Overcall in contract bridge is defined by experts as the first tricks-bid made by an opponent over the opening bid of the opener. Some others however feel that all the interfering bids following tricks-bids made by the opposing partnership at any stage of the bidding can be labeled as overcalls.
In any case, an overcall should not be construed as an overbid, which obviously means too high a bid that tends to overstate the hand of the bidder, and a contract beyond the capabilities of the partnership. Doubles or redoubles too, even though used for interference purposes, are not treated exactly as overcalls by many experts.
Aim of Making Overcalls in Contract Bridge
A player can resort to an overcall at an opportune time provided he has a biddable hand that conforms to the system and conventions followed and declared by the partnership. The intention behind making an overcall could include any of the following:
- The overcaller holding a sufficiently stronger hand to try and reach a good contract with or without the help of the partner.
- To thwart the opponents in their effort to reach a makeable contract, or to push them high enough to a level that might be difficult for them to make.
- Communicating to own partner the quality/card-holding of his hand and seeking a specific lead from him in case the opponents bag the contract.
- Wanting to make a sacrifice in the form of penalty points that may still turn out to be beneficial to the partnership (than allowing the opponents to make good their contract).
There may be times when the intention of the overcaller may not be all that clear, particularly to the opponents. In case there is a possibility of any ambiguity arising subsequent to the overcall, it is mandatory for the overcaller to explain the bid through an alert in advance or when asked to do so by an opponent.
Types of Overcalls in Contract Bridge
The nature of overcalls may vary with the bidding systems and conventions being followed by different partnerships. Nevertheless, the two principal classifications of overcalls remain the same in almost all systems – one is natural and the other, artificial.
Natural Overcalls. 1-level overcalls in good 5+ carder unbid suits with 8 -16 high card points (HCP), or in NT with a balanced hand (15-17 HCP with a stopper in opponent’s suit), are considered as natural overcalls. Depending on the opponents’ bids and the length/strength of own hand, the level of an overcall can be raised a notch or two by the overcaller.
Artificial Overcalls. Artificial overcalls in a particular suit do not necessarily reflect holding of the suit (or a balanced hand in case of NT) bid by the overcaller. These types of overcalls follow specific patterns as laid down in different bidding conventions – such as Michaels’ cue bid, unusual 2 NT and Cappelletti, to name a few.
With a strong card-holding, an overcall can be effectively employed to counter a preemptive bid. And interestingly enough, the overcaller with a relatively weaker hand can make a preemptive jump call himself in his lengthier suit, or through an unusual 2 NT.
Before committing to an overcall, a player must weigh the pros and cons as well as the timing of making the bid. He should be particularly cautious about the penalty factors in case the partnership happens to be in a state of vulnerability at that specific point in the game.