Thursday, January 31, 2008


It amuses me that the theory of not overcalling in a lower ranking suit at the 2-level with top honor fourth in enemy suit was deemed 'crackpot' over at BBO-forums, one of my hang-around places. Oh well - I'm crushed ;-)

But, I'll expound on the reasons, feeling a bit more motivated today. First a couple of qoutes: "I hate experts who give opinions without any valid theory behind it." and "... just consider the number of saves/preemptions that this approach misses. After all, on the hands he passes, partner rates to be short in opener's suit and so may well have a fit for ours... and we are staying out????" and from the same post " strikes me as almost certainly a long-term loser, in a big, big way."

Well, a post like that, not giving logical reasons, may have been a bit provocative but also a sort of a challenge. If you've read my blog and keep coming back, maybe you think I know something about bridge and would think about why there could be any truth in my statement. Over at BBO, most struck out :-)

I first made this observation in 1998 playing an international high-level team event in Holland. I've been keeping track ever since then and I'm no stranger to top-level bridge and I'd say I also analyse more matches than most living people (PS-bridge/BB-records etc, owning most World Championship books since 1958). Am I clueless or how can this overcall be wrong?

The reasoning (theory) behind the approach goes like this:

1) When we have length and defensive strength in enemy suit, that decreases the chances of them having a fit and IF they do then our holding is a liability for them, decreasing the chance of them making anything on a higher level (especially if our partner has some values).

2) When they have the values to be bidding and their honors aren't in their suit (i.e we have at least one top honor), that means that they are located in our suits or sidesuits; potential defensive tricks if we are playing (and we have points wasted not pulling any weight offensively). So, their offensive potential has decreased and our offensive potential has decreased.

3) When partner raises, as we have 9+ cards (often 10 as in 6-4) in 2 suits, we're less likely to find useful honors with partner. Only trump honors and aces/kings in sidesuits may help as we're short (31/13/22/12 etc) in the remaining suits. Queens or KQ in our stiff suit may be a little late when they cashed out the 5 first tricks against say 3C.

4) When they have the higher ranking suit, we have to contract for more tricks then they do if we want to declare. This makes it even less likely that we can do so profitable and it will always be tempting for partner, who will then have shortness.

5) With 4-cards in their suit, they don't have a fit in that suit that often (haven't calculated by how much). This means that the hand is quite often a misfit, with points fairly even divided between the sides.

6) Do you want to declare or defend under those circumstances?

7) What happens most of the time is that we go down after an overcall instead of them.

8) Could still work out, but we want to take percentage actions, right?

On that initial hand in Holland almost 10 years ago however, partner was short and sacrificed in 5C over 4S. It turned out to be a phantom which isn't surprising at all. But this sac scenario isn't making up the majority of the losses I've seen. Getting caught or just buying the contract when neither side has a paying fit/contract and going minus declaring instead of plus defending, doubled or not, that's the biggie!

The way I gained in the deal in my previous post, by opps missing a fit, is very rare but it was a nice bonus for the correct approach. The one from Teneriffe was getting caught for -300 with teammates going down 2 vulnerable for -200 at the other table.

Theory is one thing, empiric observations over 10 years is another.

Cracking, or taking the pot?

Edit: To clarify, the cut-off point to me seems to be TOP honour. Jxxx hasn't rendered bad results in the deals I've seen so far.


Paul said...

Time to write the book?

ulven said...

You think the world is ready? ;-))))

Andreas said...

I never thought about it this way, my view is usually not to bid with length in the enemy suit, unless you have a great suit yourself.

However, I think I will change opinions after this. Don't bid with top honor and length in their suit, not even with a great suit, seems to be the winner, given all Ulf's reasons.

I especially like "Getting caught or just buying the contract when neither side has a paying fit/contract and going minus declaring instead of plus defending, doubled or not, that's the biggie!" This seems to be a very frequent problem and going plus in these situations is more important than anything. Mathpoints and IMPs the same.

francesco76 said...

We're discussing about the theory here in Monza (Milan).
Someone afee, someone not.
We need to try it at he table

Anonymous said...

Hi Ulf,

As I wrote on the BBO forum, there is a big difference between saying that Hxxx in their suit is a negative factor for determining whether to overcall, and saying that one should never overcall with such a hand.

The former seems good advice, the latter seems a crackpot theory. Please keep those theories coming though!


ulven said...

Hi Han,

That you 'should never' means to me, in this context, that overcalling gives you such a low chance of being right that it's clearly better not to. Saying it's a 'negative factor' means that pluses and minuses might add up differently and if enough pluses are present, you should go ahead and overcall anyway.

To me, this situation is more than a negative factor. If that analysis makes it a crackpot theory, so be it.

There has been many crackpots through history. Some became heroes later, others were probably [correctly] locked up ;-)

Ain't bridge fun?

Thx for stopping by and stay tuned for other views...