Transfer overcalls over 1NT

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Transfer overcalls


The difficulty in putting together a method for overcalling 1NT lies in finding enough bids to be able to show all the various single- and two-suited hands at a suitably low level.


As in other situations a transfer method, giving you in each case two bids for the price of one, goes a long way towards solving this problem, whilst being similar in principle to methods which you almost certainly use in other situations.


A peripheral advantage is that the opening bidder will frequently find themselves having to make the opening lead away from their stronger holding.


I should confess immediately that I do not have personal experience of playing this method nor is it played by anything approaching a vast majority of experts, but theoretically it has much to commend it.  My judgement is that it will increase in popularity amongst tournament players.


Basic Version


At its simplest the convention is all but identical to the system of simple four suit transfers which is more usually used by responder, except that 2 is also available as a transfer to diamonds.  Any lowest level suit bid by overcaller asks advancer to complete the transfer by bidding the next suit up.

With a single-suited hand overcaller will pass or raise this completion, and with a two-suited hand he will now bid a second suit naturally. The rebid in a new suit will not be forcing (as it is when employed by responder) since overcaller is limited to a maximum of about fifteen points by his failure to double at the first opportunity.


There are two routes to show any given two suits by transferring into either one and then bidding the other one naturally.

These two routes should be used to distinguish between the two 5-4 shapes whilst allowing for the possibility of a 5-5 shape.

T

A K 7 6 4

Q J T 3

8 5 2

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 2, promising at least four diamonds and five hearts.  This sequence is not forcing, but suggests sufficient playing strength to stand a conversion to 3.

A K T 6 3 2

T 7 4

T 6

8 5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

This hand may well be weak, but surely that suit is worth some competition at the two-level - particularly if not vulnerable.

Bid 2, and pass partner’s conversion to spades.

T

A K 7 6 4

Q J T 3 2

8 5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 2, promising at least four diamonds and five hearts.

If the auction continues you might bid 3 to show your fifth diamond.

T

A K 7 6

Q J T 3 2

8 5 2

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to hearts with 3, promising precisely four hearts and at least five diamonds.


Refining the method


The version above has much to commend it.

It has the capability to distinguish between various qualities of single-suited hand, and it is possible in theory to show all 5-4 combinations.  On the downside, all of the two-suited sequences can potentially reach the three-level and so there should be some circumspection regarding the playing strength of the hand.


Looking first at the single-suited hands


In conventions such as Asptro there are two routes to show single-suited hands in the majors at or below the three-level - quite simply you can bid the suit at the two-level or the three-level.

Using transfers three routes are available - transfer and pass, transfer and raise, or bid immediately at the three-level.

Similarly Asptro and many others provide only one route to show a single-suited hand in a minor - an immediate bid at the three-level. Transfer overcalls provide three routes in diamonds and two routes in clubs.


The question is how to distinguish between the different routes available.


Strength


There are three categories of hand which we might wish to show - basic overcalls, stronger overcalls, and preemptive overcalls (at the two-level there may be little difference between a basic overcall and a preemptive overcall).


A preemptive overcall is no different than in other situations - it shows a weak hand on which you have no higher aspirations, but on which you are happy to compete at the bid level at the prevailing vulnerability, most often on a seven-card or longer suit.


A basic overcall promises a suit or suits on which you wish to compete at the two-level (clubs is a special case).  The hand may or may not contain a modicum of high card values.


It is the concept of a stronger hand which requires a little thought.

It is tempting to define the stronger hand in terms of a points range - perhaps twelve to fifteen or thirteen to fifteen.  This approach will certainly pay off on occasion when partner is able to locate a game contract your way or a penalty double in the subsequent auction.  I prefer a rather more flexible approach in which a ‘stronger hand’ suggests a holding which is about one trick stronger than a basic overcall without being as weak in high cards as a preemptive hand.  If that sounds rather airy-fairy then sorry, but I think that you will find this approach more useful more often.  It is worth observing that a single-suited hand with good high-card values and a quality suit will frequently warrant a double in the first instance.


