Now that we have established criteria for overcalls (smile), we can discuss responses to overcalls (in bridge jargon “advances”). To keep my posts manageable, I will do this in several parts. Part 1 will deal with the raising overcaller’s suit with hands that are good enough to invite game or make game forcing bids.
In large measure I base my raises in the bid suit on the Law of Total Tricks. The Law of Total Tricks, as explained to us by Larry Cohen in his book “To Bid or Not to Bid” in summarized form suggests that when we have a fit we compete in the bidding to a level equal to the number of combined trump held by our partnership. Thus, if we have 8 trump, we compete to the 2 level, 9 trump to the 3 level, 10 trump to the 4 level etc. Notice that Larry does not say with 8 trump we can take 8 tricks for a successful 2 level contract, he says that should compete with opponents to that level. Also note that he does not say that it works all the time, just that it usually is correct to follow the Law. Finally, he notes that you reduce the suggested level by 1 trick if your hand has unfavorable valuation factors or if the hands appear from the bidding to be “square” (evenly divided in suits).
Opponents open: The bidding goes 1h/1s/2h/? It is your bid. Your hold:
(i) Kxx, xxx, AQxxx, xx or (ii) 10xx, xx, Axxx, Qxxx or (iii) KJx, xx, xxxxx, xxx or (iv) Qxx, xx, xxxxx, xxx or (v) Qxx, Qxx, xxxx, xxx. The traditional notion before the development of the Law of Total Tricks was that you respond to overcalls the same way you would have responded if partner had opened the bidding. If that makes sense to you, and you want to be conservative, then you would raise hands (i) and (ii) to two spades and pass with hands (iii), (iv) and (v). Many respectable players would agree with that approach
If I held the above hands, I would raise to 2 spades with each of the hands except hand (v). My total table experience tells me that it is more dangerous to pass on hands like (iii) and (iv) and hope you can beat opponents heart contract than it is to make the raise. In short, I advocate following the Law. Even though hand (v) has more hcps than hand (iv), it is better to raise with hand (iv) and pass with hand (v). Note that hand (v) is as square as bridge hands get and that 50% of my hcps are in opponent’s suit. I therefore adjust it down one trick, and I no longer meet the Law requirements.
Observe that all of my hands have less than less than 10 hcps. If I have 3+ cards in partner’s suit and 10+ hcps, those hands are outside the scope of the Law and will receive a different treatment discussed in Part 2 of this series.
Since overcaller (my partner) will have agreed with my approach to suit raises, he should not attach any expectations to my hand other than I guarantee 3 supporting spades and I guarantee that I do not have invitational values. If partner is considering doubling a high level heart contract, he will know that he may take 1, and at most 2 tricks in his spade suit. If partner should hold 6 spades for his overcall rather than the minimum 5 spades, he will feel comfortable competing to the 3 level. If partner is defending, he will have an absolute count on the spade suit and will be well on his way to figuring out the best defense.
Does vulnerability factor into the decision? I can say that I am more circumspect when our side is vulnerable against non-vulnerable opponents. Raising with hands (i) and (ii) are still easy decisions and most of the time I would raise with hand (iii). With hand (iv) I now pass. But reflect on this, is the crisis more imminent when you have 3 hcps or when you have 9? That’s how you need to think in competitive bidding.
What to do about the hand where you have 4 or 5 card support? Follow the Law and bid to the appropriate level. The double and triple raises are strictly Law bids and are pre-emptive. The double raise should be weaker hand than the single raise, and the triple raise should be weaker than the double raise. Remember to adjust square hands down 1 trick. If your distribution is 4333, you may still want to raise only to the 2 level. That 4th trump may have no ruffing value.
A final word about raising partner’s suit. Decide immediately the level to which you are ultimately willing to compete. Once you make that decision, bid to that level immediately so you put maximum pressure on your LHO. When you are furthering the preempt, think “fast arrival” to eat up maximum bidding space ASAP.
You be the judge: Do you follow the law?