District 6
Shawn Stringer, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
District 7
Zero Tolerance, D6 policy
Aug/SepArticle by Steve RobinsonDec/Jan
ArticlesOvercalls with a Five Card Suit (Oct/Nov 2007)
You would like to have a good six-card suit and an opening bid to overcall at the two-level. However, sometimes you are dealt five-card suits. Assume they open 1 and you're vulnerable at IMPs. What are the minimum changes you would make to ?????xxA?xxx to overcall 2? What changes would you make to ???A?xxx???xx to overcall 2? How much less would you need non-vulnerable?

Any difference if the scoring were matchpoints? 

There are four reasons to overcall. Push the opponents up. Get to game. Find a good save. Get a lead. Overcalling 2 on xxxAxKxxKJxxx might push the opponents up. However, if partner tries for a pushy game, decides to take a save or leads a club, you will not have what partner needs. Vulnerable, the primary requirement is a good suit and a reasonable hand, where you would raise partner’s 2NT progression to 3NT.

Grant Baze: To overcall vulnerable at IMPs, with three cards in the opponents-opened major and only a five-card suit of my own, requires six tricks, mostly in my suit, not only to insure the overcall does not lead to immediate disaster, but so that we have game prospects if partner can bid 2NT. In fact, if I would not raise partner's 2NT progression to 3NT, I would not overcall. At IMPs, the focus is the four-level and the six-level (games and slams), not part score battles. The worst hand I would have is xxxAQxxxAKQ109. Not quite six tricks, but it is too much hand to pass.

At matchpoints I would overcall with the queen of hearts less. At matchpoints the focus is the three-level, and we have no hope to compete if I don't act with xxxAxxxxAKQ109. Hearts instead of clubs changes the equation slightly, because 4 is more viable then 5 in general, and particularly with a 5-3-3-2 hand pattern. I would overcall at IMPs with xxxAKQ109,xxAxx, but I wouldn't like it. At matchpoints I would overcall with slightly less, say xxxAKQxxxx Axx, but again, I wouldn't like it. Non-vulnerable at IMPs I would overcall 2 with xxxAKJ10xxxAxx; at matchpoints non-vulnerable would overcall with a touch less, xxxAKJxxxxAxx. Non-vulnerable the focus is not completely on getting to game; the competitive aspect becomes more significant, even at IMPs. The major factors are suit quality and tricks, where "tricks" is not quite the same as high-card points.

Holding three cards in the opponent’s suit is a minus.

Steve Bloom: Essentially, I wouldn’t overcall. 5-3-3-2 hands are balanced, and should be treated as such. This is particularly true with three cards in their suit, a big negative to overcalling. Thus, I would almost always pass, or overcall 1NT, or double, planning on rebidding 2NT, depending on strength. There are certainly some exceptions, i.e., xxxAKxKxAQJxx seems like a 2 overcall. That has to better than a stopper-less 1NT overcall, and passing is too unpleasant to consider. AxxxxxxxAKQxx is an attractive overcall, but here, we are really pretending we have a six-card suit. Hearts are a little different, but not much. Meckstroth and Rodwell, after some lengthy simulations, concluded that overcalling 1 with 2 on a five-card suit is usually a losing bid. They typically double, bid 1NT, or pass. Again, the poor distribution, the three spades, and the five-card suit all argue against overcalling. I might well overcall 2 on AxxAKJxxxxxxx, but it is a poor bid, and quite dangerous. Even if you hit a big fit with short spades, the opponents can probably outbid you. Ironically, overcalling with AxxxAKJxxxxxx, is much more attractive. Here, you have some realistic hopes to hit partner with a big fit, and spade shortness. Moreover, the spade length in your hand will make it expensive for the bad guys to bid too high.

Overcalling 2 on AxxAKJxxxxxxx wins when partner has KQxxxxxxxxxxx. 5 goes down one with a spade lead and 4 makes only four. Rare hand.

