Wednesday, September 14, 2005 5:22 AM

Forcing Passes - 2 Level Overcalls




          The two level overcall has changed over the years . The values for an overcall have been steadily creeping upwards so that in modern Bridge it is equated to an opening bid. If you have overcalled at the two level and partner introduces a new suit , I feel that a basic assumption should exist that your side “owns the hand”. If your side owns the hand, the opponents are deemed to be sacrificing and forcing pass theory kicks in.


          I was playing with a tormentee who has very limited experience with forcing pass theory. When Bridge was invented , a double and a pass were very straight forward. In a competitive auction , a pass meant that in your opinion the contract was going to make and a double meant that a contract was not going to make. Very simple. Around the 1940’s , Bridge experts decided that this notion was too simplistic in auctions when the opponents were interfering in your auction and perceived to be sacrificing. They decided to change the meaning of pass and double in these specific auctions only.


          The tormentee held this hand with both sides nv . x KQxx AKQxx Qxx and LHO open 1.  Most bidders would choose a T/O double but the tormentee choose to introduce his good diamond suit by overcalling 2. My RHO bid 2 and I introduced a new suit by bidding 3. LHO leapt to 4 and the tormentee chose to bid 5 as he felt that that this contract had a good chance of succeeding. This got passed around to the opening bidder who decided to bid 5. The tormentee decided that the “5 level belongs to the opponents” and since he had a nice hand and partner was bidding strongly they could not make 5. He subsequently doubled and we were –650 as they made their contract.


          I wrongly voiced my displeasure at his bid forgetting about his inexperience with such auctions. In these auctions,  it is standard thinking to define new meanings for the pass and double. These changes of definitions are the basis of forcing pass theory. Even if you are not 100 % sure that you can set the opponents , you make the assumption that you can when you “own the auction” after strong bidding by your side. You contracted for a nv game at the 5 level after a 2 level overcall. Partner has made a strong bid , so it is understood that this is your hand. Forcing pass theory comes into play and new meanings for pass & double emerge.


          A pass does not mean that you think the opponents are going to make their contract. It is assumed that they can not make their contract at this level. A pass means that in light of the auction , you would prefer that partner takes the push to the next level. It usually means that you have a control in the enemy suit and enough values to warrant such action. A double has an entirely new meaning other than they can not make their contract ( the assumption being that they can not ) . The double is a warning that further bidding by your side is not a good idea. This double could mean that you have duplication of value in their suit ( penalty double) or length in their suit ( a doubleton) or you lack the overcall HCP strength to go to the next level.


          In this auction , you have a forcing pass which brings partner into the decision making process. Your pass says that you would like to “take the push” as you are short in their suit and have the distribution and HCP’s to warrant such a partnership  decision. Based on this information being communicated to me , I have an easy 6 bid and we go for –50 in 6.


          When this notion was first invented , The Bridge world thought that a pass being a forcing bid was a ridiculous idea. A pass is not supposed to be forcing !! Over  the years , forcing pass theory has become standard Bridge and an excellent way to bring partner into the decision making process in tough competitive auctions. The above is just an outline to forcing pass theory. Kantar has written an entire book on this subject alone. Tormentees must learn forcing pass theory to keep advancing their skills at this very difficult game.