I was taught that you need at least eight high card points to "overcall" at the one level against an opposing opening bid. In a pinch, "seven" would do if they were all in your (five card) overcall suit, like AKxxx or AQJxxx. That is, a maximally strong suit with no "stranded" or otherwise wasted honors.

In an article by an expert (Frank Stewart), a non-vulnerable player overcalled one spade over a one club opening bid with

♠ QT975
♡ A3
♢ KJ53
♣ T6

That's ten high card points, but on the other hand, the spade suit is much weaker than AKxxx. In fact, both the hand, and the suit are basically "average," not above average.

Is is OK to overcall like this with only an average hand and average suit? And is a strong suit adequate compensation for only 7-8 high card points?

3 Answers 3


I would consider it mandatory to overcall with that hand at the 1 level; it's a fairly good 10 count.

Lots of fairly likely bad things can happen if you pass. Partner can show up with something like KJx; xxx; Qxx; xxxx, where both 2S makes your way and 2H makes their way, and passing has just cost you 6 IMPs. Partner could even show up with AKxx; xxx; Axx; xxx and you have missed a 50+% (opener is more likely to have the QD) game by passing. Not much bad can happen from a bid at the 1 level; it takes very unusual distribution for the opponents to be able to set you for more than the value of what they can make.

It's also not bad for partner to lead the suit; a lead away from their Kxx won't hurt you.

I'll overcall 1S over 1C, nonvulnerable, with something like KQxxx xx xxxxx x - that's aggressive but not the most aggressive I've seen.


There are essentially three things that you might be trying to do with an overcall: guide the defense, show values, and get in the opponents' way. You're generally not trying to do all three things every time.

With something like AQJxx x xxx xxxx, you're telling partner where you live. You'd like a spade lead (especially from a holding of Kx or Tx, which aren't usually attractive holdings to lead from), and you wouldn't be terribly upset to find yourself declaring 2 or 3 spades against opponents' partscore, possibly going down one into their +140. If partner takes some strong action, you will take whatever the weakest action is at your turn to bid.

With this hand, when partner has an average hand, the hand belongs to you. You have a fairly offensive hand, but you still have some defense. Again, you would be happy to declare a partscore in spades, but you're also willing to defend or even make it to game if partner has a suitable hand. You wouldn't be thrilled to see partner lead the SK, but it probably won't destroy the defense. If you pass, partner won't think you have values this good and a 5-card spade suit.

This overcall is especially attractive over 1C. 1S preempts responder's most likely call of 1H, and if the auction continues (X)-2S, opener will not know whether responder has good values or good hearts (or neither). The call is somewhat less attractive over a 1D opener (although your diamond honors would be well-positioned in that scenario), but still attractive over 1H, because you want your partner to compete with a spade fit. If you swapped your majors, 1H is less attractive because your spade doubleton suggests that you'll lose any partscore battle, but it's still worth getting in there because of the values.

Note: If you rearrange the suits so that you hold Ax KJxx QT9xx Tx, this is not nearly good enough to overcall 2D over 1S, but still worth 1D over 1C.


One point not yet mentioned is the strategic (not just tactical) importance of the two round-suit doubletons. These are not just a significant offensive value: but indicate that you are most likely shorter than Partner in the opponents longest/best suit. One key way to avoid misfits in competitive auctions is for the partner with shortness in opponents suit(s) to get your side into the auction, removing the burden from a Partner with 3 or more cards; and here that is likely you. So overcall 1S.

If RHO has happened to open 1D, there is no reason to discount the above. If that call was made short then opponents' best suit remains likely to be be Hearts or Clubs; and if that call was made long you are sitting over it with length and strength that can be expected to play well both offensively and defensively. It would not be unusual for the auction to continue:

  1D  1S  2/3D  *  

on a hand bad for either side on offense, which you could comfortably choose to convert for penalty.

An auction like this suggests that Opener has at most 4 Hearts (since didn't open 1H), and LHO has at most 3 Hearts ( no Negative Double), which with your doubleton means Partner has at least 4 and most likely 5 Hearts. Why not 6 Hearts? Because Partner has also shown Club support, which suggests both opponents may be close to 4333 hands playing against unfavourable breaks. Open the play with A and a small Heart and read Dummy and Partner's play for clues to Partner's early entry.

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