Mel Colchamiro: I'm a big fan of 5-4-2-2 distributions and I overcall maybe more than some with those shapes. But with 5-3-3-2 I am very cautious at IMPs, especially in a minor. So my minimum change with 5-3-3-2 to overcall 2 would be AxxKxxxxAKxxx. I am also very wary of overcalling with three cards in their suit and I almost "never" do it unless I have Kxx or Axx at least. I suppose I would overcall vulnerable 2 with KxxAKxxxxxKxx but I would fear the wrath of God.

For me, not much difference if I’m not vulnerable.

Henry Bethe: Most of the hands that would qualify for a 2 overcall vulnerable at IMPs with that shape (and less than say AQJ10x) would also qualify for a 1NT overcall. That is to say, I usually won't overcall (even at the one-level) with Qxx or a worse three-card holding in opener's suit. I have bad experiences with that. So I would need at least Kxx of spades, and even with AKxxx of clubs would need some serious heart strength as well, or extra spade strength. By that time I have the overall strength to bid 1NT over 1. I suppose I would bid with a little less non-vulnerable, say AJxQxxxxAQxxx, but I would be uncomfortable. The same considerations apply to overcalls in hearts. I tend to be a little more aggressive at matchpoints with hearts, but not with clubs.

Larry Cohen: For 2 on a bad five-card suit, I'd need a really strong hand - much more than a minimum opening bid. If my spades were good, I could overcall 1NT, so that must mean my spades aren't good, which makes it even more dangerous to bid. For 2 on a bad five-card suit, I'd relax my standards a little, because reaching 4 is a more realistic target than five-of-a-minor. Still, a vulnerable two-level overcall is sacred in my book.  Again, with only five cards, I'd need much more than a minimum opening bid and would "never" bid without a second high honor in my suit.  That said it is also "dangerous to pass" in that you risk getting blown out of the auction.

A vulnerable two-level overcall is sacred. One might overcall 2 lighter since reaching 4 is a good target.  

Jeff Rubens: I am having trouble finding any values for the ‘?’ that would cause me to overcall 2. To overcall 2, in principle, this should be more likely to make into a possibility, but it's still hard. If the hand were very strong, I would double rather than overcall. With xxxAKxxxAKQxx I am not sure what I would do; I guess 2 might be accepted, but I suspect it is wrong in theory. Non-vulnerable makes the downsides of both aggression and passivity lower, but it is not so clear that it changes the essential nature of the beast. Still feels wrong to overcall with that 3=5=3=2 hand, but I know that a lot of people would do it. Matchpoints makes both downsides higher. At both vulnerable it seems wrong to bid with the possible overcalls; it rates to be a part-score deal; at neither vulnerable, the matchpoint odds shift in favor of getting into the auction, but who knows how to value that quantitatively?

Bobby Wolff: xxAxxxxKQ10xxx I would bid 2, however with xxxAxxxKQ10xxx I might not against good players, although I would against 75% of the players I play against. With KxxAQJxxAxxxx I would overcall 2 vulnerable at IMP's. With KxxAQJ10xxxxxx I would overcall 2 non-vulnerable at IMP's With KxxAQJ9xxxxxx I would overcall 2 non-vulnerable at matchpoints. For what it is worth my judgment tells me that if one overcalls on one of the minimum hands listed above and does not get doubled for penalties, either by a penalty double, rare, or more likely by a reopening double and a penalty pass, ones’ match point expectation goes up about 20% on that hand. Overcalling, mildly preempts the opponents, finds a great fit with partner immediately, that without the overcall will be forever lost, or directs partner's lead primarily against notrump by our LHO, but possibly by a final minor suit contract by lefty. As I have told you before, exercises like the above can really become invaluable to a young up and coming bridge player to get experience before others in his category have the chance.

If you overcall and don’t get doubled, either by a reopening double or a passed negative double, you still have to survive your partner. If you survive all three, your expected score will go up about 20%.

Eddie Kantar:  AKJ10x at matchpoints. AKQ10x at IMPs in both cases.

Dave Berkowitz: To me the key suit is spades. Jxx, and 10xx are the all time death holdings. Therefore, with those holdings I would need more than say with Kxx, or Axx. Qxx is average. The second factor is my suit quality. If it is a suit I must have led, I would probably commit to 2 with xxxxxxxxAKQ10x, non-vulnerable. Vulnerable I would need another king. In hearts, I would need a little less, maybe a queen outside instead of a king. Vulnerable I would need another 1.5 HCP.

