Quick summary

It's an interfering bid, aim is to obstruct stronger enemy, and get foot in the door.
Be more cautious when vulnerable.

Go to the limit fast if it's competitive. If enemy drop out, go slowly, use LTC.

Must have 5 or more cards for a suit overcall. An exception is Landy 2club over weak 1NT.

Cards and Points for higher level overcalls:

6c & LTC=6: Jump
7c & <10p: preempt 3
8c & <10p: preempt 4

5c & 18p: double & rebid the suit
6c & 16p: double & rebid the suit


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Bridge Venue

Example Deal

«  0100  »

Interfering bids. Overcalls, the basic idea

Wrecking opponent's bid, & even triumphing yourselves

Often with only a few points

If your opponents have started bidding, your chances of reaching a game bid are looking much slimmer. But you may still have a chance to do some constructive wrecking - even if your cards are weak as they often will be. Aside from consuming your opponents bidding space and making it hard for them to communicate effectively, the other reasons for overcalling are

  • to tell your partner what to lead if you end up defending
  • to 'push' the opponents' contract to a higher and hopefully unachievable level
  • to find an effective sacrifice

And finally of course, you might even end up with the contract yourselves! And it can sometimes even lead to game "bid and made".

Take a look at the summary to the left, and the chart. The general approaches are discussed below the chart, with links to more detail on each one.

100. Overcalls
Opening bid Overcall HCP Cards note LTC
1 suit 1 suit 8-15 5 2 honours in the suit. LTC=8, 7 if vulnerable. 8/7
1 suit 2 of a lower suit 10-15 5 3 honours in the suit 7
1 NT 2 suit 12-15 6+, or 5-4 Don't bid with flat hand. 2club special, Landy=two 4-card Majors 7/6
1 NT double 15-18   for penalties  
1 suit single jump 11-15 6+ e.g . 1club-2diamond, or 1heart-3diamond. Can also play Weak but long with 6-10 HCP 6
1 suit 3 of a higher suit 6-10 7+ preempt, e.g.1club-3diamond. Double jump needed.  
1 suit 4 of any suit 6-10 8+ preempt, e.g.1heart-4diamond. Double jump to 4 needs 8+  
overcalling with more than one suit on offer
1 suit Double 12-15 ~4441 looking for any of the 3 unbid suits  
suit A cue bid suit A 8-15 5 (x2) a two suit overcall, looking for 2 Majors if A=minor  
suit B 2NT 8-15 5 (x2) a two suit overcall, looking for 2 minors if B=Major  
strong overcalls
1 suit 1 NT 16-18 balanced good stop in bid suit  
1 suit Double then suit 16+ 6 (5) 18 needed with only 5-cards  
1 suit Double then NT 19+ balanced rebid NT at lowest level  
overcalling preemptive openings
weak 2 3 12 6/good5 weak two defence  
weak 3 3 12 6/good5 need long strong suit  
weak 2 or 3 Double 12 ~4441 weak in opener's suit, cover in the others  
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Basic Requirements

Overcalling in a suit after a suit opening

The enemy have opened the bidding, so have some strength, and therefore your chances of finding a contract are narrowed, since you are weaker.

Your ability to wreck your opponents chances is therefore more dependent than usual on having a long strong suit, rather than a strong hand. The sort of flat hand on which you would have opened a (12-14) 1NT is often better suited to defence. (Of course it's also worth competing if you are very strong).

If you're considering whether or not to overcall, ask yourself "if my partner ends up on opening lead, do I want him to lead this suit?" If you overcall on J10976 and your partner dutifully leads that suit, declarer may be able to cash AKQ and discard a loser in another suit where your side holds the top cards. Without your overcall, partner may well choose a much better lead.

The basic golden guideline then is that although you can be weak, you must have a 5-card suit, and it must have some quality. Unsurprisingly, the fewer points you have, then the better your suit will need to be.

How many points ? If the bidding status requires you to overcall at the two level you'll need just 10 points, so not many, and a mere 8 to open at the one level. Note that you DO also promise your nice partner certain other things, and he'll base all his calculations on your promises Alex :

  • a 5-card suit, and
  • some good colour (2 honours, but at the two level need either 3 honours or extra length: see Suit Quality Test)
  • if you have to bid at the 2 level: 10-15 points
  • if you can bid at the one level: 8-15 points
  • more strength if the vulnerability is unfavourable, less if favourable
  • read more

Overcalling in three suits at once

By simply doubling, you can tell your partner that you are strong in each one of the 3 suits other than the one your enemy just bid. You'll need an opening hand and a 4441 distribution, or close. Unless there's an intervening bid, your partner must tell you which suit it his best. See Double for takeout.

Overcalling in two suits at once

By bidding either 2NT ("unusual 2NT"), or simply bidding the same suit your opponents just bid ("Michael's cue bid"), you can tell your partner that you are strong in two of the remaining 3 unbid suits

  • 2NT (unusual !): "I have 5-cards suits, in each minor" (when overcalling a Major). When overcalling a minor, the 5-card suits are in the other minor and one of the two Majors (unspecified. . ."Call enemy's suit to enquire which Major").
  • cue bid 2 of the enemy suit: "I have 5-cards suits, in each Major" (when overcalling a minor). When overcalling a Major, the 5-card suits are in the other Major, and one of the minors. "Call 2NT to ask me which minor".

