The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (April 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

In the last issue, we looked at the conditions that are most and least favorable for making aggressive overcalls in direct seat. Stretching a bit can pay big dividends if your bid finds a fit, directs a lead or disrupts the opponents' communication. The most successful players know when to take that risk and when to stay silent.

Your considerations will be different after both opponents have bid:

     LHO    Partner    RHO      You
      1C         Pass          1S           ?

The "sandwich seat" -- between two bidding opponents -- is a dangerous position. Bidding here has little obstructive value because the opponents have already exchanged information. Still, you should want to get into the auction when you have the right type of hand. Although the bidders have ostensibly advertised around half the high-card points, that doesn't mean that your side doesn't have a makeable partscore or even a game -- or that you can't safely push the opponents to an uncomfortable level.

Be cautious if the opponents have bid two suits. It's important to have a good suit for a 2-level overcall and the right distribution for a takeout double, especially when vulnerable. The minimum for a double should be 4-4 in the unbid suits and 12-13+ points. You can double with less strength if you're 5-4 with good suits.

Your system agreements can affect your ability to compete effectively. It was once considered dangerous to overcall a strong 1NT in this seat because partner was marked with at most 4-5 high-card points. 1NT was often used as a light takeout, but with today's 11-point openers and 4-point responses, that agreement has lost popularity. To prevent the opponents from stealing the deal, agree to play a strong 1NT (15+ to 18 points) with system-on responses. Even when partner is very weak, he'll sometimes have a long suit and you'll find a good partscore.

Ideas have also changed about a "cuebid" of RHO's suit (2S), which used to be a distributional takeout. Many pairs now prefer to play it as natural. Responder often has a weak 4-card suit, so you don't want to be forced into passing when you hold
    AQJ973   A5   J102   53

Some pairs define an overcall of opener's minor as natural, too, but this isn't as valuable. The 1C opener will hold at least four clubs more than 70 percent of the time, and his honors aren't finessable. It's more practical to use 2C as a Michaels-type cuebid (5-5 in the unbid suits). If you have a more distributional takeout (6-5), you can jump to 2NT to use up maximum space.

When in doubt:
   Don't double just to show high-card points. If you have 14+ points and can't bear passing, be sure you have four cards in the other major.
   "Light" preempts in this seat will seldom be worth the risk. A jump overcall should show a strong suit.
   Require a good 16-18 points for a strong 1NT overcall. Don't bid 1NT with 15 points unless you have a source of tricks (a good 5-card minor).
   Know your opponents' system. If they play support doubles, you can be more aggressive with suit overcalls because opener can't double for penalty.

Be more willing to stretch if the opponents have found a fit.

     LHO    Partner    RHO      You                    
       1H       Pass          2H          ?

Not vulnerable, consider overcalling 2S with
   AKJ102   54   32  10864

Your heart shortness suggests that partner has some length, so it may be difficult for him to balance if opener passes 2H. Your light overcall or takeout double can serve as a "pre-balance" that takes the pressure off partner.

Marty Bergen and Larry Cohen popularized this advice with the mnemonic OBAR BIDS (Opponents Bid And Raise; Balance In Direct Seat). You may want to discuss this approach with your partner. The most important requirement is shortness in the opponents' suit. Other agreements are that overcalls show strong suits, doubles promise near-perfect distribution, and partner will always be very careful about bidding higher.

   2012   Karen Walker