Kit Woolsey: Vulnerable I would like to have a sound opening bid. It's not that I'm worried about going for a number - that can happen with any overcall. It is that I want to have real values when partner pushes for game. So something like xxxAQxxxAQJxx. Non-vulnerable, I can be lighter, since less danger of partner pushing for game, particularly at IMPs. Perhaps xxxKJxxxAQJxx. With hearts I can be more pushy, since it uses more room and more likely for us to have a game. Not a whole lot of difference here between IMPs and matchpoints. Being wrong at IMPs may cost a big number, but that is relatively rare. At matchpoints, the -200 kiss of death hangs over your head.

If the opponent’s have a minor-suit fit, overcalling 2 pushes them to the three-level.

Marty Bergen: For myself, regarding a two-level overcall: Opening bid is not required: xAKQxxxxxxxxx  is clearly enough. Non-vulnerable, the above is even truer. Regarding quality of five-card suit to overcall at the two-level with exactly a dull 3-3-2-5 or 3-5-3-2, no significant difference for Clubs vs Hearts. If 1NT were plausible, would prefer that. Although the strength of the hand is relevant, in general, I would want the suit to contain at least: vulnerable - IMPs or match points: three of top four cards, or four of top six. Non vulnerable - IMPs or match points: three of top six honors.

Barry Rigal: To overcall 2 vulnerable at IMPs; I would need real extras or a very good fiver-carder with an opening bid. The spade stop matters too - Axx is much better than Qxx of course. AxxAQxxxQJxxx would tempt me I admit it but I'd pass without too much pain. Add an extra trick; make the small heart the Jack and now I'm really tempted but probably still pass. No difference whether it is clubs or hearts. In my example hand the club ten instead of the spot-card makes a big difference. I'd pass QxxAKJxxKJxxx by the way.

Kathie Wei-Sender: I will always overcall when the opponents opens with one-of-a-major without the other major, these days people do not make penalty doubles at two- level often. I do play intermediate jump overcalls with major suits so I can get my hand across to my partner in one bid.

Ralph Katz: Non vulnerable you would need a good opening bid and a suit as good as KQJ10x. Vulnerable with 5-3-3-2 it probably wouldn't happen. If the hand was good enough to bid it's worth a takeout double. At matchpoints there are many factors. How good is the event. If I think the field will bid it then I probably will if it's not too bad.

With 5-3-3-2, overcalling your five-card suit puts all your eggs in one basket. A takeout double is more flexible. However, if the five-card suit is hearts and you double, you won’t find your eight-card heart fit.

Kerry Sanborn: I would like to have a solid opening bid with a very good suit. I hate to be beaten in my own suit. When the opponent has a choice of whether to double for penalty or make another bid, usually the decision will be made on texture in the trump suit. He is more likely to pass a reopening penalty double with KJ9x than K5432. So I would make sure that I had a good suit with texture and at least a thought of being within two tricks of my contract. To overcall 2 I would like to have a decent suit, but it is not as important in hearts. I have the other goal of suggesting a game contract - more likely in hearts than in a minor. I could overcall AJ9xx if I had reason to think we might be shut out when I did not bid. A minimum hand might be - KJxAJ9xxxxxAJ.

Non-vulnerable a good suit might be enough, since saves now come into play. Surely would overcall with AKJTx and a side King. Same rules apply at matchpoints.

Marinesa Letizia: I wouldn't overcall 2 even with AKxxx and 5-3-3-2. I would overcall 2 with AKxxx and super max if 5-3-3-2. Non-vulnerable I’d like an opening hand, but suit quality is the main thing with A?xxx there is no suit quality. If the scoring were matchpoints, would go with AKxxx and good hand.

If you’re going to overcall at the two-level with a five-card minor, the minor should be strong. Vulnerable - IMPs or match points: three of top four cards, or four of top six. Non vulnerable - IMPs or match points: three of top six honors. For a 2- overcall you can lower the suit quality slightly, since game in hearts is a goal.
Don Berman, Web Master.