Competitive Bidding

Methods of dealing with competition are woven throughout the other bidding topics. This chapter contains notes on an assortment of special topics.

In an established partnership, you can develop a style – be it aggressive, conservative, insane cowboy, you name it. It is important to realize that it isn’t so much that a given style is right or wrong, but that you bid as a partnership knowing what that style is. If you overcall very lightly, for example, your partner must be more conservative with replies to those overcalls.

General Principles

Here are general principles to guide you:

  1. Do not bid your same values twice.

    For example, you open 1♥, LHO overcalls 1♠, your partner bids 2♥, and RHO raises to 2♠. Do you now compete to 3♥?

    Ask yourself, “Do I have something more to tell my partner?” If your hand was an ordinary 13 point opening hand, you have shown those values already. Pass. Only go on if you have extras.

    If LHO now passes, your partner can use the same principal – he has promised you six points, but if he really has nine, then he hasn’t told you everything, so it is ok to bid 3♥.

    Another way to look at this is that thirteen plus nine should be about right for the three level, all the more so with four trumps. Vulnerable, with only three trumps, you’d have to get into the particulars of your holdings.

  2. Another guideline is the “Law of Total Tricks”, which says that with a fit, we are probably going to be able to take about as many tricks as we have trump. That’s an oversimplification of the idea, but suffice it to say that with 4 trump in support of a major opener, you’re not going to get too burned at the three level (9 trump, so 9 tricks).

  3. Extreme shapes call for extreme measures. Read Marty Bergen’s famous book, “Points Schmoints”. If you have a double fit, or you have a 6 - 5 hand, get really aggressive. “Six-Five, Come Alive” they say.

  4. To “balance” is to bid in the passout seat, such as when your LHO opens followed by two passes. As a simple guideline, bid as though you had one more King in your hand, and your partner in reply will bid as though he had one less. More on balancing in Balancing.

  5. A passed hand is not always a poor hand. If your partner passed after LHO opened, it may be that he did not have enough to overcall. It may also be that he did have enough, but didn’t have a long enough suit, or his suit is the one LHO bid. That’s completely different from your partner passing in the first seat. It helps to say in your mind, “Partner has a hand that could not bid over that opener. ” That’s not the same at all as “Partner has less than an opener.” We’ll see this at work in the section on reopening with a double.

  6. Realize when you are “off the hook”. Your partner makes a takeout double, but your RHO bids over it. Or, your partner makes an Unusual 2N bid but RHO intervenes. You’re off the hook! You do not have to bid unless you have a worthwhile thing to say. When you do make such a “free” bid, your partner will infer that you have something; when you bid because you have to, he cannot make such an inference.

  7. Don’t be cheap. If your partner makes a takeout double, and you bid the lowest thing you can, you’re saying you don’t have 8 good points. Just because it is a competitive auction doesn’t mean to hide your values.

When They Overcall 1N

When we open a suit, and there is a direct overcall of 1N, responder doubles with any hand holding 10 or more points. This is penalty oriented. The partner of the 1N bidder will have virtually no points. Any suit bid shows less than 10 points and is competitive.

After 1x - (1N) - X, don’t let them play anything below 2♠ undoubled. For example 1x - (1N) - X - (2♥) - P - (P), responder must double again or bid.


The range for an overcall is 8-16 points. People tend to remember the 8 and forget the 16. The first rule to remember is that if you have 17 or more points, you must double first and then bid again. Your partner will think it is a takeout double at first, but when you bid again partner must cancel his expectations as to your shape. If you don’t double first, partner will assume you have 8-16 and may pass your overcall despite having enough for game opposite your strong holding. There is one exception to this rule, which is that with a big two-suited hand an overcall, or Michael’s, or Unusual 2N, may work better than a double.

On the bottom end, a one-level overcall can be much more relaxed than a two-level overcall. An overcall is above all a request for your partner to lead your suit, so the first requirement is a suit you want led.

Classify your hand as to whether it is a good hand (near or above opening values), and has a good suit. For a more dangerous case such as a two-level overcall, especially vulnerable, you need a good hand and a good suit. For less dangerous cases, you need one or the other. In both cases, you should want the suit led if your partner becomes the opening leader.

