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.

As soon as we are ready to improve on the beginner method above we need to remember that our priorities have changed.

We are now as concerned with disruption of the opposing auction, locating a profitable sacrifice, or indicating an attacking lead in defence, as we are with locating a making contract our way.

Suit quality will be an important consideration and a useful guideline in assessing suit quality is the…

SQUOT (SQOT) count

SQUOT stands for Suit QUality Overcall Test.

The SQUOT count of a suit is determined by adding the number of cards in the suit to the number of honours in that suit, only counting the J and/or 10 if a higher honour is held.

The idea is that the SQUOT count indicates that the suit is of sufficient quality to justify contracting to make that number of tricks.

Thus, a SQUOT count of seven suggests that the suit is of sufficient quality to justify competing at the one-level, and a SQUOT count of eight suggests that the suit is of sufficient quality to justify competing at the two-level, etc..

thus AKJ75 has a SQUOT count of 8,

as does QT8742.

either of these suits might justify a lowest level overcall at the two-level.

Of course, this is far from the same as saying that your contract will make, but with the near certainty that partner will lead your suit in defence, and also that he might rely in top honours in your suit in the ensuing auction it is important that your suit should have something good at the top of it.

There are, of course, other factors.

Overall strength

The overall strength of your hand is of course important.

If your hand is just too good to pass - a good opener perhaps - but unsuitable for a double or an overcall in no trumps, then you might have to sacrifice a little in the way of suit quality (or might it have the potential to score better in defence?).


The vulnerability can be all important.

If there is a likelihood of going down at 100 a time, or more if doubled, then a certain amount of circumspection will be the order of the day.

Bidding space

Preemptive effect is important.

An overcall of 1 over 1 will usually be sound - it does little to inconvenience your opponents and so it should have some clear constructive purpose.

An overcall of 1 over 1 on the other hand has considerable preemptive effect and might be made on a far more dubious holding.

Overcalling at the one-level

My choice for the strength of a typical suit overcall at the one-level is a range of 6 to 18 (some partnerships play 6 to 16 or similar).

With less than six points my suit will not usually be good enough and with nineteen or more points I will start with a double.

Vulnerability is not usually such a consideration at the one-level - only rarely will it be left and only very occasionally will you find yourself left in a doubled contract.

With a weaker hand it is sufficient that your suit should be at least five-card with a SQUOT count of at least seven.

Note that, with a higher SQUOT count you might choose to compete immediately at a higher level, but this will depend on your partnership agreement regarding jump overcalls.

With a hand around opening strength, and particularly if the bid is space-consuming you might stretch the suit quality a little.

Overcalling at the two-level

When not vulnerable the requirements are more or less as above.

In general your suit will be six-card, and this is now the standard initial teaching on the matter, but there are hands on which I will stretch this to five-card when not vulnerable.

The minimum SQUOT count in a weak hand will be eight, and it will be rare that the overall strength is less than 8 points.

When vulnerable considerably more circumspection is required.

The hand will usually be recognisably close to an opening bid, the SQUOT count will almost certainly be a sound eight, and I would recommend that you should stick fairly strictly to a minimum six-card length.

An overcall at the one-level can be quite weak whether vulnerable or not.

It should be assumed to promise at least a five-card suit with a SQUOT count of seven.

A non-vulnerable overcall at the two-level can be fairly weak, but will usually promise a SQUOT count of eight.

A vulnerable overcall at the two-level will usually be of around opening strength or stronger with a SQUOT count of eight or more in a six-card suit.

Post-beginner and above

This page last revised 18th Dec 2019

Context - overcaller - opponents opened one of a suit.

Not recommended

Q 9 6

T 8

A K J T 5

6 5 2

Opponents open 1♠.

Borderline in high-card points, but your suit is excellent.  Consider 2 when not vulnerable.

Some would make this same bid when vulnerable but the lack of a six-card suit indicates against it.

A 9 6

J 8

K T 8 7 5

A 5 2

Opponents open 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.

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, and usually a six-card suit, you will double first and then bid your suit second to show this additional strength.

The exact strength requirement for this route is a matter for partnership agreement.

Many partnerships play that the suit overcall might show anything up to sixteen points, and with seventeen or more points (or a seven-playing trick hand) they start with a double.  More recently an overcall ceiling of about eighteen points has become more the norm, in which case you will follow the double then change suit route with nineteen or more points, or thereabouts.

Agree whichever cut-off guideline you like with your partner, but please don’t bring the ceiling down to twelve points (or similar), it is far more important to show your suit than your overall strength on such hands.