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Points Schmoints - CHAPTER 9 -

© Marty Bergen


Order Points Schmoints here   Other Bergen books
Index   TOC

Prior Chapter:
CHAPTER 8 - AFTER THE DOUBLE                                                    57

Note: Only summaries are included below -
see book for details

Overcalls: If the Suit Fits, Bid It                                                              67

Stand Tall After a 1NT Overcall                                                              72

Do You Know Your Balancing Basics?                                                    75

Overcalls: If the Suit Fits, Bid It

“More points are lost at the bridge table through bad or pointless overcalls than any other way.”

                                                                    Helen Sobel Smith

One of the most important tools of competitive bidding is the overcall. Unfortunately, a great deal of confusion surrounds this subject.

The purpose of overcalling is to inform partner about a good, long suit. Overcalls serve to get your side into the auction, suggest a specific lead to partner, and take away bidding space from the opponents.

Notice that I said nothing about HCP. This omission was deliberate. In many situations, points are secondary: They are not the basis for an  overcall.




An overcall neither promises nor denies an opening bid. If that does not set you straight on the subject of HCP, nothing will.

Let’s deal with a few basic issues.

1.    If your HCP total is not the key factor in overcalling, what is?

A.  Level

At the one level, almost anything goes, especially nonvulnerable. It is safe to bid at this level; someone is likely to rescue you if you are in the wrong contract.

The criteria for two-level overcalls are significantly different; still,  points are not crucial. It is far more difficult for everyone to bid at this level. You need a better suit since you must be concerned about getting stuck in your bid, possibly even doubled.

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© Marty Bergen

B.  Suit quality

The strength of your suit is often critical. This is especially true when overcalling at or above the two level. Only be lax about suit quality when overcalling at the one level. Here is a guideline:

Suit length                  One-level overcall

5 cards                       Have at least two honors or a strong hand.

6 cards                       Suit can be very weak.

Suit length                  Two-level overcall

5 cards                       Avoid mediocre five-card suits. The suit should be  headed by at least three honors.

6 cards                       Suit may be weak when nonvulnerable. Unless your hand is very strong, have at least two honors when vulnerable.

C.  Vulnerability

Vulnerability is of minor importance at the one level, but better players are careful with their vulnerable overcalls at higher levels.

D.  Your Holding In Opponent's Suit

Try to be aggressive when you have shortness in the opponent's suit, but conservative with length. This is true regardless of whether RHO opens


An essential key of competitive bidding:
The hand with shortness in the opponents’ suit must strive to take action.




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© Marty Bergen

Stand Tall After a 1NT Overcall

Bridge is easy to play but difficult to play well. Compare it with another tough, frustrating game — golf. There you can see the results of your actions immediately. Even a novice knows that driving, chipping and putting involve different techniques. In both games, each new situation demands a different strategy.

However, bridge is far more subtle. Partner opens 1 and you have the following hand. You are waiting for your opponent's call, and though you may not realize it, you are totally dependent on his action.


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© Marty Bergen

Do You Know Your Balancing Basics?

“Bridge is a 52-card game. This simple statement is overlooked by many bridge players. All too often the bridge player thinks of the game as a 13-card game — the hand he holds.”


Ira Corn, founder of the Dallas Aces


What goes through your mind on an auction such as:

West          North         East            South
—              —              1
              P                P                ???

If it is, “Thank goodness, the opponents didn't bid game, what should I lead?” have I got a tip for you.

Here is what passes through my mind. “My opponents are attempting to steal the bid at a low level. Partner must have some strength. They have a fit, so we must have a fit. I am certainly not going to roll over and play dead. The only issue is what action to take.”

Balancing is a difficult concept to master. It can be defined as reopening the bidding after the opponents' auction has died at a low level. A player is in the balancing seat when his pass would end the auction. In contrast, a player is in the direct seat when his RHO took action. In many low-level auctions, it is important not to allow the opponents to take the bid too cheaply.

After [1] – P – P, you should bid 1 with this weak hand:


Why is that? 

You are certainly not happy about defending 1 with this hand. The opponents only need seven tricks and you would be painfully short of trumps if you passed.


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       There are many advantages to balancing:

1.    Your bid may push the opponents one trick too high.

2.    Instead of watching them make their cozy partscore, you may make one of your own.

3.    If your side defends, your bid may help partner select a good lead as well as giving him a better picture of your hand.

4.    When partner has a very good hand, you may bid game or give him the opportunity to penalize the opponents.

Now that you see the need for balancing, I would like to address how to balance. The following may be new to you. In addition, you may not like hearing it. However, let it be known:


Actions in the balancing seat differ from those in the direct seat.


Overcalls in the Balancing Seat

Even at the two level, a balancing overcall might be made with as few as 7–8 HCP.

LHO          Partner       RHO          You
               P                P             ???




Bid 2
, although you are too weak to have taken this action in direct seat.


2NT in Balancing Seat

A jump to 2NT after two passes should not be treated as the unusual notrump, emphasizing the two lower unbid suits. The 2NT bidder needs roughly 19–21 points. However, the hand may not be balanced. If partner has some values, he can raise.  After:

LHO          Partner       RHO    You

1            P                P          ???




Bid 2NT with both hands.

Double in Balancing Seat

A balancing double is for takeout, and asks partner to bid. As with most balancing seat actions, less strength is required.

LHO          Partner       RHO          You
            P                P                ???




Double with both hands. In direct seat, you would be too weak to take action.

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© Marty Bergen

AND PROFIT                                                                                           81

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