Competitive bidding is when both partnerships are involved. You did not play this game just to watch the opponents display their bidding system and keep on passing; instead, you want to interfere when appropriate. One such way is overcalling, which we will cover in this article.
General note about competitive bidding
In competitive bidding, HCP is not as much a factor as it is in situations such as opening bids. Other contributors include the suit quality, the shape (balanced vs unbalanced), the location of high cards (in long suits vs. in short suits), and vulnerability. Additionally, people have different levels of aggression regarding competitive bidding. However, what is suggested in this article should be a good starting point about overcalls.
What is an overcall?
An overcall refers to a bid made after the opponents have opened the bidding.
In this article, we will tackle only 1 kind: direct seat suit overcalls. Direct seat means right after the opening bid. In other words, you are in the direct seat when your right-hand opponent (RHO) opens the bidding. This is in contrast to balancing seat, where your left hand opponent (LHO) makes a bid and both your partner and your RHO pass (Ex: 1♣-p-p-1♥). We will ignore balancing seat overcalls for now. We will also exclude notrump overcalls for now. This leaves us with these cases:
1♣-1♦ 1♣-1♥ 1♣-1♠
1♦-2♣ 1♦-1♥ 1♦-1♠
1♥-2♣ 1♥-2♦ 1♥-1♠
1♠-2♣ 1♠-2♦ 1♠-2♥
These show at least 5 cards in the suit overcalled. The suit cannot be overly weak. A suit headed by a J is not acceptable.
A 1-level overcall usually shows 8-17 HCP, but as discussed previously, many other factors also play a role. In general, having more HCP compensates for some of the potential shortcomings in other areas (suit quality, for instance). The restrictions are also stricter if you are vulnerable, because you are at risk of losing more points for going down.
For each of the following hands, your RHO opens 1♣ and it is your turn to bid.
This is an example of a 1♠ overcall. You have a 5 card suit that is of relatively good quality (honors with K and J accompanied by “intermediates” in T and 9). You have 9 HCP and the club honors are located “behind” the opponent that bid clubs, making them more valuable.
You should pass with this hand. You do have a 5 card heart suit, but the suit quality is too poor. Your partner will be inclined to lead hearts, which will be bad with your bad heart suit. This is an example of how HCP is not the determining factor: though you have more HCP than the previous example, you cannot overcall.
Even with 14 HCP, you cannot overcall anything and should pass. You will not want to play in clubs since it is your opponent's suit. You would rather wait and see if they end up in a club contract, which you will be more than happy to defend.
2-level overcalls refer to overcalling a new suit at the 2-level without jumping, meaning that 1♥-2♦ is a 2-level overcall but 1♦-2♥ is not (since 1♥ is already a valid overcall).
2-level overcalls have stricter requirements compared to 1-level ones. It promises 6+ in the suit you bid and cannot be overly weak. It usually shows 10-17 HCP, but as discussed before, HCP is not the only factor.
This is a textbook 2♦ overcall hand. You have a great 6 card suit and 12 HCP.
Competitive bidding is where both partnerships are involved in the auction.
Overcalls, where you make a bid after the opponents have opened the bidding, is one of the most common methods of competitive bidding.
Direct seat refers to when your RHO opponent makes a bid. Balancing seat refers to when your LHO makes a bid and both your partner and your RHO pass.
1-level overcalls show 5+ in the suit bid and typically 8-17 HCP
2-level overcalls show 6+ in the suit bid and typically 12-17 HCP