General Defense to Two-Suited Overcalls

We can use the following defense to whatever two-suited overcall our opponents make over our one-of-a-suit opening. The following method is called the “lower-lower” version of “Unusual vs. Unusual”.

The name comes from the Unusual 2N convention; in that convention a jump overcall of 2N has an unusual meaning – rather than showing a strong hand, it shows the lower two unbid suits. What is unusual about this general defense to that and other two-suited overcalls is that with certain hands we bid one or the other of the suits they have implied holding; such a bid is called an implied cue bid.

Be aware that when an opponent makes a two-suited overcall, if we do have a fit, the trump break may be poor. Length in your partner’s suit is important. Be conservative with only an 8-card fit. The same factors face your opponents, so your eagerness to defend should be correspondingly higher.

If we do double their final contract, lead a trump.

Their Two Suits are Known

If they make an overcall that shows two specific suits (not one suit and an unknown second suit), there are two possible cue bids available, and two other suits.

  • Call the two suits implied by their bid “theirs” and the other two “ours”.
  • Among their two suits, the suit of theirs which would be cheapest to bid next is called the “lower” suit and the other one the “higher” suit. Usually but not always the “lower” is the lower-ranked suit.

We set up a correspondence between the implied cue bids and our two suits:

  • A cue bid of the lower of their suits shows length in the lower of our two suits.
  • A cue bid of the higher of their suits shows length in the higher of our two suits.

When you have support for partner’s suit:

  • A simple raise of partner shows trump support and 7-10 support points.
  • The implied cue bid corresponding to partner’s suit is a limit raise or better.
  • A raise to game in partner’s suit is, as usual, long trumps and good playing strength with less than limit raise values.
  • A jump cue-bid is a splinter, slam try in partner’s suit.

When you do not have support for partner:

  • A free bid of the “other” suit is competitive and non-forcing. Typically this hand might look like a weak two opener in the other suit, 7-10 points.
  • The cue bid of the “other” suit shows 5+ cards and game-forcing values.
  • A double shows you have a penalty double of at least one of their suits, and another bid. Typically this is 9-10+ points. Assuming advancer bids, partner should usually pass to give you the option of making a penalty double.
  • 3N is to play, showing stoppers in both their suits.

Pass if you cannot make one of these bids.

Opener’s rebids are generally natural. A cue bid of one of their suits asks for a stopper in that suit and implies one in the other suit.

Only One Suit Is Known

If the second suit is not known, such as a 1♥ (2♥) Michaels bid, things are more complicated.

  • The one available cue bid is a limit raise or better in partner’s suit. Example: 1♥ (2♥) 2♠ = limit raise+ in hearts.
  • A raise to the 3-level is a constructive raise (7-10 points). Larry Cohen recommends that this shows 3-card support for a major, or 4-card support for a minor. Non-forcing. A jump raise to the 4-level is weak and preemptive, showing 4+ card support. Non-forcing.
  • A jump cue-bid is a splinter and a slam try. 1♥ (2♥) 3♠ = short spades, support, slam try.
  • A no-trump response is used to show 10+ HCP points without support, with stoppers in the other three suits.
  • A double shows you have a penalty double of one of their suits, the known one or one of the others, typically 7+ HCP, often a balanced hand.
  • All other bids are not forcing.
  • Pass can be just waiting but it is usually weak.

The meaning of the responder’s rebids after an initial double and pass by opener are as follows. Example:

1♥ 2♥ X 2♠
P   P ?
  • Double is for penalty
  • New suit is 5+ cards, game forcing.
  • 3N is game strength with a stopper.
  • Bidding overcaller’s suit is Western cue, forcing to game and denying a stopper in the suit and asking partner to bid 3N if he holds one.

In an auction like:

1♥ 2♥ X 2N!
P  3♦ ?

we now know both suits. Bidding 3♠ is Western Cue showing a stopper in spades but denying one in diamonds. Double is for penalty.

Summary for Defending Unusual 2N

Recall the general principles:

The implicit cue-bid of partner’s suit is limit raise or better; of the “4th suit”, game forcing. Actually bidding partner’s suit is just competitive. Actually bidding the “4th suit” is a preemptive bid.

The auctions 1M (2N) and 1N (2N) are Unusual showing two known suits, clubs and diamonds. Applying the General Defense we therefore have:

  • X shows a penalty double of at least one of the minors
  • 3M is a competitive raise
  • 3W (the other major) is a preemptive bid
  • 3♣ is bid of hearts
  • 3♦ is a bid of spades

When the auction was 1♣ (2N) showing diamonds and hearts:

  • X shows a penalty double of diamonds or hearts or both
  • 3♣ is a competitive raise
  • 3♠ is a preemptive bid
  • 3♦ is a limit raise or better of clubs
  • 3♥ is a GF bid of spades

When the auction was 1♦ (2N) showing clubs and hearts:

  • X shows a penalty double of clubs or hearts or both
  • 3♦ is a competitive raise
  • 3♠ is a preemptive bid
  • 3♣ is a limit raise or better of diamonds
  • 3♥ is a GF bid of spades