Applying these thoughts to single-suited hands


With a basic overcall in diamonds, hearts or spades overcaller should transfer into his suit and then pass. Such a sequence will sometimes show no more than a good quality five-card suit, particularly in the majors, when not vulnerable.

With a stronger hand and at least a six-card suit he can transfer and then raise to the three-level.

Note that in either case the opening bidder will find himself having to make the opening lead away from his presumed holding.

An immediate jump to the three-level is natural and shows the preemptive holding.  (You could, of course, extend the transfer principle to higher-level overcalls, by partnership agreement, once again putting the play into the unknown hand and leaving opener on lead.)


If the suit is clubs then the basic overcall at the two-level must be sacrificed.  A transfer should promise the stronger hand (i.e. it will normally be a trick stronger to justify the three-level bid).  A weaker hand with a long club suit can be shown by way of a simple natural preemptive jump to the three-level.

A K T 6 3 2

T 7 4

T 6

8 5

This hand may well be weak, but surely that suit is worth some competition - particularly if not vulnerable.

Bid 2, and pass partner’s conversion to spades.

A K T 6 3 2

A 7 4

T 6

8 5

A trick stronger than the previous hand.

Bid 2, and raise partner’s conversion to spades to the three-level if not vulnerable.

It is a matter of personal and partnership style whether or not you would make this raise when vulnerable.  I would with most partners.

A Q T 8 6 3 2

7 4

T 6

8 5

Without doubt a preemptive holding.

Bid 3 if not vulnerable.

Choose between a transfer to 2 and an immediate 3 if vulnerable.

8 5

T 7 4

T 6

A K T 6 3 2

This hand is a basic overcall at the two-level as in the first example above, but such a bid does not exist in clubs.

Choose between a preemptive jump to 3 (particularly if not vulnerable), and pass.


Two-suited hands


Most of the ideas which follow, and some of those above, are based around a version of the method given by Ron Klinger in ‘Bridge Conventions, Defences and Countermeasures’.

I have reallocated a number of bids - I think it simplifies the memory work a little - but obviously my allocation is less likely to correspond with majority expert practice and may be theoretically inferior in some way which I have as yet failed to determine.

I should also point out that in that work Ron repeatedly uses slightly ambiguous phrases along the lines of ‘5-5 or hearts the longer suit’. In the following I have interpreted this as 5-5 or five hearts and four in the other suit.  Clearly I have taken a view in doing so.  Feel free to take a different view.


Remember that, whether following Ron’s allocation or mine, you do not have to adopt every single obscure possibility.  Tailor your agreements to your partnership and your memory capacity.


Both majors


The first drawback with the simple approach outlined above is the inability to show weak two-suited hands at the two-level.

This is particularly the case when holding 4-4 in the majors.  As with two-suited overcalls when your opponents open one of a minor, it is desirable to be able to give partner a low-level choice.


The problem is easily solved.

Reallocate the sequence 2, 2, 2 to show both majors.

(The sequence 2, 2, 2NT picks up the missing combination by showing a diamonds and hearts two-suiter promising at least four diamonds and five hearts.)


Note that the 2, 2, 2 sequence shows a basic overcall - you will not be intending to bid again.  We already have two routes available to show stronger holdings.

There is little point in using this specific sequence to show a 5-4 holding - partner will not have the space in which to locate the five-card holding.  You could insist on 5-5, thereby all but ensuring an eight-card fit at the two-level, or you could promise at least 4-4. With the latter agreement you will frequently finish in a 4-3 fit, but the increased opportunities to compete will more than compensate.  Only rarely will you be heavily punished at this level.

I shall assume in the following that you have taken the 4-4 option.

Q J T 2

A K 6 4

9 7 3

8 5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 2, promising at least 4-4 in the majors.

With nothing much himself partner will pass or correct to spades.

Advanced options


The methods given above are versatile, effective, and reasonably easy to memorise.


Five major and four clubs


The greatest weakness concerns hands with four clubs and a five-card major.  With the system as stated above such sequences have the potential to reach the four-level following a transfer into clubs followed by a bid of the second suit at the three-level.

The solution is to utilise the two unused sequences with a 2NT rebid.


