How to Respond to Your Bridge Partner’s Overcall
After one of your bridge opponents opens the bidding and your partner overcalls, you need to repond to that overcall. You know that your partner has a five- or six-card suit — more often than not, a five-card suit at the one level and a six-card suit at the two level. The strength of your hand plus the number of cards you hold in your partner’s suit dictates your response.
Responding to a one-level major suit overcall
If your partner overcalls 1♥ or 1♠, you know that she has at least five cards in her suit. If you have three or more cards in your partner’s suit, you have found the Holy Grail. You proceed differently, based on what you have in your hand:
Three or more cards in your partner’s suit: If you have three cards in your partner’s overcalled suit, you have located an eight-card fit. This is no time for secrets; raise your partner’s suit! This advice applies whatever the level of overcall you’re responding to — in fact, the higher the level of the overcall, the faster you should raise! When your partner overcalls in a major suit and you bid another suit, you deny three or more cards in your partner’s major suit.
Fewer than three cards in your partner’s suit: When your partner overcalls and you have fewer than three cards in his suit, you can’t support your partner. However, if you have enough points to bid, you may feel like introducing a decent five- or preferably six-card suit of your own. A five-card suit should be topped by at least two of the top four honors, plus intermediates. Experienced players know how important intermediate cards are in long suits. All you need is eight or more HCP and a respectable five-card suit.
Branching off into notrump: When your partner overcalls at the one level, your hand may lack three-card support or a long suit, which suggests a balanced hand. If you have honor strength in the opponent’s suit, you can branch off into notrump by using this scale:
9 to 12 HCP: Bid 1NT
13 to 15 HCP: Bid 2NT
16 or more HCP: Bid 3NT
Responding to a two-level overcall
Two-level overcalls show the strength of an opening bid, typically with six-card suits. If your partner makes an overcall of 2♣ or 2♦, and you have strength in the opponent’s suit, think about the possibility of playing in notrump. If you have a decent holding in the opponent’s suit and a balanced hand, respond in notrump according to the following scale:
10 to 12 HCP: Bid 2NT
13 to 16 HCP: Bid 3NT
Of course, you have other options; you may have a strong five- or six-card heart or spade (major) suit that you want to show, or you may raise your partner’s suit to the three level if you have 7 to 10 SP plus three-card support.
Responding to a weak jump overcall
When responding to any preemptive opening bid or overcall, you’re better off adding your tricks to your partner’s tricks, rather than your HCP to your partner’s HCP. When your partner makes a jump overcall at the two level, he promises to take five or six tricks; at the three level, he promises six or seven tricks. So, if you have a modicum of support plus a hand that looks like the two hands may add up to ten tricks (assuming your partner has bid a major suit), go for it. Invite your partner by raising to the three level, or bid game (4♥ or 4♠) if you can see a likely ten tricks.
Responding to a 1NT overcall
When your partner offers a 1NT overcall, you have a pretty clear picture of what he has: a balanced hand and 15 to 17 HCP — no more, no less. When your partner opens 1NT, assume that she has 16 HCP — that way, you can never be off by more than a point.
When your partner opens 1NT, your own long suits take on a little extra luster because you know that your partner has at least two cards in your suit (your partner must have a balanced hand to open 1NT). If your partner has two cards in your suit, at least one of them probably is an honor card.
Responding to 1NT is much easier than responding to any other bid because your partner’s high-card range is so narrowly defined. Because a 1NT overcall tells you so much about your partner’s hand, you can formulate a pretty specific plan of attack for your response, which includes the following:
If you have 10 points or more: Play in a game contract.
If you have 9 points: Invite game by asking your partner to bid game if she has 16 or 17 HCP, or stay out of the game with only 15 HCP.
If you have 0 to 8 points: You want out, either in 1NT or at the cheapest possible level in another suit.