Mike Lawrence’s “Complete Book of Overcalls” has a complete discussion. He emphasizes understanding the safety of various overcalls. For example, after an auction that begins (1♣)-P-(2♣), bidding is strongly encouraged, because RHO does not have diamonds, hearts, or spades, and has limited values; whereas after (1♥) – P – (2♥), clubs and diamonds are not safe – either opponent may have them.

Responding to an overcall, a bid of a new suit is not forcing, but shows some values.

Weak Jump Overcalls

A jump overcall such as (1♥) 2♠ is essentially like an opening weak two or three bid. A good suit is needed. As with a preempt, after you make this bid you should almost never bid again.

Some times you have a hand that could have opened with a weak preempt but you did not for some reason, such as having an outside four-card major in first or second seat. If you passed at first you can bid later once it becomes clear your partner is not being preempted by your bid.

Michaels Cue Bid

An immediate or balancing cue bid of a suit opener is shows a distributional hand with 5-5 or better shape, with the suits being both majors when the opponents bid a minor, and the unbid major and a minor if the opponents bid a major.


Cue bids are in general not alertable – in fact, 1♣ - (2♣) is only alerted if it is natural. However, it is not necessarily Michaels either. If opponents make such a bid, and you are considering a bid, be sure to ask what they mean by it. This is one case when silence does not mean standard.

Advancer can bid 2N! asking for the minor. Except in unusual circumstances, advancer must choose between partner’s two suits.

The Michaels bid does not show anything more than a prudent overcall but is unlimited.

Without partnership agreement, (1x) P (1y) 2x is not Michaels but natural; this is especially possible after 1♣ or 1♦. Over hearts or spades it is pretty clear this should be Michaels.

Over an opening 2♠, a bid of 3♠ should be Western Cue, asking partner to bid 3N with a spade stopper. There isn’t enough room for Michaels.

Some partners agree to use Michaels only with minimal or maximum hands – see Minimax.

A question arises when the Michaels bid shows a major and an unknown suit, and the responder makes a bid, but advancer has no support for the major. E.g., (1♥) 2♥ (3♦) ?. Typically responder’s 3♦ bid shows a weak hand with diamonds, if opponents are playing unusual vs. unusual, but many intermediate pairs will lack agreements. With values but lacking spade support here, and ideally holding at least two diamonds, advancer should double, asking for the second suit or a penalty pass.

Without values, of course, you are off the hook and can pass.

Unusual 2N

Unusual 2N is a direct or balancing 2N bid after a 1-level opening. It shows a hand of unstated strength that is at least 5-5 in the lowest two unbid suits. Advancer should choose the best of these two suits, except in remarkable circumstances.

Unusual 2N is not alertable. Some partners agree to use Unusual 2N only with weak or strong hands, see Minimax.

It is also possible to recognize other “impossible” no-trump bids as unusual. For example,

(1♣) - (1♠) 2N

would show 5-5 in the red suits. Logically, nobody has a big enough hand to bid no-trump at the two level here. 2N specifically shows the 5-5 shape, while a double would be takeout but presumably not that good a shape.

Another possible agreement: if they preempt four of something, 4N is unusual notrump, asking advancer to pick his best of the two lowest unbid suits. Double is takeout through four hearts or four spades. Others play 4N as a two-suited takeout.

Minimax Style

Minimax is an optional style of bidding Michaels and Unusual 2N. If you are playing minimax, it means you use these bids only with a maximum or a minimum; with a medium hand you bid the higher-ranked suit, hoping to show the other later.

When playing minimax, advancer will assume the weaker hand until his partner bids again to show the good hand.

The minimum would be an adequate overcall but less than an opener, while a maximum would be more than 15 points.

Minimax allows more certainty in responses to two-suited bids, at the price of not being able to make those bids as often.

Competing With Their 1N

The main thing is not to just sit there and say nothing whenever an opponent opens 1N. Your opponents are driving a highly-tuned sports car when they get their 1N thing going. They are going to get to the right place unless you bother them.

