Bob Mackinnon

The 2 Club Overcall and the Law of Limited Resources

When Edgar Kaplan famously noted, ‘we lost the club suit in the 1950’s…’, he was referring to the proliferation of artificial 2 bids that served as asking bids in a constructive auction, 2 Stayman being the chief example. In the modern era the natural 2 bid has come into vogue as an overcall. Whereas in a constructive auction the 2 bid is a space-saver, in a competitive auction the 2 overcall is a convenient way to remove the opponents’ space with a minimum danger to oneself, or so it seems to many.

At one time bridge authors advised not to overcall with 2 without a 6-card suit and opening points, otherwise it was deemed too dangerous. Nowadays it is too dangerous to pass with an average hand containing a 5-card suit. The 2-level has become the battleground for the part score, as many average players have learned for themselves through experience. You needn’t understand a disease in order to catch it – exposure is enough. It’s the cure that requires understanding.

I prescribe two changes to the classical counteraction: first, limited negative doubles to be freely employed for flat hands with the primary aim to compete for the part score; second, transfers (2 and 2) to be employed at the 2-level to disclose a long major, and (2) to show a balanced hand game try, stronger than the negative double. This scheme is a simple application of methods that are being adopted by many expert pairs.

Slush Doubles
Negative doubles, according to Marty Bergen, are a way to transfer the captaincy to the opening bidder. In his book, Negative Doubles, he states, ‘Once the responder has shown some values, the road is paved for opener to investigate the possibility of game.’ Today the primary aim is not to get to games, rather it is to win the part score battles. At teams, if game is anywhere near close, pairs will bid it regardless of the niceities.

One may conclude that slush doubles cover a range of 8-11 HCP. What of the dangers of getting caught at the 2-level if the advancer redoubles? Opener may ‘escape’ to the suit in which he opened. That might work. If with a bad card combination one fears the effectiveness of a redouble, one is not forced to double, but if one has the inclination to compete, one has a method a partner understands.

Uncertainty shouldn’t be scorned, as sometimes it acts in one’s favour when the opposition thinks you have found a good fit at the 2-level. Overbidding is less of a problem than underbidding. If you don’t overbid occasionally you won’t generate many tops.

Transfers in Competition
In his 2002 book, ‘Double! New Meanings for an Old Bid’, Mike Lawrence returns to an old problem which is this: what does responder bid after 1  (2) with these hands:

1) KJT84  A7 J53 T94    and  2) A6 KJT63 J63 T63 ?

His general rule is that responder with ‘the wrong shape’ can’t make a negative double unless he holds 11 points. He admits that he would lie and double with hand 1, as he can correct partner’s 2 rebid to 2. What will partner make of that? Lawrence would PASS with hand 2, because he has no safety if partner responds 2 to a double. As we have found from our own sad experiences, there is no reward for missing a 9-card fit. It is quite possible your side holds the majority of the HCP as well as a 9-card fit.

Hands with a long major can’t be ‘the wrong shape’ when one is competing for the part score, especially so when the overcaller’s values are questionable. A solution to an old problem is to transfer to the major. This gets both hands 1 and 2 into the auction, a very important attribute, and removes them from the double category. We remove the problem of whether a new suit at the 2-level is nonforcing, forcing to game, or forcing one round, a problem mulled over by Lawrence in his earlier book, ‘Contested Auctions.’  It also removes the problem of losing a major fit because one had to double with hidden length.

Example from a Recent Sectional
First we show how an overcall on a lousy club suit had the effect of removing a partner from the auction with the result that a good 4-4 major fit was missed.

 

Dealer: South
Vul: BOTH
North
  AJT
  JT983
  A8765
  —
 
West
  Q542
  Q542
  K42
   Q7
East
  K973
  AK
  9
  K85432
  South
  86
  76
  QJT3
  AJT95
 

Bob

West

John

East

1

2

Pass

Pass

2

All Pass

The auction proceeded without fireworks to the optimum contract. When the dummy appeared East, a retired math teacher who knows what he is doing, commented, ‘I guess you were hoping for a balancing double, Bob.’ I replied that I had given up such hopes long ago. The truth is that a balancing double may not improve the situation for NS. EW can escape to their best contract, 2, which is makeable. So the overcall opens up an otherwise dull prospect to some exciting possibilities.

From the point of view of the opening side, one might think that any action that ends up with an average score when an alternative action would have produced a big pickup should be considered a failure. This is too narrow a view, one that many adopt when all 4 hands are visible.  North could have made a balancing double, but the outcome it not certain.  Down 2 in 2* is quite possible, but it is also possible that 2* would make producing a bottom score for NS. North holds a 2-suiter, so does best to bid his suits. The void in clubs is a defensive liability. Also, if partner chooses to defend it is best if one holds top honours in the suit one has bid, which is the suit partner is most likely to lead.

The Law of Limited Resources
We have a simple observation that applies to the 2 overcall, which these days can be said to guarantee only 10+ HCP and 5+ clubs. We call it the Law of Limited Resources, a grandiose name for a simple arithmetic calculation that many ignore.

