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Competitive Bidding

When both sides are bidding your focus is no longer bidding game or slam. Most of the time you'll simply be deciding whether to defend against a contract by the opposition or try and play the hand yourself.

How high to bid in a competitive auction

If both sides are bidding then showing your points to partner isn't going to help much because, with the points spread around so much, you're less likely to have the strength for game anyway. In fact, bidding to a making contract is not your only consideration. You can sometimes get a better score by making a sacrifice, which means going down on your contract rather than letting the opposition make theirs.

Your trump fit will determine how high to bid in a competitive auction. The better your trump fit the more keen you should be to play the hand. Without a trump fit you'll probably be better off defending.

Other hand evaluation techniques will help you to decide if you'll make your contract whereas your trump fit will help you decide whether the contract you bid to will be a good sacrifice. The better your trump fit, the higher you should be competing.

This is the basic idea:

Sacrifice Bidding and the Law of Total Tricks

Each side has a 10-card fit. This means that it is a good idea to bid for 10 tricks. Note that it doesn't guarantee that you will make the contract, only that it is a good idea to bid it! You'll either make your contract or it will be a good sacrifice.

East West can make 4 and North South are only 1 down in 4♠. It's better for North and South to give East and West 100 points for going down our way rather than 620 (or 420) for letting them make game.


Simple overcall

Good 5 card suit, 10 - 15 points

An overcall is a bid made after the opposition have already opened the bidding. Just because the opposition have opened the bidding doesn't mean you can't bid. In fact, with the right hand, it's good to enter the auction. You might get to play the hand, you can take up some of the opposition's bidding space and you can suggest a lead to partner.

Unlike an opening bid, points don't matter so much for a simple overcall. A good 5-card suit is the key and good rule of thumb is two of the top four honours in the suit.

This next hand is not strong but spades would make a good trump suit, you take up opponents' bidding space and, if you end up defending, partner will know to lead a spade.

strength for simple overcall in bridge

A good 5 card suit is all you need for an overcall

Responding to an Overcall

After an opening bid you will normally respond with 6+ points but you're not obliged to respond to an overcall in the same way. Sure, sometimes you'll want to explore for game and occasionally even slam possibilities but normally you'll simply be looking to compete for the partscore.

Here's the hand in the video for you to play yourself.

Competitive Bidding in Bridge

Change of suit

An opening bid of 1♣, 1, 1 or 1♠ doesn't promise a good suit. If you're playing 5 card majors, an opening bid of 1♣ or 1 might even be a three card suit. You'll be responding to an opening bid with 6+ points or even less in some cases in order to search for the best contract.

change of suit after opening bid

Partner's diamonds might not be very good and you might have a game on. Bid 1.

Unlike an opening bid, partner's overcall does show a good suit. There's often no need to search for a better contract because you're likely to already be in the best spot!

Pass after an overcall

Partner has 5 good diamonds. Pass!

Remember that an overcall won't be a strong hand so you're very unlikely to miss game by passing.

Raising partner's suit

If you do have a fit, it's good to support partner. 3-card support will be enough, because partner is showing a 5-card suit.

Responding to an overcall

Points don't matter - show your trump fit!

Weak jump overcall

Good 6 card suit, 6 - 10 points

A weak jump overcall is similar to a weak 2 opening bid. You can quickly describe your hand to your partner and at the same time make it hard for the opposition to enter the auction

Preemptive overcall

Good 7 card suit, 6 - 10 points

A preemptive overcall is similar to a preemptive opening bid.


A double in bridge bidding can be either a takeout double, used to ask partner to bid, or a penalty double, used when a player thinks the opposition won't make their contract.

How can I tell whether a double is penalties or takeout? It can be hard to tell the difference! The state of the auction determines whether a double was meant for takeout or for penalties. Even expert players sometimes misinterpret the meaning of their partner's double. That's bridge! - but let's see if we can clarify things.

penalty or takeout double

Takeout Double

Here's a perfect hand for a takeout double. Notice that South has length in all of the unbid suits so that whichever one North chooses will be fine.

takeout double

A takeout double

This next hand is not suitable for a takeout double. South has plenty of points but without length in spades it's better to defend. Partner's always have the habit of choosing your worst suit when they respond to your double so make sure you have at least 3 card support.

not suitable for takeout double

Pass! - it's ok to defend sometimes.

