Learn how to make bridge overcalls. 1 level suit overcalls, 2 level suit overcalls, no trump overcalls, jump overcalls.

toy bear


Overcalls


When the opponents open the bidding, any bid you then make is an "overcall." To see if your hand is good enough for an overcall, you evaluate the same way you do for opening bids - you count points.

How many points you need for an overcall depends on who you ask. Opinions vary widely. What matters most is that you and your partner have the same understanding about overcalls. Learn my methods and you will fit in with most partners. If asked, you might describe your overcall style as "standard."



Overcalling with 12 or more points

So, how many points do you need for an overcall? I'm going to give you several guidelines. The first is: 12 points and a five card suit is enough for a one level overcall (1, 1, or 1). Here are two 12 point hands worth a 1 overcall.


T 8 7 4 2
K Q 2
Q 6
A J 3  
J 6 5 4 3
A 2
A Q 6
J 8 7  
Pretty poor spade suits, aren't they?

But 12 points is enough.




Overcalling with 10-11 points

You can overcall on hands with 12+ points and a five card suit. You can also overcall at the one level on 10-11 point hands, provided they have what I call a "plus value." Let's take a look at the different kinds of plus values.

1) The first plus value is a good suit. "Good" means at least 2 of the top 3 honors (or 3 of the top 5 honors) in a suit that has 5 or more cards. These are good suits:

A K x x x   (2 of the top 3 honors)
A Q x x x   (2 of the top 3 honors)
K Q x x x   (2 of the top 3 honors)
A J T x x   (3 of the top 5 honors) Yes, the T is considered an honor.
K J T x x   (3 of the top 5 honors)
Q J T x x   (3 of the top 5 honors)

Here are two examples of 10-11 point hands that qualify for a 1 overcall based on the good spade suit that you are overcalling.

K Q 9 8 4
K 3 2
3 2
Q 3 2  
K J T 8 4
8 7 2
9 6
A Q 3  

The first hand has 2 of the top 3 honors.

The second has 3 of the top 5 honors.



2) The second plus value is a good side suit. Good honors have already been defined as 2 of the top 3 honors, or 3 of the top 5. That was when we were talking about the primary 5 card suit that you're overcalling. You can also have good honors in a 4 card or longer suit other than the one you plan to overcall - a side suit - and that's a plus value.

Q T 9 8 4
K 3
A Q 8 6
T 2  
A 9 8 7 4
Q 7 2
9
K J T 3  

These 10-11 point hands qualify for 1 overcalls because the first hand has a plus value for a good diamond side suit, and the second hand has a plus value for a good club side suit.


3) The third kind of plus value is extra length. That would be a sixth card in a suit you overcall, or a fifth card in a side suit.



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

These 10-11 point hands are 1 overcalls because the first has extra spade length, and the second hand has extra length in the diamond side suit. Diamonds also have good honors. Two plus values for diamonds.

4) The fourth kind of plus value is a singleton or void. If you have a five card suit with 10-11 points, a singleton or void is a plus value and makes the hand good enough for an overcall.


K T 8 7 4
A 6 5 4
T
K J 3  
9 8 7 4 2

A J 5 4
A J 9 6  

Both of these 10-11 point hands are 1 overcalls.

The first has a plus value for a singleton diamond and the second has a plus value for a void in hearts.


Summary

If you have 10-11 points and a five card suit, one plus value is enough to qualify the hand for a one level overcall.



Now let's practice counting points and plus values.


K Q 8 6 4
Q 8 2
5
A 9 3 2  

This hand has 11 points and two plus values (good honors in the spade suit, singleton diamond).

My notation for this will be 11++.



4
Q T 9
A K T
J 7 6 4 3 2  

This hand also has two plus values (singleton spade, and extra club length). Diamonds are not a + because the suit doesn't have 4 or more cards.

10++



4 3 2
A K 9 7
K J T 8 5 4
–  

This hand has 4 plus values (good honors in diamonds, extra diamond length, good honors in the heart side suit, club void).

11++++


Overcalling with 8-9 points

Sometimes you don't get dealt quite as many points, but you might risk an overcall anyway. With only 8-9 points, you can still overcall if you have either a good 5 card suit, OR if you have at least TWO plus values.

These two 8-9 point hands are 1 overcalls because...

A K 8 7 3
J 8 2
T 9 3
6 2  
Q 9 8 7 3
K Q 6 5
Q 7 3
5  

The first hand has a good suit.

And the second hand has TWO plus values (good side suit, singleton).



Review: Overcalling at the one level

You can overcall at the one level (overcall 1, 1, or 1) with a five card or longer suit if you have...

  • 12 or more points, or...
  • 10-11 points, with one plus value, or...
  • 8-9 points with a good five card suit, or TWO plus values.

example 1

A Q 8 5 4
Q 8 2
5 3
6 4 2  

8+ (good spade honors)

With a good suit to overcall, you don't need more pluses.

Overcall 1.



example 2

K 9 8 5 4
A Q 8 2
5
6 4 3  

9++ (good heart honors, singleton)

8-9 points with two pusses is enough to overcall.

