In part I we introduced our general structure of artificial overcalls:
If overcaller has a singleton in opener's suit, he may well opt for a takeout double rather than a Michelangelo jump. Over 1 for instance AJxx Kxx x QJTxx is clearly better described by a double, since we are happy to let partner play in hearts on a 4-3 fit. While overcaller may be 2-2 in the other two suits, and can be 4-6 or 4-7 in his own suits, overcaller's most common distribution is three cards in opener's suit and one card in the unbid suit. Even 5440 (4 cards in opener's suit, void in fourth suit) is possible. Some typical overcalling hands after a 1 opening:
And a few examples of when not to use the bid:
After 1-2 and 1-2, advancer knows both of overcaller's suits. He assumes overcaller is 4-5 with a 7-loser hand. Raising to any level of either of overcaller's suits is to play. Cuebid is Western (see above re overcaller being more likely to have a fragment in opener's suit than shortness): overcaller bids notrump if he has the desired stopper, otherwise makes his most descriptive rebid. We haven't formalized our understandings of bids of the fourth suit and of notrump; right now I would expect these to be to play (rare).
Advancer's bids of cuebidder's known suit are to play. Bids below game in the suit cuebidder might have are "pass or correct." In the simplest and most common case, this simply allows the partnership to find out if a playable fit exists. For instance, you hold xx Axxx QJxx xxx and the bidding starts (1)-2-Pass. You bid 2. If partner has hearts and clubs, he will pass 2 unless he has a monster; if he has spades and clubs, he will rebid 2 and you will correct to 3. Less commonly, responder can manipulate the auction to bid as high as is safe immediately. More possibilities after (1)-2-Pass or (1)-2-(Double):
Here we have only one extra agreement -- in an auction where the opening side bids one of the two suits cuebidder might have, like (1)-2-(Double)-2-(2), cuebidder doubles to show they have bid his suit (inviting advancer to pass for penalty), and passes to confirm possession of spades and diamonds, but without extra length to justify a raise to 3.
The opponents can and should keep on bidding. My suggested defence to Michelangelo use the cheapest bid of my 5-card suit as a forward-going cuebid, the other bids natural and forcing one round by an unpassed hand (including bidding my 4-card suit). Responder can pass with a shapeless hand up to 10HCP or so. Double could show a desire to penalize one of overcaller's suit (as over Michaels), but if there is an un-shown major, negative is probably more useful: e.g., 1-(2!)-X to imply a 4-card spade suit, and 1-(2)-X to show 4 cards in either major. (These common-sense recommendations align with my philosophy on defending unusual opening bids.)
Here's a hand from a sectional in July 2009 showing Michelangelo at its best:
West's passes are very timid, but apparently show a respect for the Losing Trick Count and an awareness of East's opening bid style. But E-W really are in a bind: they can either pass out 2 for a likely -140, or they can be set in 3. Notice that against a pair not playing Michelangelo, that light 1 opening followed by a 1 overcall would cause N-S to miss their spade fit. (South should double 1 for takeout, for that reason.)
In this hand from a club game in November 2008, both sides had some delicate maneuvering to do:
Without an agreement what a double would mean, East could reasonably have blasted 3NT. (Several pairs made 3NT on these cards, apparently after South failed to unblock the hearts.) As it played out at the table, South felt confident that North had the majors after the 2 bid, showed his 3-card support, and North took the push with his 6-card suit. Quite a remarkable deal, with 19 total tricks available despite 17 total trumps and three shapeless hands. (Not playing Michelangelo, the auction probably starts 1-1-X-2, and again East will have a tough decision about selling out to 3 or gambling on bidding on.)
As I said in Part I, normally partner is entitled to expect at worst a 7-loser hand. Overcalling more lightly carries risks. If you like gambling, you can try it and you may get away with it, but there is such a thing as "too light," even at favorable vulnerability. As a cautionary tale I show this deal from a club game:
After East chose to open 1 instead of the more normal 1NT, I tried a excessively light 2 bid, and was lucky to escape with my skin. A good East-West pair would have succeeded in penalizing me, probably with an auction like Pass-Pass-1-2; Double-2-Pass-2; Double-3-Double-All pass, which could cost me very dearly if they lead clubs and prevent me from ruffing any losing spades in the dummy.
Finally, here's a hand from a club game in January 2009 with some real fireworks:
This was the auction:
South has to decide if his hand is "reverse-strength", in which case he overcalls 2, hoping to follow up with 2 if 2 comes back to him, or "very strong", in which case he cuebids 2 (4M5C). If I had chosen to cuebid, my partner could have bid 3 rather than 3. Either way West isn't going to give up cheaply. If I had been West I would have gone right to 4, which might have shut us out.
I'd love to hear from you if you use this system or a similar one. In the future I may post some additional details on when to use these conventional calls and when not to, or further details on followup sequences.