The reason that there are all these conventions I’m about to mention is that the main thing you need is a good shape. 5332 and 4333 hands need not apply. Usually the single-suited bids are a good five or six cards and the other two-suited bids are 5-4 at least; generally, 5-4 instead of 5-5 requires a stronger hand. Suit texture and length matter more than HCP.

By partnership agreement you can play these in only the direct seat or also play them in fourth seat; but in fourth seat you need great shape or extra strength because the 1N bidder is behind you.

We assume here for the moment it is a 15-17 1N opener. See below for comments about dealing with weaker notrump openings.

(1N) - 2N is always “unusual 2N” showing 5-5 in the minors.

The two most popular conventions are called D.O.N.T. (Disturbing the Opponent’s No Trump) and Cappelletti, also known as Hamilton. Each of these has an advanced version meant to make it usable in more cases. Cappelletti has the advantage of preserving a penalty-double; D.O.N.T. allows one to interfere more often; each convention will be better on some hands and worse on the other.


You can just bid naturally over 1N; a double will show a hand as good as the one your 1N bidder has. You’ll want a decent six-card suit, or a great five-card suit, and around 10 points.

What if you are the partner of someone who overcalls a 1N opener and you do not like their suit, not one little bit? Do you rescue them? Probably not. If he doesn’t like your suit he may go back to his.


D.O.N.T stands for Disturbing Opponents’ No Trump, and is another idea from the fertile mind of Marty Bergen. The emphasis is on getting in there even if, on rare occasion, we miss a game.

The one-suited bids require at least a good five-card suit, and 8 – 10 points or better. Be aggressive only with good suits, good shape. The two-suited bids require at least 5-4 in either order.

  • X! A hand with one long suit.
  • Response: 2♣! Forced; then the doubler passes or corrects.
  • 2♣! Clubs and a higher suit
  • 2♦! Diamonds and a higher suit
  • 2♥ Shows long hearts and spades
  • 2♠ Shows long spades; it is a weaker hand than doubling and correcting to spades
  • 2N Shows both minors 5-5

In response to 2♣ and 2♦, pass unless you have shortness, or bid the next higher suit, or on rare occasion, a good long suit of your own.

Exampe: Suppose the bidding goes (1N) 2♦!(Diamonds and a higher suit)

  • With ♠KQ86 ♥Q8 ♦98 ♣98764 you would bid 2♥, because your hearts and spades are better than your diamonds.
  • With ♠K ♥KQ865 ♦98 ♣98764 you would pass 2♦. You’d like to bid hearts but you don’t want to land in a five-card spade fit.
  • With ♠KQJ9852 ♥6 ♦98 ♣984 you just bid 2♠, which is to play.

Cappelletti (Hamilton)

In this scheme, which is perhaps the most common non-natural set of responses to a 1N opener, the double is left as penalty-oriented, at the cost of requiring us to go to the three level to show clubs. Against a weak 1N opener, this is the most popular scheme. intervenor bids:

  • X penalty-oriented (an equal or better hand to the one shown by the opener)

  • 2♣!(long unknown suit)

    With a good six-card club suit, advancer may pass. Or, advancer bids 2♦!(relay to clubs), pass or correct to 2♥, 2♠, or 3♣.

  • 2♦!(hearts and spades)

    Advancer normally bids his best major, pass or correct.

  • 2♥(hearts and a minor) or 2♠(spades and a minor)

    Advancer bids 2N to ask for the minor.

  • 2N(5-5 in the minors) is Unusual 2N.

The two suited bids are nominally 5-5, but depending on strength and vulnerability, can me made with a good 5-4. Advancer can depart from the relay by bidding their own suit – this must be a really good suit, and it should not happen very often.

Once you are comfortable with Cappelletti, you might wish to vist to see a more elaborate discussion.

Against A Weak 1N

The “common wisdom” is that Cappelletti is better against a weak 1N, but the truth is perhaps not so simple. Anyone playing a weak 1N will have a sophisticated set of agreements called a “runout”, meant to get them out of notrump into a suit fit, where it won’t be so easy to set them by much, and the hoped-for profits may not materialize. The real solution is to lower one’s standards, for example bidding with two good four-card suits or a five-card “long” suit. And yes, you may end up in trouble, just as can happen against the strong version.

