Bidding After Their Weak Two-Bids


Most partnerships these days play weak two bids. Part of the reason to do so is that these are decent offensive hands, but to open them with a one-bid overstates their defensive potential. The weak two-bidder's partner usually has a fairly good idea of whose hand it is and can act with confidence that opener will not interfere with his plans. We're all pretty comfortable with responding to and rebidding with weak two bids. The real reason to play weak twos, however, is that they wreak havoc on the opponents' bidding. Even the lowly 2D: opener sometimes is pretty devastating.

Let's consider these auctions from the perspective of the opponents. After all, they are the ones with the serious problems. We will need some tools and guidelines to try to overcome the damage that has been done to our auction. Despite that, we are going to be guessing a lot, and when we guess wrong, it could be a disaster. There are no perfect solutions. If this sounds like an advertisement for weak twos...maybe it is.

The Simple Overcall

Simple overcalls can be at the two-level or at the three-level. These more or less look exactly like normal two-level overcalls. With a five-card suit, they should be sound opening bids; with a six-card suit, they start at a minimum opening bid; with a seven-card suit, they start at a very sound preempt. If you have to bid at the three-level, it's a little scarier to bid, but the requirements are not much different; just be a little more conservative. If they open 2H:, we might bid 2S: with With we should pass. It feels wrong to have to pass with such a good offensive hand as the last example, but partner will play us for more defense and double them way too often. In other words, the suit is good enough, but the hand isn't. Similarly, don't overcall with a bad suit unless the hand is very strong. For example, if RHO opens 2S:, you can't afford to overcall 3H: with  S:xxx H:KJxxx D:AKx C:Ax. Beef up the hand a little to  S:Axx H:KJxxx D:AKx C:Ax and you have to do something. 2NT seems about right. Yes, we have to pass with some good hands and may miss a game. That's the way it goes. If you overcall with a bad suit, you can go for a large number. We can't live in fear of being doubled, but if you buy a six-count and a doubleton trump and might well go down four, it's prudent to pass.

Our two- and three-level overcalls are always good hands, so partner's new suits are forcing. As a result, if we overcall in a major suit, partner's cue bid is usually a strong raise. If we overcall in a minor suit, his cue bid asks about a notrump stop.

If we have overcalled a major at the three-level, our actions are a fair bit wider-ranged:

The Jump Overcall

These are good hands. They are roughly the equivalent of a hand we'd open one of a suit and jump rebid our suit. The suit is always very good. So if they open 2H:, we might bid 3S: with one of If we have a double jump available (e.g. 4S: over 2H: or 2D:), that just shows we would have opened 4S: (or whatever). This helps keep the single jump overcall pretty pure: avery good six- or seven-card suit, at least three defensive tricks, and about five losers.

In standard, new suit responses to jump overcalls are natural and forcing, but many play them as cue bids, because a jump overcaller's suit is playable vs. a singleton.

Notrump Overcalls

These are natural and absolutely promise a solid stopper. Partner often won't have room to check back for a full stop, so if you don't have one, you'll play notrump and lose the first six tricks. 2NT shows about 15-18 HCP, just as it does over a one-level opening bid. Responses to it are normally the same as your responses to 2NT opening bids. There is no standard meaning to a transfer to their suit (e.g. (2H:)-2NT-(pass)-3D:). Some play it as invitational in the other major; others use it as three cards in the other major and shortness in their major, warning that only a single stopper might be insufficient to play 3NT. More complex (and more effective) structures are out there, but this is simple and pretty standard.

3NT overcalls are not stronger than 2NT, but different. They have a source of tricks and may be unbalanced. Partner is discouraged from bidding his own suit here unless it can play opposite shortness. A typical hand to overcall 3NT over 2H: is  S:xx H:KJx D:AKQJxx C:Ax. Responses are normally natural and forcing if not game. With 19+ HCP and a balanced hand, start with a double. There's room below 3NT to get this untangled. Usually.


Believe it or not, the minimum hand to double a 2H: opening is roughly the same as one which doubles a 1H: opening. Minimum doubles with a singleton heart should still be made. A minimum with a doubleton can be passed.

Unfortunately, three-suiters short in their suit are not the only types of hand which have to start with a takeout double. A strong single-suiter either too good for a jump overcall or with a suit not strong enough to play vs. a singleton has to start with a double. A big balanced hand starts with double. In general, any very strong hand unsuited to other action has to double. Try very hard, however, to find an alternative if you have a singleton in the other major. Partner is going to assume you have at least three of them and can preempt the auction on you. For example, if you double 2H: and he has  S:KJxxxx H:xxx D:Axx C:x, he's going to bid 4S:. If you have short spades, that is probably going to turn out badly.