Responding to a Double

If partner doubles then you must bid, even with a weak hand. Bid your longest suit. On this hand you should bid 1. Partner is forcing you to bid so you don't promise any points at all. Remember, partner has shown some hearts.

responding to a takeout double

Responding to a takeout double.

As soon as any player makes a bid, the double is cancelled. You don't have to bid this time because East bid. East's bid cancelled the double.

double is cancelled

East's bid cancels the double.

On this hand next you should bid 2. You would have bid 1 even with zero points so you have 9 more than you might have had. Tell partner the good news! It might seem dangerous to jump with a 4 card suit but remember that partner is promising support for the unbid suits. You'll be fine with hearts as trumps.

jump response to a takeout double

Jump response to a takeout double.

Balancing Double

A balancing doubles is simply a takeout double used when the auction is about to die out. It's often better to keep the bidding open at a low level rather than pass and defend against a part-score.

balancing double in bridge

EW have stopped at the 2-level, so the points are probably evenly divided between the two partnerships. If South doesn't take some action, the auction will die, and your opponents will rest comfortably in their fit. South's seat is called the 'passout' seat.

What should South do? South cannot make a bid as that would promise a 5-card suit. South should make a balancing double. Consult partner who will not expect an opening hand as South has passed already.

If East or West bid 3, that will be a great result for NS. Don't spoil it by bidding 3♠ - you have already pushed EW too high!

Double then Bid

A takeout double can also be made with 16+ points, even without support for the unbid suits. A simple overcall in bridge shows a maximum of about 15 HCP but you can double and then bid your suit to show a stronger hand.

How will partner know my hand? A takeout double normally shows support for all the unbid suits and whatever suit partner responds with should become the trump suit. That's the whole idea of the takeout double in the first place! - get partner to choose trumps. If, after hearing partner's response, the player who doubled bids a new suit then the implication is that player doesn't have support for the unbid suits after all and therefore must have a strong hand.

Penalty Double

A double saying that you do not expect your opponents to make their contract is called a penalty double. It increases your score if the contract fails and also increases their score if the contract makes.

Doubles of notrump bids are almost always penalties. If your side has the majority of the points then doubling their 1NT contract can be more profitable than playing the hand in a contract your way.

What is a negative double? Negative doubles, used by the responder, are another form of takeout double. A negative double is normally used when responder has a few points but is not strong enough to bid at the 2-level.

When should I double, when should I overcall? Overcall to show a good suit, Double to show a good hand.

On this next hand you have support for the unbid suits and 12 points. You're not sure what suit you would like to have as trumps so you ask partner.

double or overcall in bridge

This is a great hand to double with.

This time you an overcall is better. You'd like spades as trumps.

good overcall in bridge

Show your suit!

How do I make a double when playing bridge on the computer

When you are playing bridge against the computer a double is shown as an 'X' in the bidding area.

X means double

X means double


An overcall of 1NT shows 16-18 points, balanced.

Stayman and transfers are not used at Sky Bridge Club after a 1NT overcall

Related Hands

Overcalls - they're not opening bids!
Bidding over a pre-empt - do try this at home!
Play or defend - How do you decide?


TGoldie says:
Where have all the practice hands gone please?
Socks says:
Great lesson on doubles.I really appreciate the time and energy you all put into this online program. Thanks
Zoegirl says:
I’m a little confused about a presumption that was made in the first video on bidding, at 3:27mins. How does partner know we have 5D? I thought a 1D bid means opening points and at least 3D, but Graham said that partner would know we had 5.
Zoegirl says:
Sorry I meant 4D.
DENFOR says:
What do you bid if you do not have enough points to bid “past the barrier” and not enough points to bid at the two level, but have five cards in a suit.
Hi Graeme, can you explain the negative double as responder? Partner opens with a bid, no overcall made then as responder a double is done, can't bid at 2 level. What does opener do?. Hope I have that right. Heatherte1
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