The more points you hold in an opponent’s long suit, the more points he holds in his short suits, and the lower the expected number of total tricks.

The above deal demonstrates this. South holds 5 HCP in clubs, and West holds 7 HCP in North’s heart suit, his announced trump candidate. South can assume North and East hold in total a minimum of 22 HCP. He holds 8 HCP, leaving West with 10 HCP. Clearly this is a part score deal where clubs are a bad fit for EW and hearts are a bad fit for NS. South can happily pass and await further action.

Opener is Allowed to Pass
 Responder may pass and hope for a balancing double from the opening bidder, but if there is no score to protect, a simple pass may be effective, as in the following specimen.

 

Dealer: East
Vul: NS
North
  Q97
  42
  AJ2
  AJ852
 
West
  AJ
  AK3
  843
  AT743
East
  5432
  QJT965
  95
  6
  South
  KT86
  87
  KQT76
  K9
 

West

John

East

Bob

Pass

1*

2

All Pass

 

*Precision

On the previous board we had seen West overcall in hearts with K7632, so we had had a rehearsal of his style. John led A – J, which I overtook to switch to the 9. When the smoke cleared West was down 3. +150 was worth all 38 matchpoints for us.

I had opened on a minimal hand, and when partner passed it appeared we didn’t have a score to protect; even +100 might be OK. As I had the K, if partner had values in clubs and wanted to see me double, there were many EW points scattered about in the majors. Who holds the hearts? Obviously, not NS. If 2 were going down, it would be unnecessary to double it. Yes! 3 would have produced 9 tricks for EW.

‘Why didn’t you double?’ complained my partner grumpily.
‘Why didn’t you bid hearts?’ complained the disgruntled declarer.
It’s a rare deal where both sides are unhappy.

On the next deal we missed our 9-card fit. A slush double would have helped immensely.

 

Dealer: WEST
Vul: NS
North
  KJ
  AT5
  KQ7532
  52
 
West
  Q98754
  QJ86
  J9
  K
East
  A6
  9732
  T6
  AQT73
  South
  T32
  K4
  A84
  J9864
 

Bob

West

John

East

Pass

1*

2

Pass

2

All Pass

 

Letting West score 110 was worth 2 out of 38 matchpoints, and setting 2* by 1 would have been worth 8. It can’t get much worse than that, a disaster at IMPs as well, as NS can make 3NT in a straightforward manner. It was not a question of whether I should have entered the auction, but when. In general, the sooner one enters the auction, the better, but using the old rules, I could not double 2 negatively without a 4-card major. The classical criterion for the negative double does not fit the requirements of the modern game. This is why a filthy 2 overcall so often presents problems to major suit orientated systems. It is better if a double of 2 states simply, ‘I would have bid below 2, either 1, 1, or 1NT’. There are more bids to come, and if you would have bid without interference, you should be determined not to get shut out by a dubious overcall. One’s methods must reflect that attitude.

From the USBF 2012 Final
Having considered the problem before the USBF 2012 Trials, I was pleased to witness the following deal which turned out to be one of the most amusing of the 120 deals played.  A poor 2 overcall provided Meckwell with a gain of 6 IMPs.

 

Dealer: WEST
Vul: NONE
North
  AT
  K8
  J732
  AT652
 
West
  974
  62
  AKQ84
  K74
East
  KJ32
  AJT953
  965
  —
  South
  Q865
  Q74
  T
  QJ983
 

Rodwell

Moss

Meckstroth

Gitelman

1*

2

2–>2

4

Pass

Pass

4

All Pass

* 11-15 HCP

 

 

 

As West, Rodwell opened a nebulous Precision 1 as did his counterpart at the other table.  Moss felt a 2 overcall was in his best interest although he had no particular final destination in mind. As we shall see he was most unfortunate to find his partner with excellent support. Meckstroth was able to transfer to his best suit, planning, no doubt, to follow up with an exploration of the spade situation. Gitelman applied pressure with a 4 raise of the mixed variety; his major suit queens representing defensive potential. Forced to make a decision at the 4-level, Meckstroth happily chose game in his long suit. Perhaps he reasoned, ‘if they have a 10-card fit, we must have a good fit, too.’

Gitelman lead a diamond and got his diamond ruff, a reasonable plan, but that defence proved counterproductive as it cleared away declarer’s losers and left him with winners. Meckstroth had little difficulty wrapping up 10 tricks, even though the K was a wasted value. A good guess, or was it routine given what the opponents had told him?

At the other table Hamman and Zia as NS passed throughout missing their 10-card club fit. Good for them. Without their help Hampson-Greco could got no higher than 2, making 170. If one provides information more useful to the opponents than to one’s partner, it is better done in a suit ranked above the one they are likely to bid next. A 2 overcall shouldn’t shut you out, and it may help a lot.

 

 


1 Comment

Richard KendallMay 15th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

This is a real nice look at how modern methods must adjust to the new two club overcall. Kudos!

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