Responses to a takeout double at the two-level are a little different than to a one-level takeout double. We shall assume you play lebensohl, not because it's 100% standard, though nearly all expert pairs play it, but because it really is essential, and without it, further bidding is simply guesswork. I don't know how to help you guess, but lebensohl can make the guesses far less difficult.

The key idea in lebensohl is that the doubler's partner can have a huge range of strengths, and we need to clarify this below game. The ranges are:
0-8minimum hand
8-12some values, but not enough to force to game (Yes, there's some overlap.)
12+game-going values
Let's say they open 2S:, partner doubles, and RHO passes. With all minimum hands, we bid 2NT. That doesn't say we have a stopper. It asks partner to bid 3C:. If our longest suit is clubs, we plan to pass that. If we want to play in a suit other than clubs, we will bid it after partner's 3C: and expect him to pass.

With some values, but not enough to force to game, we bid our suit directly. Partner now knows we are not broke and if he has extras, he can bid a game. With game-going values, we can just bid game if we know where to play, or we can cue bid.

Because lebensohl gives us two ways to make various forcing bids, we can use it to give us lots of extra sequences. See for some ideas on how to take advantage of this.

If you have a natural 2NT response to the takeout double, you are stuck. Find something moderately close and cross your fingers. Usually, that means showing values at the three-level by bidding a suit.

If we can respond at the two-level, that shows a minimum hand and is natural. So (2H:)-Dbl-(pass)-2S: is up to about a bad 8-count. Doubler needs a very good hand to raise; responder could even have only three spades once in a while.

Sometimes, you have a choice between overcalling and doubling, for example, if they open 2H: and you hold  S:Axxxx H:x D:KQ9x C:A10x. As a rule, it tends to work best to double unless your suit is strong. We are starting out pretty high, and overcalling a weak suit can run into a penalty double. If your suit is strong or has very good texture, for example,  S:AK109x H:x D:Qxxx C:Axx, it's better to overcall, because it's a lot easier to double with S:Q109xx of trumps than it is with S:Qxxxx. The downside of doubling is that we might not find a 5-3 major suit fit, but reaching a 4-4 minor suit fit instead usually means we have survived, and that's our first goal when they preempt. If we have game, we'll usually have room to find the 5-3 major suit fit. If we end up in a 4-3 minor suit fit instead of a 5-3 major, doubling didn't work out. It happens.

Leaping Michaels

Just about everyone plays "Leaping Michaels" these days. Over a major suit weak two, four of a minor is a good hand with at least five cards in the suit bid and five of the other major. That is: Some pairs play this as forcing to game; some play that it is not quite forcing. If you choose the latter, partner should bid if he has one cover card and no misfit, and always with one and a half tricks or a fit.

This opens up a cue bid (which is Michaels if you don't play Leaping Michaels) to ask for a notrump stop. If you cue bid and then pull partner's 3NT, you have a very strong one-suiter with a solid or near-solid suit, and a hand too strong to jump immediately to game.

Over a weak 2D:, Leaping Michaels is a little different

Over 4C:, normally 4D: asks for the major and 4H: and 4S: are just to play. Some play differently; discuss it with partner.

While it's not strictly part of Leaping Micheals, these sequences are usually defined thusly:

The hands for these bids have roughly the same amount of offense, but the jump cue shows decent defense (three or more pretty solid tricks) whereas a jump to 4NT is very highly offensively-oriented.

The Balancing Seat

More or less, everything is the same, but simple overcalls which have good offense but no defense and thus aren't quite up to snuff in the direct seat can act. 2NT is still 15-18. Your stopper doesn't have to be so solid; RHO didn't raise, so it's likely that partner has some length or help in their suit. Doubles can be a trifle lighter, but still look like opening bids. In the balancing seat, if the choice between doubling and bidding is even close, double. If partner passes sitting behind the bidder, you can collect a big number, and you want to maximize your opportunities to do so. Balancing doubles can be a bit off-shape; if they open 2H: and you hold  S:Kxxx H:x D:AQxxxx C:Qx, it's right to double. If partner uses lebensohl to get to 3C:, oh, well. But if he passes, it may well be a bloodbath. Since RHO didn't raise, it's likely that partner has heart length. If his hearts are good, they are in trouble.
Jeff Goldsmith, © 2013