Lebensohl Convention

According to Mr. Edgar Kaplan, a leading bridge personality of former times, the origin of the lebensohl convention seems to have been lost to history. In the late 1960s, the convention began appearing on different convention cards, although written in by hand. At first, it was believed to have been devised by Mr. Kenneth W. Lebensold, born in the year 1947, of Oakland, California, United States, who was a mathematics professor, and who had won several major bridge competitions, going under the assumption that the name had been misspelled. But Mr. Kenneth Lebensold demonstrably denied any and all contribution to the development of this conventional method.

It was Mr. George A. W. Boehm, born in the year 1922 and died in the year 1993, of New York City, United States, who was a retired editor, mathematician, graduate of Columbia University, writer for the magazines Fortune, Newsweek and Scientific American and for The Bridge World, who published an article about the convention in The Bridge World magazine in November 1970, and, for a lack of anything better, called it the lebensohl convention. The designation is without a capital L, and is written in this manner.

Note: Although Mr. George A. W. Boehm was an expert bridge player, he played mostly socially, competing professionally for only a short time and winning one major tournament in New York in the year 1955. For several years, he was the editor of Post Mortem, a magazine for tournament bridge players in New York. He was also a Director and twice the Vice President of the Greater New York Bridge Association.

Principles of the Concept

The concept behind lebensohl is the result, or the solution of the following difficulty in bidding after an intervening overcall once your partner has opened the auction with 1 No Trump.

Note: The bridge student must keep in mind that the following explanations are only for natural overcalls by the immediate opponent, as opposed to artificial overcalls.

The examples should clarify the necessity for such a conventional method.

Auction 1
North   East   South Meaning
1 NT   2   <
  3 1. A sign-off? Forcing?
  3 2. Stayman? Forcing?
Auction 2
North   East   South Meaning
1 NT   2  
  3 1. A sign-off? Forcing?
  3 2. Stayman? Forcing?

After realizing the difficulties in responding, the questions become whether or not the first response is a:

1. forcing response
2. non-forcing response
3. natural response
4. artificial response
5. invitational response
6. game-showing response

It was exactly these questions, which needed to be answered in order to structure a proper defense method for the No Trump bidder and partner. Without any guidelines the partnership would be lost as to how to continue.

Explanation of Concept

The foundation and cornerstone of the lebensohl convention is that, after a natural overcall on the two level by an opponent following a 1 No Trump opening, a response of 2 No Trump by the partner of the No Trump bidder puppets the opener to rebid 3 Clubs in order that the responder has the possibility of clarifying his hand.

Note: A puppet bid is anĂ‚ artificialĂ‚ bid that simply requests partner to make a specified cheap reply - commonly the cheapest sufficient bid, or next step. It is not a transfer bid and also not a relay bid.

Responses to lebensohl

Following is an outline of the responses available to the responder after a natural overcall in a suit.

Note: Remember that the following responses are lebensohl after an immediate natural overcall, not an immediate artificial overcall.

North   East   South    Meaning
1 NT   2 ///   Double   is for penalty.
    2   2 //   is to play.
    2 /   2 /   is to play.
    2 //   2   is to play.
    2   3 //   is forcing to game.
    2 /   3 /   is forcing to game.
    2 //   3   is forcing to game.
    2 ///   2 NT   forces partner to rebid 3.

The rebids by the responder after 3 Clubs by his partner:

1. Pass with a weak hand and long Clubs.
2. Any bid suit below the rank of the overcall is a sign-off.
3. Any bid suit above the rank of the overcall is invitational.

Any immediate cuebid of the suit of the opponent is Stayman and promises a good 9 high card points count. Any immediate cuebid promises a 4-card Major suit, but it is important to remember that the cuebid also denies having a stopper in the suit bid by the opponent. This cuebid by the responder is forcing to game unless the partnership can not find a Major fit.

North   East   South    Meaning
1 NT   2   3   Stayman
    2   3   Stayman
    2   3   Stayman, showing a 4-card Spade suit.
    2   3   Stayman, showing a 4-card Heart suit.
        Note: All cuebids deny a stopper in the suit of the opponent.

