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On about half the hands played these days both sides will enter the auction, making the bidding “competitive”. You will need to adjust your bidding style slightly, as it’s often hard to tell who’s got what, and how high to go.  The size of your proposed trump fit becomes more important than ever. 

A bid is known as an overcall when one (or both) opponents have already started the auction. Although you might have enough points to open, and you’re “opening” for your side, you’re still known as the “overcaller”.  
There are three reasons to get in there and bid.

  • Lead-directing. Your side might not win the auction, but your overcall will suggest a lead to partner
  • You might upset the opponents‘ bidding
  •  Your side might make your own contract.

An overcall at the one level e.g. 1♣ (1♥) is wide-ranging, showing from about 8 to 17 points. Having a good suit is vital. You need five+ cards containing two of the top three, or three of the top five honours (AKQJ10). An overcall at the two level e.g. 1♠ (2♦) shows at least 11 points, with a good 5+ card suit. Overcalling 1NT shows a hand that would have opened 1NT (15-18), and has a stopper/s in the suit opened.

Responding to Overcalls (sometimes called “Advancing”) 

Although overcalls are not forcing, you should try to bid if possible. The fit is the most important thing in your hand. The bigger the fit, the higher you should bid. If you have your own suit (five+cards, and a good suit), bid that. Most people play this as forcing, but not always.  

  • with three card support and around 6-9 points, raise to two (e.g. 1♣ (1♠) 2♣ (2♠)
  • with four card support and around 4-6 points, jump to three. In modern bidding, jumps in competitive auctions are weak. e.g. 1♣ (1♠) 2♣ (3♠)
  • with five card support and around 4-6 points,  jump to game. e.g. 1♣ (1♠) 2♣ (4♠)

When you’re ready for more…

Cue Raises
What happens if you hold a strong hand with a fit for partner’s overcall? (10+ high card points) Now make a Cue raise, i.e. bid the opponent’s suit. It shows real values, and a hand interested in game. e.g. 1♥ (1♠) 2♥ (3♥).  This is one of the good things about both sides being in the auction… a new bid has become available i.e. the cue bid. 

Two Suited Overcalls
Sometimes you’re able to show two suits (5+ cards in each) in one bid. The advantage of these hands is that partner is likely to have a fit with one suit, and if there’s a fit for both, the hand will play really well with not many points. 

Michaels Cuebids
This is the most popular convention for two-suited hands, and shows either a weak hand (8 – 11) or a strong hand (17+). e.g. you hold this hand, and your right-hand opponent opens 1♦:
♠ Q J 9 7 5
♥ K Q 10 6 2
♦ 5 
♣ 4 3
If you bid spades, you may never get a chance to show your hearts because the bidding might become too high. Playing Michaels, bid opener’s suit, 2♦. By agreement, this shows both majors in one bid. With a good fit for one or both suits, partner can compete to the three level, or even game. Without a good fit, pick the longer major. If the opponents open a major ♠ or ♥, an overcall of that suit shows the other major, and one of the minors. 

Responding to Michaels
When partner Michaels over a minor opening, their hand should be two good quality five+ card majors with (usually) less than an opening bid. 

  • A preference to 2♥ or 2♠ shows no interest in game
  • A jump to 3♥ or 3♠ is pre-emptive (probably four trumps)
  • A jump to 4♥ or 4♠ is to play. It could be weak or strong 

Overcalling the Opponent’s 1NT Openings
This will work best with single-suited (six+cards) or two-suited (five+, five+) hands, and around 10+ points. 
It’s better to be declarer with hands like this rather than allow the opponents to declare 1NT, because these are not defensive hands. There are many conventions available here, but choose one which allows you to show a single-suited hand and a two-suiter, especially both majors. 
Jump Overcalls 
These are usually weak, preemptive hands, showing six or more cards in your suit, and nothing outside. They are meant as obstructive bids to upset the opponents’ bidding, e.g. 1♥ (3♠)