Responding to Partner’s Overcall


by Larry Matheny

There are many textbooks with instructions for opening bids and responding to opening bids. There is also a lot of information covering interventions (takeout doubles, overcalls, etc), but one area that is unclear to many players is how to respond to partner’s overcall.

Let’s first take a look at the section on the convention card “Simple Overcall”. The typical high card point range (hcp) entered is 8-16. This is fine but don’t be rigid about this. For example if your right hand opponent opens 1 and you hold: 6 AKJ1043 AK6 K76, you should overcall 1 instead of making a takeout double. If not, either the opponents or your partner might bid a lot of spades before you are able to show your good heart suit. Always think how the auction may continue before you make a takeout double.

Next, let’s “name” the people at the table so we can better define their roles. Of course we have opener and responder but we also have intervener (one who makes the overcall or t/o double) and his partner, the advancer. Take note that the intervener can be in second seat or fourth seat.

Today we are focusing on the proper response to partner’s overcall. Since partner made an overcall instead of an opening bid, he might have a fairly light hand and our responses must accommodate that possibility. Our actions include a simple raise, a preemptive jump raise, forward-going NT bids, or a cue bid of opener’s suit to ask partner about his strength. The cue bid will usually promise support, but before we can agree on that, we must decide if a new suit bid by advancer (overcaller’s partner) is forcing. Most play that it is not forcing but simply an attempt to improve the contract. If this is your agreement, the cue bid is merely forcing and may or may not show support. After advancer cue bids, the auction is forcing until a previously bid suit has been rebid or raised, or game has been reached.

What about a jump shift by advancer? Since most play a new suit as non-forcing, many play that a jump in a new suit is forcing or at least highly invitational. Holding Q2 108 AQ9 AQ10987 with this auction:

Opp Partner Opp You
1 1  Pass ???

The reasoning is since 2 is not forcing, then 3 should show a good hand. If you first cue bid 2 , the bidding may get too high before you are able to show your club suit. If partner has a weak overcall and no real fit for clubs, he is allowed to pass your jump to 3. Remember, either a simple new suit or a jump by advancer almost always denies support for your overcall suit.

As always, there are other accepted methods, so you need to discuss these with your partner. Here is a chart
I recommend:

Opp Partner Opp You
1 1  Pass 1NT = 7-10 hcp, club stopper, not forcing
      2 = forcing, asking about the overcall
      2 = not forcing
      2 = not forcing
      2 = simple raise
      2NT= 11-13 hcp, clubs stopped, not forcing
      3 = constructive raise 8-10 hcp w/four card support
      3 = good suit, good hand, highly invitational
      3 = good suit, good hand, highly invitational
      3 = preemptive
      3NT= to play; 14+ hcp with clubs stopped

Let’s look at some examples. After the same auction:

Opp Partner Opp You
1 1  Pass ???

5 J1098  Q32 QJ854 = Pass (don’t even THINK about 1NT)

Q3 K74 10942 KJ42 = 1NT constructive, not weak

KQ4 A9 KQ943 874 = 2 ask about the overcall, don’t bid 2

8 K98 KQJ1087 652 = 2 just trying to improve the contract

9 QJ10765 A43  832 = 2 just trying to improve the contract

A104 K9873 Q43 87 = 2 simple raise

J4 AQ8 Q964  KJ109 = 2NT invitational

J1084 A832 K32 J10 = 3 constructive raise

Q AJ10  KQJ9862  J8 = 3 highly invitational

3 AQJ984 KQ42 Q2 = 3 highly invitational

  QJ102  J10943 J98 2 = 3 preemptive

K5 A109 KJ42 AJ103 = 3NT

Additional Thoughts:
An important factor to always consider is the vulnerability. Your partner might make a fairly light overcall non-vulnerable but when he’s looking at that red color, he should be much more conservative. A two-level vulnerable overcall should promise a near opening hand and a good six+ card suit. A good rule is “The weaker the hand, the better the suit”. Your response to his bid should take that into consideration. An overcall at the one-level is often just lead directing and there may be danger in getting too high. You must also pay close attention to the bidding. For example, if there is an opening bid on your right and your left hand opponent makes a two over one bid, an overcall by your partner is probably just lead directing. In this auction:

Opp You Opp You
1 Pass
2 3

If you have values, don’t expect partner to have much more than a good club suit because there just aren’t that many high cards in the deck. Of course, with favorable vulnerability, a sacrifice over the opponents’ game might be possible.