Welcome to Basement Bridge

Weekly updates from Kit Jackson offering hints and tips for the modern Bridge player. Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Fourth Suit Forcing - 25 September 2009

As you're all getting more efficient at the basic system (Acol, Weak No Trump, Stayman, Transfers, Blackwood, three Weak Two's, Weak Jump Overcalls) we could add in a few more wrinkles - or conventions as they're known.


There comes a time in an auction when you are lucky enough to know that game is definitely on but you're just not sure which one: 3NT, 4H or 4S, 5C or 5D. You can gamble and you might get it right if you're lucky, but on the other hand why not find out for certain? When 3 suits have been bid by you and your partner (no opposition bidding) and you judge game to be on then you can ask partner for further clarification of their hand by bidding the fourth suit.

This bid of the fourth suit says nothing about that suit and is used only as an enquiry for information. As it is game forcing you and your partner can now swap useful bits of information below game level secure in the knowledge that bidding cannot die below game level. As you can also see, this will be a useful tool when deciding whether slam might be on or not, as well as simply deciding which game to investigate.

you ..... partner
1H .......... 1S
2D .......... ??

Assuming partner knows game is likely, what information will he most need to know? Do you have a club stop for NT? Do you have 3 S? have you got 6 H? Luckily all these questions will be answered easily because now partner bids 3C! Initially this says nothing about the club suit and is a device (convention) designed to elicit further information in a relaxed and happy setting, secure in the knowledge the bidding won't unexpectedly stop.

you ..... partner
1H .......... 1S
2D .......... 3C! (FSF)

Now the bids below, by you, can carry these meanings:
- 3D = 5+ Hearts & 5 Diamonds
- 3H = 6 Hearts
- 3S = 3 Spades (partner may have 5 of them, after all)
- 3NT = Club stop

After any of the above bids partner should (!) now know what to do. If partner bids on past 3NT but below 4H - DON'T PASS! FSF is unconditionally forcing to game in any denomination and no-one can pass until then. I have it on very good authority that many unexplained ritual bronze age burials may have been the result of someone passing a forcing bid...


As we all know now, in order to respond you need at least 6 HCP (High Card Points), maybe a tad less if you have unusual shape, or a 6 card suit. There is no upper limit for suit responses. A response of 1NT to partner's opening bid shows exactly 6 - 9 HCP. and is therefore limited, as are most 1NT bids, either as an opening, response or re-bid. Sometimes we have to use a response of 1NT when we just don't have any other bid, even though the hand is not flat or balanced.

Partner opens 1 Spade and you hold:


To respond 2D would show a hand worth about 10+ points. Even though you don't like it, you have to say something, so your only bid is 1NT. Whatever you do, don't pass just because the spade suit is rubbish and you can't see where the auction is going. You MUST respond - you have 6 - 9 points and it is your bounden duty to tell partner this, however much you don't like it. After all, partner is unlimited and could have 19 HCP: 3NT might be cold and partner won't thank you for passing on a whim, however polite they struggle to be.

On the other hand, don't bid 1NT just because you have 6-9 HCP and you want to limit your hand early on. If you have room for a natural suit response - make it. Always. Whatever the suit is like. Don't worry about what partner will think - that's partner's problem. Your duty is to tell partner what you've got so they can make informed decisions. Partner can't do that if you lie, however honourable your intentions.

What about this pile of garbage?


Partner opens 1D. Of course your partners do. It's like toast butter side down, partner always has the suit you don't. But now is not the time to mentally berate partner's contrariness. Now is the time to bid in an informative, helpful and above all constructive fashion. What would partner most like to know?

Constructive bidding is primarily an exercise in finding an 8 card or better suit fit and then deciding at what level to play that fit. If no apparent fit exists you can decide that a NT contract is better at a later stage of the auction.

If you respond 1NT because you don't fancy the two 4 card major suits much, partner may never, ever know about them. Partner MIGHT hold AKQJ in one of the majors and you've just made it impossible to discover this nugget of Anglo-Saxon gold in the muddy field of bidding. There are very very few absolute rules in bridge. There are various "guidelines" to help us make sense of what fate has dealt us, but possibly the most unbreakable guideline in the book is this:

If you can respond with a 4 card major at the one level - DO SO! ALWAYS!! IN YOUR SLEEP!!!

On the hand above you respond 1H (bidding 4 card suits up the line) even if the pips are 9752. Now partner can describe their hand with a variety of choices:- 1S, 1NT, 2C, 2D, or even 2H! All of which will, probably, turn out better than you playing in 1NT. After a response of 1NT partner has very few options, but by bidding a heart you let the auction take its natural course.

If partner can jump to 4H, you will certainly have found the garnet encrusted golden cross you so richly deserve.

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