoint results are excellent when one
of these overcalls has been used. Out of ten occurrences, I would
expect two or three tops, four very good results, an average or two,
and, perhaps, one bad result. At IMP's, bad results just don't happen.
The reason is that the worst thing that happens is a small plus like 70
or 90 instead of 110 or 130. At IMP's, you just don't worry about small
So, if you give these a try, you will be well placed. At least until
everyone else learns as well. I do understand that if you are not
accustomed to something like this, it is difficult to make the
transition. I hope you don't make it against me.
Some more examples in the same vein. This time you are not vul vs
vul and your RHO
|| K Q 10 8
A J 4 3
K 6 5
|| A 2
10 8 6 5 4
K Q J 8
K 10 9 7
A 9 5 4 2
K Q J 8
With hand (A), don't get carried away. This is a takeout double, not a one spade overcall.
Pass hand (B). Overcalling at the two level requires a five-card suit. Two clubs, good suit and all, is just a bit rich.
(C) is the kind of hand of which a theoretically unsound bid of one
spade could work well. It's the sort of "bad" bid you can get away with
at matchpoints, but definitely not IMP's. Bear in mind that you are
trading heavily on the fact that you expect to find a fit because of
your heart length
Even though you don't take much room away from the opponents by your
one spade overcall, look what might happen. Compare these three
auctions after your RHO opens 1
In auction one, the opponents have been able to find their best fit
(probably) and whether or not your side balances, they can judge what
to do over your belated competition.
Likewise, in auction two. If you bid 2
now it is somewhat dangerous,
although probably correct.
In auction three, however, you have kept the opponents from their
smooth exchange, and at the same time you got to two because your
partner likes spades which on auction two was not so clear.
So, after a 1
A K Q 9
8 7 2
Q 4 3
10 9 7
Q J 4 2
8 7 6 5 3
J 9 7
8 7 6 4 2
A J 10
with (A) you should get in there with one spade at matchpoints, but
matchpoints. You would have preferred the opening bid to be one club
instead of one heart because you would have deprived the opponents of
far more bidding room.
Again, with hand (B) above, at matchpoints, one spade should be both
safe and effective. The
reason you shouldn't try this at IMP's is that you could go for a large
number. At matchpoints, this is not serious if you score some
victories, however small. But IMP scoring requires some degree of
caution, and cautious one spade is not.
Hand (C) above shows the degree to which you might stretch things. At
matchpoints, one spade is not as silly as it may seem. It's a bad bid,
but you may well get away with it. Remember that you would never try
this unless you had reason to expect a fit, i.e., your heart length.
With (C) you are getting close to a minimum one spade call at
IMP's. At matchpoints, for sure. At IMP's, this is reasonably safe. You
have four or more likely tricks and you may score an incredible game
now and then. Give partner
K 8 6 4 2
10 8 6 3
Q 9 3
and four spades is possible. And you will be able to grab quite a few
And with this dummy,
10 8 6 3
K Q 6 3
9 6 4
you can likely make two or, on a good day, three spades. At the same
time they can make three diamonds in spite of your impressive trump
Again, after a 1
opening on your right with these three hands:
|| K J 8 7
Q 6 4 3 2
|| K Q 10 5
8 6 4 2
A J 3
|| K Q J 3
8 7 6
A J 4
K J 5
With hand (D), pass is probably best. With no reason to expect a fit it
is too dangerous to attempt any action. If you must bid something, I
suppose one spade is best, but I don't care for it. Be sure you
understand why this hand is a pass when it is actually better than the
last three examples.
One spade is reasonable with hand (E) at matchpoints. Holding four
hearts is not as great an inducement for you to bid as holding five
hearts would be, but they do suggest a fit is possible. Don't try this
one at IMP's.
Hand (F) above is probably a better double than it is a spade bid. If
partner has four spades, he will bid them. If not, the odds favor his
holding a five card minor. At matchpoints or at IMP's, this hand is too
good to pass. Try double.