"Card sense is the ability to do the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time. Itís something you canít buy and you canít find; youíre born with it."
- Barry Crane (1927-1985)
The most successful matchpoint player of all time, the late Barry Crane was a master at pushing his opponents into bad decisions. His bidding style, described as "light, but disciplined", was to get in the auction early and often to direct leads and disrupt enemy communication. He was famous for his thin opening bids and overcalls, and his opponents would have had far more tops if they had doubled him more often.
Few have Crane's talent for sensing when it's right to make a "wrong" bid. If you hold a borderline hand, your decision depends largely on your estimation of the risks vs. rewards of bidding vs. passing. You can improve your results if you also consider which types of auctions tend to be dangerous and which offer the best odds for a gamble.
In general, the best conditions for aggressive overcalls are when you're not vulnerable, the opponents have a trump fit and they haven't yet shown their full strength. You're more likely to suffer a big penalty if you enter the auction late, after the opponents have exchanged information. They'll be more anxious to double if they've already determined that they don't have a good trump fit or game values.
These aren't often penalized, especially not vulnerable, and they can have obstructive value. Your opponents will usually have an easier auction if they can make natural, low-level bids, so you may gain an edge by forcing LHO to start with a negative double. A light overcall, though, can also mislead partner. It may not be worth the risk unless it also uses up bidding space.
After 1C on your right, consider overcalling 1S with as little as
♠K10843 ♥5 ♦KJ72 ♣62
When in doubt: Stretch to overcall 1S if your RHO opens a minor. Overcall a light 1D or 1H only if your suit is good enough that you want it led. Be more conservative when you're vulnerable.
These are frequent problems for those who follow the "5 and 10" rule, which means they bid in direct seat with just about any 5-card suit and any 10+ points. A vulnerable two-level overcall is dangerous because doubling can be so profitable. Extracting a penalty is also fairly easy, since opener will stretch to reopen with a double if your LHO passes your overcall.
The minimum for a vulnerable two-level overcall should be a good 6-card suit
and at least 10-11 points or a very strong 5-card suit and 14+ points. After 1S
on your right, overcall 2H with
♠2 ♥QJ10876 ♦A103 ♣K62
You can shade this down if not vulnerable, but it's still important to have a
good suit. At any vulnerability, a pass is the wisest choice over RHO's 1S
opening if you hold
♠J63 ♥KJ642 ♦KQ ♣KJ7
When in doubt: Ask yourself what you would rebid if you overcall and partner advances with 2NT. If you'd have to pass 2NT -- that is, you don't have enough strength to raise to 3NT or enough length to rebid your suit -- don't make the overcall.
Overcalls of their 1NT
A strong 1NT used to effectively silence the opponents, but no more. Today's players are more willing to compete for the contract and force the opponents to alter their response structure.
For an overcall, length and strength in your suit are much more important than overall strength. If you're considering a penalty double, you need an attractive lead and a source of tricks, not just a lot of high-card points.
When in doubt:
Look for excuses to make a non-vulnerable overcall if you have a six-card suit or a two-suiter.
Be conservative with balanced patterns. Don't make a penalty double with a balanced hand unless you have a rock-solid 18 points or more.
Know your opponents' system. If they play negative or "stolen-bid" doubles after opening 1NT, you can be freer with your overcalls.
© 2012 Karen Walker