The options for the No Trump bidder, after a cuebid by his partner, are as follows:

1. to bid a 4-card Major, if he has a 4-card Major.
2. to bid 3 No Trump with a stopper in the suit of the opponent.
3. to seek a better contract, if neither condition is fulfilled.
3.1. With a minimum No Trump, bid 4 Clubs or 4 Diamonds.
3.2. If the 4-card Major suit of the responder is known, then the No Trump bidder can consider playing in a 4-3 Major fit.
3.3. Holding a maximum No Trump and no wasted strength in the suit bid by the opponent, a jump to five of long Minor suit is advisable.
3.4. Cuebidding the suit of the opponent at the four level is requesting the partner to choose his better Minor suit at the five level.

3 No Trump Response

North   East   South
1 NT   2 ///   3 NT

Any 3 No Trump response after any intervening overcall promises sufficient values and no 4-card Major suit, but it also denies having a stopper in the suit bid by the opponent. The No Trump bidder has then several options:

1. Pass with a stopper in the suit of the opponent.
2. Bids a 5-card Major suit, if he has one.
3. Explores for a better contract, generally in the Minor suits.
North   East   South   West    Meaning
1 NT   2 //   2 NT   Pass    
3   Pass   3 //       Cuebidding = Stayman
            Shows a stopper.

2 No Trump Response

If the responder bids 2 No Trump after the immediate overcall, forcing his partner to rebid 3 Clubs, and then cuebids the suit of the opponent, then this cuebid is a Stayman bid, asking for a 4-card Major suit. The difference in this bidding sequence is the fact that the responder is showing a stopper in the suit of the opponent.

Assume the following bidding sequence:

North   East   South   West    Meaning
1 NT   2   2 NT   Pass    
3   Pass   4       Cuebidding = Stayman
            Shows a stopper.

This cuebid by the responder on the four level is also Stayman, by-passing the possibility of a 3 No Trump contract, and whether such a bidding sequence is advisable, is a matter of partnership agreement.

The opener bids 3 No Trump without a 4-card Major suit, and otherwise bids his 4-card Major suit.

North   East   South   West   Meaning
1 NT   2 ///   2 NT   Pass  
3   Pass   3 NT Shows a stopper.

The bidding sequence by the responder above shows a stopper in the suit bid by the opponent and requests that partner should pass the final contract of 3 No Trump.


1. Using the lebensohl convention, it is apparent that the partnership only loses the natural 2 No Trump bid.
2. Most partnerships play that if there is no intervening overcall, then the bid of 2 No Trump retains its original meaning.
3. The advantages are that each response can be recognized and determined as to whether they are:
  1. Forcing.
  2. Invitational.
  3. Non-forcing.
  4. Game-forcing.

Three Level Overcalls

In the case that the overcall is on the three level, the responder has several options, but only if the distribution is correct and the values are present.

North   East   South    Meaning
1 NT   3   3 //   one-round forcing
    3   3 /   one-round forcing
    3   3   one-round forcing
    3 ///   Double   Negative Double, not Penalty Double
    3 ///   5 /   Game sign-off
    3 ///   4 /   Game sign-off
    3 ///   3 NT   Game sign-off
    3 /   4 /   Stayman
        or   Slam interest, and may have a 4-card Major suit

If the overcall on the three level is doubled by the responder, the opener must bid unless the better option is to convert the takeout double for penalties, which is possible when holding a maximum No Trump.

If the responder bids 3 No Trump after a three level overcall, then this response can either show or deny a stopper in the suit bid by the opponent. This is a matter of partnership agreement. Several partnerships bid 3 No Trump, which shows a stopper, and use the Negative Double to deny a stopper.

Knowledge of Overcall Conventional Methods

Some of the defense mechanisms employed by the opponents after a 1 No Trump opening are natural and some defense mechanisms are artificial. It is important for the partnership to recognize which overcall is natural and which is artificial, which defense shows a two-suited holding and identifies both suits, which defense shows a two-suited holding and only one identified suit, which defense shows a two-suited holding and both suits are unknown, and which defense uses a double to show a one-suited holding.

The partnership should understand these concepts. Several of the more popular and artificial conventional defense methods are listed below:

D.O.N.T.   Bergen Over No Trump   Hamilton Convention
Astro Convention   Cansino Convention   Landy Convention
Modified Astro   Cappelletti Convention   Ripstra Convention
Pinpoint Astro   Crash Over One No Trump   Suction Convention
Astro Cuebid   Brozel Convention   Becker Convention
Aspro Convention   Brozel Rescue Bids   Optional Double

The student of the game and also defense methods should realize that not all artificial defense methods employed by the opponents are listed above. However, acquainted oneself with and knowledge of these methods will allow the student to acquire advantages over competing bridge players.

