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Fourth suit forcing


This is one of the most useful conventions.  It is simple in concept, versatile and effective.

My recommendation is that you should add this one to your repertoire almost as soon as you move on from the beginner’s class to the rank of an improver.


This convention will usually turn up as a responder’s rebid following an opening one of a suit, a change of suit from responder, and a rebid in a third suit from opener although it can also appear at a later point in the auction.


It is the turn of responder to make his second bid.


With thirteen or more points


(or some equivalent playing strength) responder must search for a game.


Sometimes the final destination will be clear.

A K 6

T 6

Q 8 3

K Q T 5 3

You have enough for game;

you do not have a fit for either of partner’s suits;

you have excellent stops in the fourth suit;

you have no interest in a slam.  Bid 3NT.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

-

2

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2

-

?




A K 6

T 6

Q 8 3

K Q T 5 3

You have enough for game.

Partner has five spades for this sequence.

You have no slam interest facing a basic opener.

Bid 4.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

-

2

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2

-

?




T 6 3

A K

Q 8 3

K Q T 6 5

You have enough for game;

but do you have a spade stop between you or would you be better off in hearts on a probable 5-2 fit?

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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2

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2

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?




Post-beginner and above


But if the final destination is not clear then you will need a forcing bid which will elicit more information about partner’s hand before you come to your decision.


The solution is to make an artificial and forcing bid in the fourth suit.

You may or may not have a holding in the fourth suit, but you most certainly are not promising one in the first instance.  You are simply forcing partner to bid and asking him to describe his hand in greater detail.


Note that this situation will be far more common than that in which you have a holding in the fourth suit and still have hopes of finding a 4-4 fit there (although the convention can be made to cover that possibility) - partner would have to be 5-4-4-0.  To use the bid purely in search of such a fit would be a wasted opportunity.


In response opener will describe his hand further, following which responder should be much better placed to select the best final destination.


So, when should responder use this fourth suit bid?


The occasions on which responder will make a bid in the fourth suit will be when responder has sufficient values (see below) but cannot be certain of the best final strain or level.


This will usually be for one of the following reasons:-


a)  there might still be a 5-3 major suit fit in a suit already bid;

b)  there might be a 4-4 fit in the fourth suit, particularly if it is a major;

     there might be a 5-3 fit in the fourth suit, particularly if it is a major;

c)  responder wants to play in no trumps but there is a concern about the stop in the fourth suit;

d)  by placing the play in partner’s hand an extra stop might be created;

e)  there might be a 6-2 fit in responder’s first suit;

f)  responder knows the best strain, but might there be a slam?


How forcing?


Recommended in the modern style is that a lowest-level bid in the fourth suit at either the two- or three-level should be game-forcing.


For the specific sequence 1, 1, 1, 1 in which the fourth suit is bid at the one-level there is room for partnership agreement.

Some play 1 in this sequence as natural.

They may or may not combine this with a jump to 2 as fourth suit forcing, and other partnerships reverse this allocation. For me both of these methods use up valuable bidding space.


My choice is that this bid should be played as artificial (although it could quite possibly contain four cards in the suit) but forcing for just one round in the first instance (it is perfectly possible to play it as game-forcing if you prefer, just as long as you are agreed).


Four cards in the fourth suit?


Simplest, and probably best, is to bid the fourth suit provided that you are strong enough to force to game.  Such a bid does not promise four cards in the fourth suit, but neither does it deny it.

If such a bid is made at either the one- or two-level opener can safely raise to the three-level with four-card support without bypassing any other game contract.

K 7

A Q T 6 5

A 7 6 3

Q 7

Certainly you have enough for game and a diamond stop, but 3NT would end the auction.

Opener could still hold three hearts for a superior contract.

Bid 2.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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1

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1

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?




7 5

A Q

A Q T 7 5 3

A T 2

Again you want to be in game at least, but is the spade suit stopped (or might there even be a slam in diamonds)?

Bid 1 to find out more.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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1

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1

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?




A 7 6 3

6 5

A 3

A K 8 7 5

You have no additional length in the first three suits bid, and you hold a spade stop, but it is still just possible that partner holds four spades in an extremely unbalanced hand (4-5-4-0).

Bid 2.

You will get a further chance to bid 3NT if the spade fit is not forthcoming.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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2

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2

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?




A 7 6

6 5

A 8 3

A K 8 7 5

You want to be in a no trump game, and you hold a spade stop, but if partner could become declarer with a holding such as Qx then a second stop will have been created on an opening spade lead.

Bid 2.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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2

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2

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?




A K 6

A 6

Q 8 3

K Q T 5 3

This is the same as the hand at the top of the page improved by an ace.

Certainly there is enough for a spade game, but don’t bid 4 - that would deny any slam interest.  Either launch into your favourite slam convention (such as RKCB) or take the slow route by bidding 2 first and supporting spades later to show a stronger holding.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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2

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2

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?




K 7

A Q T 9 6 5

A 7 6 3

7

4 looks like the right contract, but partner might be void or singleton in the suit.

Bid 2 to shed more light on the situation.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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1

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1

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?




A Q T 6 5

A K 7 6 3

7

A 7

5-5 shape and more than enough for game.

Bid 3 - a jump in the fourth suit showing the 5-5 shape.

Opener will then be able to bid game in either major with 5-4-3-1 shape.


You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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1

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2

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?




This page last revised 16th Apr 2019


You could use the bid differently when holding four cards in a fourth suit which has to be bid at the three-level, but I would suggest that you bid it as above if only for the sake of simplicity and consistency.


Five cards in the fourth suit


It will be relatively rare that the 4-4 fit in the fourth suit will materialise in the sequence above - partner will have to hold some variation of 5-4-4-0 or 4-4-4-1.


However, a 5-3 fit in the fourth suit requiring opener to hold 5-4-3-1 shape is a far more likely possibility.

With this in mind responder should call into play a specific stratagem with this holding.  Given that he must hold game-going values even to consider such action he should jump in the fourth suit to show his five-card holding.

A Q T 6 5

A K 7 3

7 6

A 7

5-4 shape and more than enough for game.

Bid 2.

Partner can raise with four hearts or bid spades with three-card support.

Otherwise you will finish in some number of no trumps.

You

LHO

Pard

RHO



1

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1

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2

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?





To cover the other possibilities above responder should make a simple bid in the fourth suit.


Clearly this produces something of a dilemma for opener as he decides what exactly you would like to learn about his hand.

Follow this link for a discussion of opener’s responses.


There is also something of a question mark over exactly what constitutes a no trump stop in either responder’s or opener’s hand.

Follow the link for a fuller discussion of this aspect of the bid.