Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



New suit at the lowest level

At the earliest stages there is something to be said for playing a lowest level suit overcall much the same as an opening bid, with the added requirement that it should be at least a five-card suit, but I cannot overemphasise that if this is recommended as a starting method it should be for the earliest stages only.

Advancer’s next bid

The guidelines have changed over time.

At one time the simple guidance went along the lines of - ‘overcall at the one-level with ten points and at the two-level with twelve points’.

Modern-day guidelines are far less clear-cut.

I shall assume in the following that the hand is not better suited to some other variety of overcall (no trump, double or two-suited).

First of all a quick reminder of our aims when overcalling.

In no particular order (long pause as demonstrated on TV so-called reality shows), we want to:-

locate a contract our way when the hand rightfully belongs to us;

disrupt the opponents’ bidding machinery when the hand is theirs;

locate a worthwhile sacrifice when it exists;

indicate a defensive lead to partner.

To address the first of these aims we will usually make some form of overcall with

a good opening hand (say 15+ - could be lower by agreement).

To disrupt or search for a sacrifice we will frequently overcall with

a long suit (at least 6-card), even on a low point-count,

and to satisfy any of the last three aims we will usually overcall with

a 5-card suit with a good honours holding.

And clearly we must take any such action with an eye to the dangers involved, particularly if any contract you reach is likely to go down doubled and/or vulnerable.


A suit overcall at the one-level should promise at least a five-card suit (except possibly in the protective seat).

There is varying guidance regarding an overcall at the two-level.

EBED insists on a six-card suit in its beginner teaching, partly for the sake of simplicity.

I will go along with this requirement when vulnerable.

However, when not vulnerable, and particularly when not vulnerable against vulnerable, this will leave you without a bid just too often for my liking.

I will stretch the requirement to a good five-card suit in these circumstances, and in so doing I will find myself in respectable company.

The definition of ‘good’ in the above is considered below.

5-4 shape

A particular dilemma arises when holding 5-4 shape - particularly 5-4 in the majors.

Do you double or do you bid your five-card suit?

The situation is discussed on the page 5-4 shape.

Suit quality

Bearing in mind both that you want some trick-taking potential in your hand to protect against a possible penalty and that partner will usually lead your suit in defence, it is recommended that a five-card suit should be headed by a good honours holding.

Various definitions exist for this requirement.

Two of the top three honours is commonly stated.

I like to extend this to ‘two of the top three or three of the top five’.

When overcalling at the two-level on a six-card suit, particularly when vulnerable, your suit should also be headed by some similar sort of suit quality.

In other circumstances, six-card suits of any (I exaggerate) quality have some trick-taking potential, and the honour holding might not be quite so robust.

Some players find the SQ(u)OT count helpful in combining these factors.

Note that if your hand comes in the ‘good opener’ category (say 15+ points) then you might have to sacrifice a little by way of suit quality to get into the auction.

Overall hand strength

The upper limit will be a matter of partnership agreement.

In the following I have adopted sixteen as the upper limit (taking stronger hands by way of a double) in accordance with the EBED guidance for beginners.

Many excellent partnerships play a higher upper limit - 18 say.  No one (but no one) plays a lower value than this for the upper limit these days.

The lower limit is not nearly so clear cut.

It is dictated more by suit quality (see above) than by overall points.

Your hand will not be a complete ‘bust’ with extreme length - such hands will make some kind of preemptive jump or stay silent.

A rule of thumb would be 6+ points for an overcall at the one-level and 8+ for an overcall at the two-level but other considerations will be significant.

1 over 1 might be made on little more than a five-card suit to the KQ - it has a maximum space-consuming effect and the danger level is minimum.

1 over 1 when vulnerable, on the other hand, is likely to have at least near opening strength, or additional suit quality or length, or both.  With negligible obstructive effect the hand should have some constructive potential or defensive purpose.


Although I have referred to the vulnerability in the above you should not let it concern you overmuch at the one-level - you will only very rarely be on the receiving end of a penalty double, nor will yours usually be the last bid.

At the two-level you should be a little more circumspect.  Only rarely will you be doubled, but two down vulnerable is expensive, particularly at pairs.

In general a vulnerable overcall at the two-level will promise a decent six-card suit and near opening values.

But, at the three-level you will be taking your life in your hands.

Have a very good reason before competing at this level when vulnerable.

However, if your bid has constructive intent (there might be a making contract your way) rather than being primarily obstructive in nature, then do not be scared off by the vulnerability.  There is a nice little vulnerable game bonus which you really don’t wish to bullied out of.

An overcall at the one-level can be made on about 6+ points whether vulnerable or not.

A non-vulnerable overcall at the two-level can be made on about 8+ points, but will feature either a six-card suit or a good five-card suit.

A vulnerable overcall at the two-level will usually be closer to opening strength or will be based on a good six-card suit.

How high?

There are two schools of thought on this one.

One is to bid at the cheapest available level, and the other is to jump according to the length of the suit.

The second of these translates as ‘Jump to the two-level with a six-card suit’.

If you search hard enough you will even find experts who recommend that you should in general overcall at the lowest available level whilst elsewhere advocating the weak jump overcall!

My take on it is to jump when non-vulnerable on a weak hand.

With a hand closer to opening strength I prefer the lower level overcall, repeating it if appropriate.

Thus, when the overcall is available at two levels the lower level is potentially stronger than the jump overcall.

So 1 over 1 might anything from a minimum overcall to a good hand on a five-card suit, or it might be close to opening values on a six-card suit.  The situation  will become clearer if there is a further bid.

This page last revised 8th Jul 2020

Context - overcaller - opponents opened one of a suit (natural).

Not recommended

Q 9 6

T 8

A K J T 5

6 5 2

Opponents opened 1♠.

Borderline in high-card points, but your suit is excellent.  Consider 2, but only when not vulnerable with only a five-card suit and less than opening values.

A 9 6

J 8

K T 8 7 5

A 5 2

Opponents opened 1♠.

Pass, whether vulnerable or not.

You have two more points than in the previous hand, but your suit is just not worth mentioning at the two-level.

K T 8 7 5

J 8

A 9 6

A 5 2

Opponents opened 1♣.

My suit is barely up to standard, but I tend to bid 1 with its maximum preemptive effect.

Not all partnerships would follow this style.

Beginner and above

Too strong for a suit overcall

The guideline that hands of opening strength should double, and any other suit overcall will suggest a hand of less than opening strength is a thing of the past.  The basic requirement for a double is now related to the shape of the hand as much as to the strength, but there are still hands based on a good suit which are just too good for a simple suit overcall.

With the appropriate strength, you will double first and then bid your suit second to show this stronger holding.

And what constitutes a stronger holding?

As indicated above I will suggest sixteen points as the maximum for a suit overcall to be consistent with the EBED guidance for beginners.  With seventeen or more points (or a seven-playing trick hand) start with a double.

However, you will be in excellent company if you choose a higher maximum for the suit bid - eighteen would not be unusual.

The sooner you can bring your suit into the reckoning the sooner you can start pressuring your opponents’ auction.

Protective seat

Overcalling in the protective seat is discussed on the page protective seat.

K Q T 8 7 5

J 8

9 6 5

Q 5

Opponents opened 1♣.

Bid 2 - creating the maximum preemptive effect whilst warning partner of limited values.

With a SQOT count of 9 there is a strong argument for bidding 3 directly when not vulnerable.

K Q T 8 7 5

J 8

A 6 5

Q 5

Opponents opened 1♣.

Bid 1.

If you get a subsequent chance to bid 2 then partner will know that you have a six-card suit with at least near-opening values.