You'll need 8-15 HCP, same as for a normal overcall. It's forcing unless there's an intervening bid: choose best of the two, jump to encourage, and bid opener's suit to force to game.

  • 2 Clubs over 1NT: "I have at two good 4+ cards suits in each Major, weak minors, and an opening hand. Please tell me your best Major or give me a point count with 2diamond or 2NT". Partner will also use 2diamond to enquire about the Majors. This is called Landy, and does not promise a 5-card club suit, of course!

Overcalling 2 of a suit after 1NT opening

The requirements on Length and Strength are more stringent:

  • an opening hand (around 12 points)
  • 6 card suit, or two suits with a 5-4 distribution or more

Overcalling in NT (over a suit)

Since the opposition is strong, then you should use the strong NT convention, not the weak NT. 15 HCP are needed, 16 better. You also need stoppers in opponents' suit.

Higher level overcalls

and a rather out dated approach. . ..

  • bid opponents' suit: 20 points+, pure point count. (Note: You can't use this system as well as the very useful Michael's cue bid mentioned above. To have 20+ HCP after the opponents have opened is quite rare, will not always lead to game, and will basically never get you to slam, so you might find the Michael's cue bid more useful. In any case, you can always force your partner to bid with a straightforward takeout double, and then show your strength on your rebid).

Response to overcaller - Changing suit

To change suit at the 2 level, you must have a good 5-card suit, obviously. You are fighting your partner !

Overcalling at the 3-level, over a Preempt

Most partnerships agree that calling 3heart over an opening bid of 3club signifies that you have good points (opening hand) and a strong long suit to overcall in. If you had a strong hand but were short in the enemy suit you would double, asking partner for his best suit. That's double for take-out, of course. This double can be left by partner of the doubler if he has two stops in the enemy suit and he considers more points will be gained by defeating the contract.

It's rare to overcall 3NT after an opening 3-suit bid. It signifies great strength with good stops in the opening preemptive suit.

Note that overcalling 3heart over 1club (not 3) is different, and itself signifies a Preempt.

Is your partner's overcall weak or strong?

When your partner makes a simple overcall at the one level, he could have as few as 8 HCP or as many as 16.

If you have 10+ points and support for partner's suit, or very good all round strength with stops in the opponent's suit and are thinking of No Trumps, you might have a chance of game if he's at the upper end, so it's useful to have a way of asking him how strong he is. You can do this by bidding the opponent's suit, e.g. (1heart) – 1spade – (Pass) – 2heart.

This is called an Unassuming Cue Bid (UCB). It asks your partner to tell you how strong his overcall is.

If he's a minimum overcaller (8-11 HCP) he simply rebids his suit at the lowest possible level and you pass unless you're very strong.

If he's stronger (12-15) he bids anything else which tells you something useful about his hand, e.g. he rebids his suit with a jump to show at least 6 cards, bids another suit in which he has good cards, or even bids No Trumps if he has good stops in the opponent's suit. This will help you to decide how to bid on.

Responding to partner's overcall

When you can support partner's suit it's often a good idea to be aggressive in your bidding to make things difficult for the opponents, particularly if they are vulnerable and you are not. If you use a UCB (Unassuming Cue Bid) whenever you have real game-going support, you can use raises of partner's suit as pre-emptive. With a weak hand and several cards in his suit, raise to the 'limit of the fit'.

Meaning? If the bidding goes (1heart) 1♠ (2heart) ?? you know your partner must have at least 5 spades. Thus, if you have four spades then you have a 9-card fit, so raise to 3spade. If you have five, you have a 10-card fit- raise to 4spade. This may stop the opponents making a 4heart contract.

(With six spades (11-card fit) it's probably wiser to raise to 4♠ rather than 5♠ though. Partner won't get excited by starting to look for slams - he'll know you're weak because you didn't use a UCB).

If you cannot support partner's overcalled suit it's usually best to pass the overcall. You should only suggest a suit of your own if it's likely to be superior to his – e.g. if he overcalls in a minor and you have AKQxx of a major. You may have a singleton in his suit . . .but remember he may well have a void in yours!

1NT? If you are weak in partner's overcalled suit (let's say partner overalled in ♠, e.g. bidding has gone 1heart, 1♠ pass), but have support for the other suits, and in the enemy suit of heart, you can think about a switch to 1NT. Beware! A reply of 1NT to a standard 1♠ opening will mean 6-9HCP. But as an overcall 1NT will have to be stronger because a 1♠ overall can be quite a lot weaker than a standard opening. You'll need

  • 9-12 HCP,
  • 2 or fewer cards in partner's overcall ♠ suit, and
  • semi-balanced shape

42. Reply to a Suit overcall, probably balanced
bid 1 NT not NT 2NT 3NT new suit 6NT
normal reply 6-9 10 11-12 13+ 16+ 21+
reply to overcall 9-12   13-15 16+    
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Here's another summary

overcalling how high to bid 




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