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As west, my partner opened 1 club; north, the TD, called one spade and in the east seat I replied 2 hearts.

Thereupon my partner alerted and advised the table that I was showing 5 hearts (a first reply in a major in our system shows 5 not 4 cards). The TD went into something of a flat spin and advised that there was no necessity for the alert because I had to have 5 hearts to overcall 2 hearts. After we'd finished playing she went to her rule book and demonstrated the rules of overcalls.

Was my bid actually what is defined as an overcall or merely a reply to my partner?

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    I would suggest you search for a novice-friendly game and director to play at and with, before this individual ruins your enjoyment of the game. May 11 '17 at 22:35
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There are two questions here:

  1. (Terminology) Is making a bid over an opponent still called an overcall if your partner has already bid?

There are two competing uses (from Merriam-Webster):

Definition of overcall

transitive verb : to make a higher bid than (the previous bid or bidder) in a card game

intransitive verb : to bid over an opponent's bid in bridge when one's partner has not bid or doubled

The first sounds a bit old fashioned, and the second is what I'd expect in modern bridge books, which tend to (cf. this lesson by Larry Cohen) use the names:

West, Partner (Opener): 1 Club

North, TD (Overcaller): 1 Spade

East, You (Responder): 2 Hearts

South (Advancer): [to call]

  1. Did your partner need to alert your bid, regardless of terminology?

No, at least not in the American Contract Bridge League. See the Alert Procedures:

Definition of expected length for natural bids for the Alert Procedure

Suit bids:  Three or more in a minor suit (Also: An opening bid of 1♣ is natural if, by agreement, it may be exactly 4=4=3=2 with two clubs, three diamonds, and four cards in each major.)

 Four or more in a major for opening bids, rebids and responses

 Four or more for an overcall at the one level, five or more for higher levels

 Five or more for a weak two-bid

 Six or more for a weak three-bid

Side Note: It doesn't matter to the result, but I couldn't find the definition of overcall that the ACBL Alert Procedures are using. I would expect from experience that it is the second one.

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    The terminology your describe as Larry Cohen's is in fact standard Bridge terminology worldwide, as long as I have been playing Bridge (45 years now). May 11 '17 at 22:30
  • @ForgetIwaseverhere I agree, it is the standard I am familiar with as well. (I wasn't attributing it to Larry Cohen; I was simply using a link to his website as an quick example of / reference to the usage.)
    – aes
    May 13 '17 at 23:38
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Cleaning up the terminology: as everyone is saying, technically 1S was the overcall, and 2H was a response (in competition). I would also agree with all that (in 2017) this wasn't, and isn't after the 2021 changes, Alertable in the ACBL. Note that Alerting regulations are country-specific, but I can't believe that there is anywhere in the world that would require an Alert for 1C-(1S)-2H promising 5.

My guess is that partner is in a world where not everyone plays negative doubles, and many people would respond over the overcall with 4, so she thought she was being helpful. Unfortunately, that is not the "normal duplicate world", and instead it caused a problem, which I'm not seeing much discussion of.

While I don't like the reaction of the Director* (who should be especially careful when playing and "ruling" at his table), he's got a point, and I want to explain it.

Bridge Communication is meant to be done between partners solely by means of the calls and plays (L72A1), and to opponents as the Regulating Authority requires (L40). Alerting this call is so unexpected that it will almost certainly prompt an ask (if the "alert" was a straight up explanation without being asked, which I have seen, that's worse), so opener gets to tell partner what she thought partner's bid meant.

Keeping partners on the same page via the Alert procedure - especially with a "not Alertable" call - is not legal. Even if that was not the intent, it does "just make life easier", which is a problem. So this needs to be stopped before it becomes a habit that gets relied on. Thus the director's comment.

You don't have to understand the Alert Procedure completely (I don't understand it completely, and I have to rule if something's Alertable!); you do, however, have to know what parts of the system you're playing are Alertable, and do it correctly. I hope that was the intent of the TD's correction.

* Although as a TD myself, I know several bridge players who react to any correction, delivered as gently as possible, as if I had "gone into a flat spin". So I'll do my usual (which is usually close to correct) and assume it was an "you don't Alert that!" - more blunt than it should have been, less fly off the handle than it sounded to the newer, possibly intimidated by playing against the director, players.

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Your call of two hearts was a response, not an "overcall." It's basically a response to your partner's one club call. It was your opponent, who made an overcall of one spade.

When you called two hearts, there was no need for the alert, because very few players would make that call with only four hearts nowadays. Instead, the modern call is a "negative double." (I'm moderately strong in the major suit the opponent didn't bid. And the opponent's bid cut me off.)

A case could be made that if the opponent didn't overcall and you called one heart, and that always meant a five card suit, that it should be disclosed. But the way to disclose it is through the convention card before the play, not an alert during the play.

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The bid is not alertable under ACBL rules. If the partnership is not playing negative doubles (as most do these days) one must consider how the responder would bid with only a 4-card heart suit, but say 10-11 HCP in this sequence.

Technically this is a "response" not an "overcall", but in the heat of the moment (as opposed to a carefully written lesson or essay) terminology can often slip a bit. If partner had not opened, a 2H overcall should definitely promise a 5-card suit.

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  • I should like to know why someone felt this answer should be downvoted. I do not think that three is anything inaccurate in it. Mar 10 '19 at 15:54
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In Standard American bidding, after 1C-(1S), a bid of 2H does indeed promise 5 hearts and 10 high card points.

With only 4 hearts, the usual agreement is to double; this is a common convention called the "negative double".

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  • This doesn't answer the question of whether it is an overcall or not.
    – AndyT
    May 10 '17 at 12:52
  • Except that if a novice pair isn't playing negative doubles, as is clearly the case here, the standard interpretation would be to be showing 4+ cards in the suit bid. May 11 '17 at 22:33
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    The question asked about alertability, and the ACBL alert rules say that any bids with a 'highly unusual or unexpected meaning' should be alerted. This means in effect that, in order to comply with the alert rules, a player needs to know what the standard meaning(s) of bids are. It's unfortunate that this rule (and others) effectively make it impossible for a complete beginner to play tournament bridge completely in accordance with the rules, but scrapping such rules causes other problems. May 12 '17 at 0:27

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