Specified or Unspecified Suits via Overcalls

The problem faced by the responder is the fact that the responder does not know which suit to cuebid, because the suit is not yet known. The introduction to Stayman and Jacoby Transfers becomes difficult when no suit is identified. A penalty double becomes ambiguous when neither partner knows the two suits intended by the opponents.

Following are several guidelines which the partnership can adopt to confront these defense mechanisms, but they are only suggestions for the partnership agreement. It is important, especially in competition, that the partnership have an understanding of several defense methods employed against artificial overcalls by the opponents. Below are several suggested guidelines.

1. In the case that the artificial overcall shows two identifiable suits, then the cheaper cuebid is game invitational. The higher cuebid is then game-forcing. After this bidding sequence, all lebensohl guidelines are system on.
2. In the case that the artificial overcall shows only one identifiable suit, then the known suit can be used for the cuebid. After this bidding sequence, all lebensohl guidelines are system on.
3. Unless the artificial overcall shows both Major suits, then cuebids are used as Stayman and all lebensohl guidelines are system on.
4. If the partnership can apply the 2 No Trump response, then all delayed cuebids either show or deny stoppers in the suit(s) of the opponent by partnership agreement.
5. The four level jumps by the responder are normal and all lebensohl guidelines are system on. However, four level non-jumps are natural game-forces and/or cuebids.
6. Any double after an artificial overcall are considered to be natural and indicates defensive values in one or both of the suits indicated by the overcaller. A redouble after an artificial double by the opponent promises a moderate to good holding.
7. After an artificial overcall and a pass by the responder, any Delayed Double is for penalty. Any Delayed Suit Bid is considered competitive and is either a sign-off or lead directing for the partner.
8. In general, any artificial double by the overcaller should not interfere with the employment of the lebensohl convention and is treated as if there had been no double.
9. After an artificial 2 Clubs overcall, a double is Stayman, and otherwise the overcall is treated as if there had been no double.
10. If the responder initially passes the artificial overcall, then this pass becomes a Forcing Pass, and the partner is forced to find a rebid, double and/or redouble, or bid a 5-card suit if possible.

Note: These are general guidelines and should be considered in this context. The partnership should become acquainted with the different defense mechanisms of the opponents and adjust their partnership agreement accordingly. For example, a defense method employed against the defense method Landy may not work equally well against the defense method Brozel.

Note: Bridge partnerships have discovered that the lebensohl conventional method, although originally designed to cope with the difficulties of communicating the correct information to the partner after a 1 No Trump opening, can be used in other bidding circumstances.

Alternate Usages

After the opponents have opened the auction with a Weak Two bid and your partner doubles, defensive guidelines are necessary to inform your partner whether or not you, who are forced to bid, have a weak holding, a moderate holding, or a strong holding. The lebensohl convention can assist greatly with this dilemma. The following guidelines should clarify.

lebensohl After A Takeout Double of a Weak Two Bid
1. The 2 No Trump response by the responder forces the partner to rebid 3 Clubs. This gives the responder the opportunity to sign off in a long suit with a weak holding, and the partner must pass.
2. A non-jump suit bid by the responder at the three level is constructive and informs the partner that his holding contains useful values and/or suit length and/or distribution.

This situation arose after such bidding sequences and holdings were encountered, such as the following:

North   East   South   West
2 //   Double   Pass Holding 1
Holding 2

Since West is forced to bid after his partner has doubled, the difficulty was to discover a method of communicating a very weak holding as compared with a holding with moderate, perhaps excellent values and/or distribution. Using the guidelines of the lebensohl convention clarifies the distinction between these two circumstances. The partner may have a minimum for his takeout double, but gains the necessary information from his partner as to how to proceed. The partner may also have a holding with excellent values, but needs the information from his partner about his holding in order to perhaps place the contract. The lebensohl convention is the bridge tool, which allows the partnership to do this.

Other Applications for lebensohl

There are other applications and situations, in which the lebensohl convention can prove to be useful. For example, the lebensohl convention can be used by the partnership, when there is no interference and/or overcall, such as when a partner does a reverse. The all-important 2 No Trump bid by the responder enables the partnership to reach an attainable final contract.

We are not promoting any author or publication, and several excellent bridge books have been published, which are devoted to explaining the lebensohl convention in all of its applications. Such a bridge book has been written by Mr. Ronald (Ron) E. Andersen and it is depicted below.



If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.