Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Protective seat

After LHO has opened one-of-a-suit, and both partner and RHO have passed, then your opponents are limited.  It is quite likely that your side holds the majority of the points.  If you don’t hold them yourself, then there is a good chance that your partner does, but did not have a suitable bid to overcall - frequently he will have a holding in the opponents’ suit, with a hand unsuitable to overcall in no trumps.

In this situation you will strain to keep the bidding open, rather than leave your opponents to play at the one-level.  In the process you will be ‘protecting’ the possible holdings in partner’s hand indicated above.

Such a protective bid is essential when your opponents open with one-of-a-suit, and the principle also applies when they open with a preemptive bid such as a weak two.

An old guideline is ‘borrow a king’ - that is, overcall in the protective seat on a hand three points lighter than you might have held for an immediate overcall.  The sentiment is excellent, but the guideline itself is not incredibly helpful at this point in the auction for the simple reason that the primary consideration for an immediate overcall had very little to do with points.

I shall return the ‘borrow a king’ principle both below and also later in the auction, but for the moment it is perhaps more helpful simply to adopt the philosophy that they are not going to ‘get a free run at a low level’.

9 6

A K 7 5 2

Q T 3

8 5 4

LHO opens 1♠ followed by two passes.

Bid 2.

Subminimum for a direct overcall at the two-level, but I wouldn’t hesitate to show this suit in the protective seat.

A Q 9 6

A 8

T 8 5 3

8 5 4

Opponents open 1 followed by two passes.


Ten points - thirteen if you borrow a king - four cards in the other major - right shape - get on with it.

Protective double

Following an opening bid of one of a suit by LHO and two passes be prepared to make a take-out double on as few as nine points.

There are other sequences in which you might stretch this even further, but in this specific situation there is no certainty of a fit your way, and partner must be able to count on some degree of substance in case he is considering a penalty pass.

The ‘borrow a king’ principle

This principle was mentioned above in the context of a minimum overcall.

I rather bypassed it at that point, but some partnerships will use it to help them choose their actions on stronger hands.

With the possibility of a simple overcall being particularly insubstantial it is possible to lower the whole range for an overcall.

If this choice is agreed then you might perhaps make a simple overcall on anything up to (say) fifteen points (rather than the usual eighteen) but double first with sixteen or more.

Your choice.


My guideline

How strong should I be to overcall in the protective seat?

At the risk of rather overstating the case, the minimum requirement for a one-level overcall in the protective seat is in the region of ‘thirteen cards’.

Beginner and above

Advancer’s next bid

This page last revised 5th Dec 2017

Clearly this is an oversimplification.

A little more circumspection will be appropriate if vulnerable or contemplating an overcall at the two-level, but the principle is clear.

T 8 7 6 3

6 2

Q T 3

K Q 5

LHO opens 1 followed by two passes.

Not much of a hand and not much of a suit, but bid 1 when not vulnerable at pairs.

Agree as a partnership whether or not you would make this bid vulnerable.

K Q 8 3

6 4 2

Q T 3

T 7 5

LHO opens 1 followed by two passes.

Not much of a hand and only four spades, but consider bidding 1 when not vulnerable at pairs.

You hold the spades

Playing at pairs you will only rarely get rich defending an undoubled contract at the one-level.

In particular, if your side holds the spades you will frequently win the part-score battle, and one down not vulnerable will frequently prove to be an excellent score, and even two down could score a top.

K 6

A K 7 5 4 2

Q T 3

A 5

LHO opens 1♠ followed by two passes.

This is a natural 2 overcall in the immediate overcall position.

Some partnerships will agree to double first on this hand in the protective seat.

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