Overcall 1.



example 3

A 8 5 4 3
K 8 2
7
Q J 3  

10+ (singleton)

With 10-11 points, one plus is enough.

Overcall 1.




toy bear picture

Why is it OK to overcall on less strength than we require for an opening bid?



  • Your overcall may help partner defend better. For example, partner might lead the suit you overcall, resulting in the defeat of their contract. Without your overcall, partner wouldn't have known which suit to lead. Your overcall was a good "lead director," guiding partner to the best defense.
  • Your overcall makes it more difficult for the opponents to bid to their best contract. For example, if they open 1 and you overcall 2, responder can no longer bid 1 or 1 to explore for a major suit fit.
  • You might find a fit and actually buy the contract.


Practice hands for one level overcalls

example 4

Q 8 7 4 3
A K 2
5 2
J T 3  

Count the hand. Do you overcall 1?

     

Gak!

Your hand is worth 10, with no plus factors.

Pass.

It may seem odd to pass with 10 points when we sometimes bid with 8. That's because good suits and plus values really do matter. This hand doesn't have any.


That's correct.

Your hand is worth 10 points, and with no plus values you do not have a 1 overcall.



example 5

9 8 7 4 3 2
A K 2
Q 2
J 3  
Do you overcall 1?

     

Correct.

10+ (6 card suit) is an overcall. Overcall 1.


Yes is the right answer.

10+(extra length) is an overcall. Overcall 1.



example 6

K J T 4 3
2
A 2
T 9 7 5 3  

Do you overcall 1?

     

Overcalling 1 is correct.

You have 8+++ (good suit, singleton, extra club length).
With a good suit, you don't need the extra plus values.


Your hand is worth 8+++ (good suit, singleton extra length in clubs)

So you should overcall 1.

Actually, you don't even need the extra plus values. The good spade suit is enough.


example 7

A J 9 8 7 6
4
Q T 9 8 7
8  
Do you overcall 1?

     

Not so fast...

7++++ (6 card suit, 2 singletons, extra length in diamonds).

Pass, even with all those pluses.

7 points isn't enough.


Correct.

7 points isn't enough.



example 8

A K T 9 3
7
A Q T 2
Q 8 6  

The opponents open 1. Do you overcall 1?

     

Correct.

15+++ (good suit, singleton, good side suit)
This is a fine hand. If partner has a fit for spades you might be able to make a game. Overcall 1, and see if partner can raise.


toy bear picture Pay attention!

Your hand is worth 15+++ (good suit, singleton, good side suit)

So you should overcall 1 and see if partner can raise. If she can, you might even make a game.



example 9

T 9 8 7 6
A 9
Q J 2
K Q 3  
Do you overcall 1?

     

You have 12 (with no plus values).

Overcall 1.

12 is the minimum for hands with no plus values.


Actually, 12 and a five card suit is enough. Even if it's a bad suit.

Overcall 1.



Two level overcalls (2/1)

When your suit is lower in rank than your opponents' one level opening, your overcall will have to be at the two level. We call this a "two over one" (2/1) overcall. For a 2/1 overcall, add two points to our formula. Overcall with:
  • 14 (or more) points, and any 5 card suit, or...
  • 12 (or more) points, any 5 card suit, and one plus value, or...
  • 10 (or more) points and a good 5 card suit, or...
  • 10 (or more) points, any 5 card suit, and two plus values.

example 10

K 8
9 5
K Q T 9 2
Q T 8 6  

The opponents open 1. Do you overcall 2?

     

Correct.

10+ (good suit) is enough to overcall at the two level

Overcall 2.


Sorry, you missed this one.

10 points and a good suit is enough to overcall at the two level.



example 11

K 8
9 5
Q T 9 8 2
K Q T 6  
This hand is almost the same as example 10. Do you have enough to overcall 2?

     

Oops...

You have the same 10 points, but you no longer have a good five card suit to bid.

10+ (good side suit) is not enough for the two level.

Pass.

Correct.

10+ is not enough for the two level unless you have a good suit.



example 12

K 8
K J 5
A T 9 7 2
Q T 6  

The opponents open 1. Do you overcall 2?

     

Oops, you got fooled.

13 (no plus values) is good enough to overcall at the one level, but not at the two level.

Pass.


Correct.

13 (no plus values) is good enough to overcall at the one level, but not at the two level.



example 13

K 8
J T 3
K Q J 9 7 3 2
6  
West North East You
P 1 ?

What's your call?      


Yikes! ...not even close to a pass!

10+++ (good suit, singleton, 6 card suit)

This is a comfortable 2 overcall.


Indeed!

10+++ is a comfortable 2 overcall.



Two level jump overcall

The two level jump overcall is similar to a weak two opening bid. It shows a good six or seven card suit and 5-9 points.


example 14

K Q 5 4 3 2
3 2
3 2
4 3 2  

Two of the top three honors and a six card suit is enough for a two level jump overcall.