(1NT), 2, (-), 2, (-), 2NT is used to show the hand with five hearts and at least four clubs, and

(1NT), 2, (-), 2, (-), 2NT is used to show the hand with five spades and at least four clubs.

(Note that these definitions vary from Ron Klinger’s version, in which they are used to show a strong hand with the given major and an unspecified minor.)

Q J T 8 2

A K 6 4

9 7 3

5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to hearts with 2, promising precisely four hearts and at least five spades.

A K 6 4

Q J T 8 2

9 7 3

5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to spades with 3, promising precisely four spades and at least five hearts.

A K 7 6 4

Q J T 8 2

7

8 5

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 3, promising at least 5-5 in the majors.


By incorporating a further artificial sequence (1NT), 2, (-), 2, (-), 3 it is possible to show hands which are 6-5 in the majors, but the possibilities given above are sufficient for me.


Both minors


There are two basic routes.

The immediate 2NT overcall will normally show both minors as in other methods, and a transfer into diamonds followed by a rebid in clubs gives a similar message.


The simplest allocation is that both sequences promise 5-5 shape, and that the transfer route promises the stronger hand.

A K 7 6 4

9 3

8 5

Q J T 2

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to spades with 2NT, promising at least four clubs and five spades.

9 3

A K 7 6 4

8 5

Q J T 2

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to hearts with 2NT, promising at least four clubs and five hearts.


Other major/minor combinations


Note that we have already addressed the combination of five hearts and at least four diamonds by transferring into diamonds and rebidding 2NT, and the other major/minor combinations can all be shown by the basic method.


Both majors


I have already suggested the use of the sequence (1NT), 2, (-), 2, (-), 2 to show a basic overcall at least 4-4 in the majors, and we have two standard sequences to show the 5-4 hand-shapes.


A further unused and artificial sequence allows us to distinguish the stronger hand which is 5-5 in the majors, and this sequence is:-


(1NT), 2, (-), 2, (-), 3

9 3

A K 7 6 4

Q J T 2

8 5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 2NT, promising at least four diamonds and five hearts.  Note that this commits the partnership to the three-level and will normally show a better than basic overcall.

A K 7 6 4

9 3

Q J T 2

8 5

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 2, promising at least four diamonds and five spades.

9 3

K Q J 4

8 5

K Q J T 2

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to hearts with 3, promising at least four hearts and five clubs.

8 5

7

Q J T 6 4

Q J T 8 2

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2NT.

This is not a strong hand, but surely worth some competition, particularly if not vulnerable.

Opponents opened 1NT (weak).

Bid 2, then follow partner’s conversion to diamonds with 3.  This is a good competitive holding with some defence.  An alternative would be to bid this by the weaker route when vulnerable and to prefer an extra trick for the stronger route.

8 5

7

A K 7 6 4

Q J T 8 2

Post intermediate and above

Not recommended

Intermediate and above

The obvious method is to transfer into the five-card suit and to follow with a natural bid in the four-card suit.  However, this is not recommended as advancer will too frequently have to raise the bidding a level to show preference to the five-card suit.

Greatly to be preferred is a reversal of this method in which the second suit is guaranteed to be five-card.  The first-bid transfer suit should be assumed to be four-card in the first instance, but will on occasion also be five-card.

Although this might feel the wrong way round at first it will make it much easier for the partnership to stop at the two-level on some weakish holdings.


Of course, you must also decide how you are going to bid 5-5 holdings.

My suggestion is that 5-5 shape should always start by transferring into the lower-ranking suit and following with a natural bid in the higher-ranking suit.  This sequence will then promise five cards in the higher-ranking suit together with at least four cards in the lower-ranking suit.  It follows that a transfer into the higher-ranking suit followed by a natural bid in a lower-ranking-suit will always promise precisely four-cards in the first suit together with five in the lower-ranking.


I shall assume the methods above in all the following examples and on the follow-on pages, but it is perfectly possible to reverse various parts of these agreements, and that is totally up to you.


All of these two-suited sequences risk reaching the three-level should partner wish to make a weak preference to the first suit.  The playing strength of the hand should be judged accordingly, bearing the vulnerability in mind.

Intermediate and above

Advancer’s next bid