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OVERCALLS: can be made on any hand with a decent suit and 6-18 points. The principle is that the more space you take away from the opponents, the less you need to bid. So over 1C you should be keen to bid 1S whenever possible, but if you bid 1D you should have a better hand. An overcall will normally be 5 cards, but sometimes bidding a good 4 card suit is appropriate (AKJ10, KQJ9 etc.).
In response to partner’s overcall, a cue bid is forcing and seeks further definition – you assume partner has around 10 points, so partner should respond accordingly. A jump cue bid agrees partners suit and shows a good hand; an immediate raise is pre-emptive.
Always jump to the highest level of pre-emption as soon as possible, to take away space from the opposition. You should not normally raise and then later raise again.
A jump in a new suit is forcing; some people play this as also agreeing partners suit (they would make the lowest level cue bid and then bid the suit to show a single suited hand of their own), but that is for you to agree with your partner.
A bid in a new suit is constructive but not forcing, and will not have support for partner’s suit. With a weak hand and no support for partner, PASS.
ACTION AFTER YOUR SIDE OPENS: after (say) 1S from partner, 2C from the next hand. Bids of a new suit are forcing, and show at least 10 points. Double is negative, and shows some values in the other suits (it does NOT guarantee four H, although it will often have them, but should promise 3 H). With a penalty double, you must pass, and wait for partner to re-open. You can make a negative double at the one level with a good 6/7 points or better; at the 2 level, you should have at least a good 8/9 points. A negative double can have up to 18 points – with a strong game forcing hand, you will cue bid on the next round.
After 1S – 2C – P – P – , you should normally re-open with a double with anything like the right shape. A 5431 hand would be ideal (do NOT bid 2H with this hand), but you should also double with 6331, 5332, or even 4333 with extra values. With a penalty double hand partner will then pass; with any other hand they will either bid a suit or revert to your suit. If you are 6331, then you simply rebid 2S over 2D or 2H from partner. With a 5332 or 5431 shape, opener will pass a bid of either 2D or 2H.
There are two hands on which opener will not re-open with a double. One is where they have 4 cards (or more) in the overcalled suit – clearly partner is extremely unlikely to have a penalty double. The other is where they have a weak hand with either one long suit or two 5+ card suits which would not have passed a penalty double from partner. In this case, they should bid the appropriate suit. So 1S – 2C – P – P – 2H shows a 5 card H suit and at least 5 S, but little defensive strength – typically something like: KQJ65, J10942, K6, 5.
Responding to a negative double; you should bid a suit at the lowest level with up to 14 points; with more, you should either jump or cue bid opponents suit.
WHEN THE OPPONENTS DOUBLE YOUR OPENING BID: e.g. after 1H from partner, double. The first assessment should be – who owns this hand? If you have at least 10 points and no primary support for partner, you should re-double – you may wish to penalise the opponents if they bid a suit you have values in, but at least you tell partner the hand belongs to your side. With 10 + points and support, it is usually best to show this immediately. In this sequence, you bid 2NT to show a good raise to AT LEAST 3H.
With support but fewer points (the hand may belong to the opponents), jump as high as you can in your suit – so 1H – X – 3H is pre-emptive. Always bid as high as you can.
Fit jumps: one option is to play fit jumps. For example, after 1H – X – , 3C or 3D shows a 5 card suit plus four card support for partners suit. You need to agree how strong this is – I would recommend that it is looking for game in most situations, so around 9 – 11 points. If your side is not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents, it should be looking for a possible sacrifice.
BOTH SIDES BIDDING: where both sides are bidding, you need to be able to distinguish a competitive bid from a game try. In an auction such as 1H – 1S – 3H -, you should play that 3S is purely competitive (to play in exactly 3S), and double shows a game try, asking partner to bid on with a stronger overcall. This applies when you have opened as well as when you overcall – for example, 1S by you, 2H overcall, 2S from partner, 3H on your right. 3S would be purely competitive, and double a game try.
In some sequences you may have more room to make a game try. For example, 1H by you, 1S overcall, 2H from partner, 2S on your right. You now have the option to bid 3C or 3D as long suit game tries.
When you think opponents are likely to sacrifice against your game, it can be very helpful to give partner more information about your hand so that you can both judge when to double and when to bid on. So even if you plan to bid game in any case, a game try can be useful later in the auction. This applies particularly if you have another 5 card suit. So a sequence like 1H – 1S – 2H – 2S – 4C/D would show 5/5 in the two suits, and help partner to judge what to do over a potential 4S bid.
Be careful not to mislead partner. If you have reasonable defensive values, you don’t want to suggest you have a pre-emptive raise hand.
When your side opens 1H, and the opponents overcall 1S, you should play that a bid of 3H is a distributional raise. With a full value (high card point) raise to 3, you bid 2NT. If exceptionally you have a natural bid of 2NT, you can double first and then bid 2NT on the next round.
You can play fit jumps in this sequence as well. So 1H – 1S – 3C/D shows a 5 card suit and 4 card support for partner.