The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (May 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

All bridge players would like to be thought of as tough opponents -- the type who compete aggressively and push the opposition into making difficult decisions. Most of us, though, have a natural tendency to play it safe when we hold modest strength and weak suits, especially in the types of auctions where competing would be dangerous or futile.

It's often wise to trust that instinct, but in many situations, being too timid can be as costly as being too reckless. Are you courageous or cautious with this hand? 

Neither side vulnerable, your RHO opens 1H. What's your call holding
   J3   4    QJ853   K7654 ?

An Unusual 2NT (both minors) might seem relatively safe since you're not vulnerable. The problem is that the opponents aren't vulnerable either, which dims your prospects of finding a profitable sacrifice. In fact, about the last thing you want to do is put down this dummy after goading partner into bidding 5C or 5D, doubled.

Many players will decide the 2NT overcall is worth that risk because it uses up lots of bidding space. In practice, though, this jump may not have much obstructive value. If the opponents have a heart fit, they've already found it and can outbid you. Experienced pairs also have good methods for responding over two-suited bids (Unusual vs. Unusual cuebids, for example) and will often find it easy to get to their best contract. Their tools include penalty doubles, which they'll be very willing to use at this vulnerability.

When you have little hope of buying the contract and aren't sure you want to suggest a sacrifice, there's no point in bidding with a marginal hand. Even if you catch partner with a fit for one of your suits, you may push the opponents into a successful game they wouldn't have found without your "pro-active" competition. The greater danger, though, is that by pinpointing your distribution, you often help declarer make those close games.

The same caveats apply to Michaels cuebids when your opponent opens 1S. A 2S overcall (hearts and a minor) forces partner to the 3-level, so it's important to have good suits, even not vulnerable. When vulnerable, a Michaels overcall should be a powerful hand with at least 7-8 playing tricks:
   Void   KJ1093   65   AQ10764  

Michaels cuebids are more attractive over 1H openings because there's more safety when you don't have a good fit (you may be able to stop at 2S) and a better chance of outbidding the opponents when you do. The best situation for an aggressive overcall, though, is when your opponent opens 1C or 1D and you have both majors.

Even under these favorable conditions, some pairs will forego a Michaels cuebid when they have "normal" overcalling values (around 10 to 16 points). They prefer a Michaels version called "split-range" (or "good-bad"), where the cuebid is used only with weaker or stronger hands. After 1C on their right, they would overcall 1S with
   AJ1042   AJ862   K7   3

This agreement can give partner a better idea of your strength, but you won't always be able to show your second suit. If the opponents bid up to 3C, backing in with a vulnerable 3H could be dangerous. If they bid 3NT, you may be getting the wrong lead. Even worse, your 1S overcall could be passed out when partner holds
   3   K7543  Q63   8754

In competitive auctions, describing your distribution is usually more important than showing high-card points. The best way to find your optimum contract -- and interfere with your opponents' communication -- is to enlist partner's help, so give him choices.

In general, you should pass on an Unusual 2NT or Michaels call when you have mediocre suits and the opponents have spades. If you hold a good major and a weak minor, you may judge that a natural suit overcall is a better description. With most other 5-5 hands, though, the two-suited bid will be your best strategy, no matter what your high-card strength.

   2012   Karen Walker