It is probably better for an intermediate to play just one of these systems well against any type of notrump, than to play different ones depending on circumstances. The edge you get from any convention is small; and the loss from a mixup is big.

Be careful, however, against a weak 1N; the partner of the 1N opener is more likely to have a good hand than when a strong 1N is opened.

Competing After They Bid Two Suits

After (1x) - P - (1y), a double is for takeout and shows the other two suits; the suits are at least 5-4 and you have an opening hand.

The Sandwich 1N convention is a bid of 1N rather than double, showing the other two suits but less than an opening hand:

(1x) - P - (1y) - 1N!(other two suits, less than opener)

Bidding in Passout Seat

There are no preempts in passout seat. 2♣ is still strong. But 2♦, 2♥, and 2♠ show a six card suit, 12-15. Three level bids are 16-19. Four level bids are 20+. To open Nx is to say that you would have rebid this whatever the response to 1x; you are just making both bids at once.

If this situation does not apply, then you may “borrow a King” – that is, bid as if you had 3 more points than you do. Partner in responding should bid as if he had three less than he really has. In particular this means that with more than about 14 points you should double and bid again.

However, a good guideline is not to open “light” (that is, on a “borrow”) if you do not have at least one four-card major. A player who could not open a major may be able to overcall, and their side will end up with a major contract and a small part-score when you could have held them to zero by passing the hand out. Having something in spades in particular is an important consideration.

Use the “rule of 15”: number of HCP + number of spades must be 15 or more to open “light”.

Difficult Competitive Issues

There are some situations where natural bidding does not have a good solution. Here are two, that have much the same solution.

Responding To A Double Of A Preempt

Suppose LHO has opened with a preemptive bid and your partner has made a takeout double, and RHO has passed, such as (2♥) - X - (P) - ?. You have one of these two hands:

    1. ♠83 ♥98 ♦KJT864 ♣97
    1. ♠KQ ♥87 ♦AQJ964 ♣Q7

Clearly, (A) wants to end up at 3♦, because the hand is not worth anything except in diamonds. (B) must look for a game.

So which of these two hands is shown by bidding 3♦? Absent some agreement, 3♦ has to show hand (A). But (B) is one of many hands that want to go to game unsettled as to notrump stoppers or a suit agreement. As things stand, in standard bidding, we must resort to things like cue bids or just taking chances.

Make this simple agreement: a response of 2N!(relay) asks partner to bid 3♣!(forced). This may or may not be a weak hand. Then 2N!(relay) - 3♣!(forced) - 3♦(to play) shows (A), while an immediate 3♦ is a game force with a hand like (B).

You could additionally agree that 2N!(relay) - 3♣!(forced) - 3N shows a stopper, while an immediate 3N denies a stopper; in that case, if partner does not have a stopper either, he should bid four-card suits up the line to find a place to play.

Responding To Partner’s Reverse

Suppose partner reverses: 1♦ - 1♠ - 2♥. This is forcing, so you have to bid. Again, consider these two hands:

    1. ♠KT9832 ♥K98 ♦T86 ♣9
    1. ♠KQJ984 ♥K95 ♦T63 ♣A6

Hand (C) had to bid, with six points. But now hat would it mean to bid 2♠? And if that means something like (A), what bid should be made with hand (D) so that we get to some game? Again, it seems like 2♠ had better mean a weak hand, and an offer to play there. And with (B), we get to start guessing.

Our 2N! agreement to the rescue again: 2N!(relay) - 3♣(forced) - 2♠(to play) shows (C), while a direct 2♠ is forcing a round and shows 5+ spades. After the relay, bidding one of partner’s two suits is showing a suit preference with a weak hand.

In this context 2N! is called Ingberman. If the opener has extra values they may choose to break the relay.

The full solution is covered in Defensive Bidding in conjunction with the Lebensohl defense to interference over our 1N opener. However, you can play the 2N! relay discussed in the above two cases without playing full Lebensohl. A related convention is “Good-Bad 2N”, in that same chapter.