Saturday, February 24, 2007

Advances to Overcalls (Part 2)

This post will deal with advancing partner’s overcall when you have a limit raise or better. This is the same type of hand that would make a limit raise if partner had opened the bidding. Remember you are a supporting hand, so take that into consideration in your hand evaluation. I will limit this discussion to advancing a major suit overcall. Since in my earlier post I occupied the double raise with a preemptive style hand, I need a different solution for better hands.

Let’s get started. The bidding has gone: 1h(LHO)1s(partner)/p(RHO)/your bid? You hold Kxx, xx, Axxx, KJxx. Good 3 card support, 11 hcps that appear to be working points and only 2 cards in opponents bid suit. This isn’t even a test! With three card support and a limit raise values you cue bid openers suit, so your call is 2 hearts. While this cue bid is well understood by most players, it wouldn’t hurt to review it with partner. Let me tell you why.

Some good players insist that the cue bid is simply a “tell me more” bid and can be made with limit raise values and 2 card support. The problem is that they want to use this same bid with 3 or 4 card support. When they don’t have 3+ card support, they are looking for a possible no trump contract. Whenever you expand a bid to do “double duty” you lose the important element of certainty and precision bidding becomes less precise. If you are my partner and make a simple cue bid, I want you to have exactly 3 card support (not 1, 2 or 4) and limit raise strength.

What do we do with the same hand and 4 card support. We use what is called a “power limit raise.” For an unpassed hand this can be 10-14 points, and for a passed hand usually 11-12 points. Thus, with Kxxx, xx, KQx, KJxx your bid would be 3 hearts and not 2 hearts. Why are you safe at that level? It’s the old Law of Total Tricks. We now have 9 trumps, so we will compete to the 3 level in any event, so why wait? Why not use the bid to send a message that cannot be misunderstood?

Overcaller will have to make an analysis of whether the two hands combined can make game. Overcaller is now the captain of the ship. The overcall could be anything from a lead directing overcall of 8-9 hcps (or worse) all the way to 16 hcps. If opener simply rebids the suit at the lowest level, that is where he wants to play the hand. If opener wants to play at a game level, then he must bid it.

With the simple cue bid there is some bidding room, so it would be possible to make a game try of some sort. Since advancer has already narrowly described his hand, it has always seemed to me that inviting game by jumping to 3 spades over the 2 heart cue bid is putting too fine a point on it, and most likely is overcaller simply shifting the burden of judgment to advancer. If that nevertheless happens, advancer should only bid game if he has extras that he has not fully described with the cue bid.

A more constructive way to invite game is for overcaller to make a game try much in the same way that he would if he had opened the hand and partner made a simple raise. Certainly if overcaller bids any suit other than the agreed upon suit, that should be a game try of some sort.

If there is a game prospect, it will likley materialize because there is a secondary fit, and the game try should direct itself to searching for that opportunity. We need to find key honors in advancer’s hand that will complement a secondary suit in which I may have one or more scattered honors. For this reason I prefer what is known as “second suit help.” Overcaller may have Qxxx in the club suit. By bidding 3 clubs over the 2 heart cue bid, Overcaller is asking advancer if he has some help in the club suit. Generally Qxx or better is considered help, so I am asking advancer to bid 4 spades with help in clubs and to bid three spades if he does not have help. In my example, advancer's clubs are KJxx so he bids 4 spades. Note that this game try does raise the bidding one level and should not be make on long shot hands.

If you know Losing Trick Count you can use it to help make your decision. My rule is 6-7-8. I rebid the suit with 8 LTC, invite with 7 LTC and bid game with 6 LTC. If you want to know more about LTC, Ron Klinger has a good book on the subject.

With the power limit raise your choices are very limited. You must either bid 3 of the major, which advancer will pass, or bid game. Since this is a stronger hand with better distribution (hopefully) and a 4th trump, I would bid game if I had a 7 LTC hand. Hopefully, advancer will also have a 7 LTC hand and we will be safe at the 4 level.

As with all bidding discussions, it is important that you and partner agree on how you will proceed after a cue bid by advancer. The completion of sequence and stopping at the correct spot is where “art” takes over.This is how I do it. If you have other thoughts, bring them on. All comments are encouraged.

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