Bidding Over the Opponents Strong NT Opener

There is much on the web about conventional bidding after the opponents open 1NT.  However, there is much less to help advancing players figure out when they should be overcalling, what the reasoning is, and developing a successful partnership strategy.

The following is an explanation of probably the most popular reasoning for overcalling over a strong NT. The following philosphy is most successful at matchpoint strategy, but works well at all forms ofscoring too.

It is important to realize that each segment of bridge bidding has its own set of rules. For example:

  • When deciding whether to open one needs 12-21 HCP and then considers distributional traits.
  • After partner opens with 1NT responder uses stayman and transfers as the main tools of discussion.
  • Over a 2C opener responder typically makes an artificial bid “waiting” bid of 2D to allow for maximum room for opener to describe their hand.

All of these examples have a common thread in that they utilize the language of bridge bidding. However, they are as disparate as a discussion of philosophy in a Harvard classroom and two guys at a ball game comparing players batting statistics.

Bidding over a strong 1NT bid requires a partnership to establish an aligned structure of rules and reasoning.  This document will focus on the reasoning while setting up rules.

What is our Goal?

When overcalling a strong 1NT opening the overcallers  goal is first and foremost find a good partscore.

The 1NT opener announced that they have 15-17HCP, which means that the overcaller’s side has AT MOST 23-25 HCP.  While game isn’t impossible, it is highly unlikely. Since bridge is a game of making the percentage action, it follows that the winning bidding philosophy is to focus on bidding playable partscores after the opponents open 1NT.

How many points do I need?

Good question, however, points are not the first criteria when deciding if to overcall over a strong 1NT. Shape and high (medium) quality suits are more important.

A player whom holds the equivalent of a minimum weak 2 bid has enough to bid over a 1NT opener AND should be bidding. Therfore, a hand with a good suit and 5 HCP, like ♠KQ10xxx ♥xxx ♦xxx ♣x, has enough to overcall a strong NT.

On the flip side, a player with good point-count and a good suit should also be bidding over 1NT. For Example: ♠AQJxx  ♥Kxx  ♦Ax ♣xx.

So how can an overcall of 1NT show as little as 5HCP to a hand that has 15HCP or more?!

Think of it this way:

If they open 1NT and our side has 17-24 HCP we should be competing by finding and bidding our 8+ card fits on (hopefully) the two-level. Those 17-24 HCP’s, that are the assets of the overcalling side, are split randomly amongst the partnership. There are seven common ways that the points and distribution are split:

1) One partner holds the points and has shape

2) One partner holds the points and the other partner has shape

3) One partner holds the points and they both have shape

4) The points are split and one partner has shape

5) The points are split and both partners have shape

6) The points are split but neither partner has shape

7) One partner has points and neither side has shape.

In situations 1-5 the overcalling side will be able to overcall a large portion of the time. In situations 6-7 the partnership will defend.

How should I advance if my partner overcalls 1NT?

Pass!

Seriously this is the right call most of the time. Since we know that our side does not have the values to be in a game the majority of the time, and our goal is to get to a good part-score, the majority of the time there is no reason to disturb partners overcall.

If advancer has good HCPs and a fit, they should pass. Advancer should pass even if they have 14HCP’s and 3 trumps for partner. Remember that the stronger the advancer is, the more likely it is that the overcaller bid on a long suit and little else.

There are two situations advancer should continue the auction and bid:

1)      to look for a better strain

2)      to look for game.

Better Strain:

Advancer should look for a better strain if they have extreme shortness (read void) in partners suit and advancer has their own 6-card or longer suit. In this case advancer bids their own suit. This is not a forward going bid.

The partnerships understanding of a change of suit after an overcall of 1NT: “Partner, I know that you like the suit that you just bid, but I really hate that suit (think void). I think that the suit I bid is going to be a better trump suit. Please pass.”

Game Seeking:

Advancer can look for game if they have well positioned values AND great shape. Games are made on few points when the hands fit and the opponents Aces and kings are nullified by well positioned shortness.

For example

N         E          S          W

1NT     2H       P          ?

♠-                                 ♠A5                             ♠3

♥AJ985                      ♥A1098                      ♥A109654

♦AQJ654                    ♦KQ8765                   ♦A98765

♣43                             ♣2                               ♣-

Bid 4H                                    Invite or bid 4H          Bid 4H

These are examples where responder should look for or bid game.

So now my partner has overcalled their 1NT bid and the opponents have competed. What now?

While before I recommend passing partners overcall, now that the opponents have fought back advancers input is important. Advancer should compete to the law level in partner’s suit.