Notrump Overcalls

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 11/01/2014
Level: Intermediate

The last three articles we looked at doubles. Now, we continue down the back of the ACBL convention card and discuss Notrump Overcalls.

The Unusual Notrump

Let's start with the jump-overcall of 2NT. This is one of the first conventions that new players learn. The "Unusual" notrump shows a 2-suited hand (at least 5-5). The two suits are the "two lowest unbid suits." So, after the opponents open 1? or 1?, the jump overcall of 2NT shows at least 5-5 in the minors. Over a 1? opening, the 2NT bid shows clubs & hearts. Over a 1? opening, it shows diamonds & hearts. What strength? Usually it is a preemptive-type hand (weak)—but could be a very strong hand (in which case the 2NT-bidder will act again). The vulnerability is important; I'd show a 2-suiter with KJ9xx in each suit if not vulnerable, but would prefer to have better suits if vulnerable.

1NT Overcalls

When the opponents open one-of-any-suit and we overcall 1NT, it shows a balanced hand with the strength of a strong 1NT opening. A normal range for a 1NT opening is 15-17. The overcall can be slightly stronger, possibly up to 18. On the low end, a 15-count should be a decent 15, especially if vulnerable. So, the approximate range is 15 to 18. Of course, a stopper in the opponent's suit is a good idea (especially if the opening was a major). In balancing seat, it is normal to "subtract a king" so the range is approximately 12-15 in an auction such as:

1? Pass Pass 1NT


Responses to 1NT Overcall:

A big change the last several decades has come in responding to notrump overcalls. In the old days, cue-bidding the opponent's suit was used as Stayman. Nowadays, an easier (and better) system is employed. Simply treat a notrump overcall the same way as a notrump opening. So, 2? is Stayman, 2? is a transfer to hearts, etc. Pretend the auction started with 1NT. This is often called "Systems On" or "Front Of Card." Of course, this leads to a rare situation where you might transfer into their suit, such as:

1? 1NT Pass 2?


Such an action would be strange, so either don't make this bid, or come up with a special meaning (I'd suggest that it shows the other major and invitational strength). Since it is so rare, and unlikely to be remembered, it is probably just best to ignore this strange "transfer" bid.

After a balancing 1NT, I suggest you KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetheart). Play "Front of Card" – but just be aware that the balancing notrump is lighter than a direct notrump overcall.

2NT Overcalls

For my intermediate students, this is one of the most misunderstood calls in bridge. A 2NT overcall after a one-level opening is indeed the "Unusual Notrump" for the two lowest unbid suits. But a 2NT overcall after the opponents' weak two-bid is anything but Unusual. It is natural and balanced. It guarantees a stopper in the opponent's suit. The range is that of a strong 1NT opener—maybe a little stronger. I'd say it is at least 15 and could be up to 19. In the balancing seat, it is (as usual) about a king less (still natural, balanced and with a stopper). And again, play "Systems On" – Stayman, Jacoby, etc.

3NT Overcalls

This is even a more daunting call. It is natural and again shows a stopper in their suit. The range is crazy. It is wide enough to drive a truck through. If the opponents opened 3?, I'd overcall 3NT with a flat 16, but also with a flat 20. I also might have a gambling (trick-taking) type of hand such as:

?Q 7
?K 2
?A K Q 9 4 3 2
?K 2

When in doubt, if it is at all conceivable to try 3NT, then close your eyes and go for it. Partner can usually be counted on for a little help. Even if he lets you down, you are unlikely to get doubled. Partner should not bury you when you make a 3NT overcall; he should assume you are already bidding some of his cards. If partner does bid, I suggest 4? is Stayman and 4?/4? are transfers. There are many complex possibilities here, but why bother to memorize them when this situation doesn't come up very often? A jump overcall to 3NT is always a very good hand (roughly 20+ in playing strength)--as opposed to overcalling after a 3-level preempt, where you might have to do it under duress (with the equivalent of, say, only 16+).

4NT Overcalls

Finally, we have a notrump overcall that is not natural. In general, a 4NT overcall is for the minors. After the opponents' 4? opening, I'd overcall 4NT with:

?A Q J 9 8 7
?K Q J 6 5

It shows at least 5-5 shape. Again there are many complexities (really, 4NT can be any 2 suits), but this article can't go on forever. What's written here is sufficient for my "summary approach."




Note: Make sure your partnership discusses what 1NT means in this auction:


 1? Pass 1?  1NT

Is 1NT natural, strong (15-18) with stoppers?  Or, is it a light takeout for the unbid suits?  These days, I recommend the former (strong) -- and, of course, systems on if North continues.



Next article we delve into our Suit Overcalls as we continue our tour of the "back"of the ACBL convention card. Note: The convention card can be downloaded and printed.



Larry's Audio Tour of the Convention Card