Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Good/bad overcalls

So, you've probably been wondering why there haven't been any hands in this blog lately.  Good question.  Sometimes, I'm constrained by not being able to show you what terrible things my partners did because of common decency.  Sometimes, I do something so awful myself that I can't bring myself to show you.  But the opponents, I figure, are fair game, provided of course that I don't actually name names.

Yesterday evening at the club, Len and I were having a good game but we got two bottoms after opponents made what I would call really bad overcalls.  But do you see the irony of this?  Maybe the kind of overcalls they make are actually good overcalls.  After all, they're not getting punished and they're getting tops, thus giving them positive reinforcement.

I admit to being keen on making "pressure bids".  These are jump overcalls when my partner has already passed (but not when he's passed over an opening bid because he might have a good defensive hand then).  Especially, white on red, these can work well.  A pressure bid is a wide-ranging jump overcall (or preempt) that can be significantly flawed by any (or all) of the following: 1) a card "short"; 2) missing honors in the suit; 3) stray quacks (even Kings sometimes) in outside suits.  The purpose of this unilateral attack on the enemy is to take away bidding room while you can rest safely in the knowledge that partner won't raise without a very suitable hand.  Here's a perfect situation:  partner deals and passes (we are not-vul vs. vul) and RHO bids 1♣.  You hold: ♠84 KT8654 932 ♣Q4.  It looks quite likely that LHO's natural bid is going to be 1♠ (although 1D, 1NT or 2♣ are possible too).  So you bid 2, taking away the entire one-level and lower two-level including all of the likely responses.  This is a sound tactic at matchpoints.  You might even make the same bid with ♠84 KT865 J932 ♣Q4.  Every so often you will go -1100 but most of the time you will pressure the opponents into over, or sometimes under, bidding.  If your partner does end up on lead and happens to have Qxx or even Jxx, a heart lead will probably not go amiss.  At matchpoints, these minor improvements (or averages) will outweigh the occasional zero.  That's the theory, anyway.

But what is the point of the following overcall?  You deal yourself ♠8 J75432 KQT6 ♣AT all red.  You pass and then when RHO opens 1, you now jump to 2.  Not only is your LHO already a passed hand, and you have a really bad suit, but you have tons of defense!  Two tricks at least in opener's suit and the ♣A!  LHO doubles, RHO (that would be me), after some thought, passes it out and you go down 2 for -500 when partner puts down a worthless dummy.  LHO has to lead his singleton Q in order to get the full 800 penalty (my hand ended up getting strip-squeezed because I ran out of safe exit cards).  So the bad overcall has gained a top.  But is it bridge?

What about the following specimen?  Again you are the dealer and give yourself ♠543 KJ3 KJT65 ♣J6 at favorable vulnerability.  Again it goes all pass and this time your RHO (that would be me again) opens 1♣.  Now, I can see bidding 2 here.  You have a fine suit and your bid would take away the one level.  I probably wouldn't do it though because the shape is awful and your major suits give you no real reason to want to push the opponents around.  But I would never in a million years bid 1!  First of all, that bid should show a much better hand.  And if you had such a hand wouldn't you have opened 1?  The shape is still awful and although you would like a diamond lead, it's not a good enough suit to force partner to lead a diamond when he has some other natural lead.  So, what happened?  The opponents (Len and I) had a mixup (more my fault than Len's) and stopped in 4♣, making an "overtrick" for 170 while all the time 6♠ is cold.  On this occasion, the diamond overcaller could actually have taken a successful sacrifice over 6♠ in 7 and gained an all-important 30 points.  But does that make this horrible overcall right?

I'm reluctant to change my overcalling style based on these (and other) lucky results.  But it really depresses me that people can play so badly and end up smelling like roses!

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