This hand has only 5 points, but it's enough for a 2 jump overcall.



example 15

K J T 8 4 2
T 7 5
3
K 8 6  

7+++

This is not strong enough for a 1 overcall, but it's a clearcut 2 jump overcall.



example 16

J T 8 6 4 2
Q 9 5
K 3
K 6  
West North East South
P 1 ?

        


No, not 1.

You have 9+ which falls just short of a 1 overcall.


No, not 2.

You need a good suit for a jump overcall. JTxxxx isn't good enough.


Yes. Well done.

You need a better suit for a jump overcall. And 9+ isn't enough for a one level overcall.



example 17

Q J T 8 6 4
9
K T 3
K 8 7  
West North East South
1 ?

        


Good choice.

Actually, 9+++ (good suit, extra length, singleton) qualifies for both 1 and 2.

You should overcall 1 because partner has not passed yet. A 2 jump overcall could turn out badly because it would take away more of the bidding space she might need to describe her hand.


Hmmm... your choice is not wrong, but...

9+++ (good suit, extra length, singleton) qualifies for both 1 and 2.

You should overcall 1 because partner has not passed yet. A 2 overcall could turn out badly because it would take away more of the bidding space she might need to describe her hand.


Pass? Not with 9+++



example 18

Q J T 8 6 4
9
K T 3
K 8 7  
West North East South
P 1 ?
        

Technically, your bid is OK, but I think you should go back and read example 17 again.


Yes!

With 9+++ (good suit, extra length, singleton), your hand qualifies for both 1 and 2.

Overcall 2 this time because partner has already passed, so it's your opponents who might profit from extra bidding space. A 2 overcall takes away more of their bidding space.


Pass? Not with 9+++



The 1 no trump overcall

The 1 no trump overcall is one of the easiest to learn. It's the same as the 1NT opening bid, except you need a stopper (a high card that will win a trick) in the suit they opened.

Overcall 1NT with a balanced hand of 15-17 points and a stopper in their suit. Aces are obvious stoppers. We also count kings as stoppers because of the advantage of playing last when they lead the suit they have bid. Qxx and Jxxx are not certain stoppers, but add just one more honor – QJx and JTxx are good enough.


A Q 7
A T 9
K J 8
Q J 6 5  

This hand is a perfect 1NT overcall. You have a balanced hand of 15-17 points with a stopper in whatever suit they open.





A K
K 9 3
T 6 2
A Q 8 7 6  

This balanced hand of 15-17 points can only overcall 1NT if they don't open diamonds. After a 1 opening, you will overcall 2 because you don't have a diamond stopper for the 1NT overcall.



A K
K 9 6 3
T 6 2
A Q 8 7  

Now let's look at a hand that's almost the same as the last one. What will you do if they open 1? You don't have a diamond stopper for overcalling 1NT, and you don't have a five card suit to overcall.

When your hand doesn't qualify for an overcall, you can always PASS. Yes, even with all those points.

What might happen after you pass? The bidding isn't over yet. Maybe partner will be able to bid something, and you'll make a strong response. And if not, your opponents may bid too high. Sometimes your best possible result comes from playing defense (even though my wife says defense is boring).



More practice

example 19

K 8
K T 9 6 3
K 2
Q 8 7 6  
West North East You
1 ?

What's your call?   


Pass

You have 11 with no plus values.



example 20

Q 9 8
7 3
A 6
K Q T 8 7 4  
West North East You
P P 1 ?

What's your call?   


2

You have 11++ (good suit, extra length).



example 21

K Q 9 8 4 3
T
6 5
Q 7 5 2  
West North East You
P 1 ?

What's your call?   


2

Your hand fits right in the middle of the range for a jump overcall – 7 points with a six-card good suit.



example 22

Q T 8 7 3
T
A K T 9 5
5 2  
West North East You
1 ?

What's your call?   


1

9+++ (singleton, good side suit, extra length in your side suit)

Overcall spades and not diamonds because majors are more important than minors.



example 23

T 3
A T 9 5 4
A J T 9
T 8  
West North East You
1 ?

What's your call?   


Pass

9+ (good side suit)

This is about as close as a hand can come to bidding, and still fall short.



example 24

5
A J T 9 5 4
9 7 6 2
T 8  
West North East You
P 1 ?

What's your call?   


2

5+++ (singleton, good suit, extra length)




Using Judgment

There are many factors that lead experienced players to Pass when their hands meet the requirements for bidding, or to Bid when their hands fall short. They "use judgment" in these cases. For an example, let's take another look at hand #7.


example 7

A J 9 8 7 6
4
Q T 9 8 7
8  

Some would overcall 1 on this hand (7++++), and some would jump to 2.

It doesn't meet our requirements for either bid. So I suggest you simply follow our guidelines and Pass. Only by carefully following the guidelines, and paying attention to the results, can you expect to develop your own good judgment.

Making bids that fail to meet your partnership's agreed bidding standards would have the additional negative of teaching partner that she can't trust your bidding. You might get away with it on this hand (not getting a bad score), only to have partner not trust you on another hand when you actually do have what you've "promised."

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