May the fourth suit force be with you

Even after your side has bid three suits, you are sometimes still uncertain of which denomination (which suit or notrumps) to head for.

There is no need to bid the fourth suit just to show strength there – a notrump bid would be appropriate in that case. Instead, a bid of the fourth suit is used to show doubt about the final destination. This is commonly called “fourth suit forcing” (4SF).

This fourth suit bid shows nothing further about the hand (except strength), it just asks for more information. In reply, you may:

  • return to partner’s first suit with three cards there
  • bid notrumps with the fourth suit stopped
  • rebid your second suit with five cards
  • raise the fourth suit with four card support
  • rebid your first suit with extra length
  • with nothing to say, do as best you can!

How forcing is the fourth suit? The traditional standard was that it showed invitational values or better. However, a survey of experts revealed that most now use it as forcing to game.

Here are a couple of other results of an Australian poll. The bidding proceeds:

Opener  Responder
1H      1S
2C      2D(4SF)

Choose your rebid as opener with:

S K5
H AT654
D 42
C AQ63

All the Australian experts chose to show delayed support (2S) now with their honour-doubleton, and some said they would even do this with two small. None chose to rebid the opened suit (2H), which used to be the popular option when nothing else beckoned.

How about this one:

Opener  Responder
1H      1S

Choose your rebid as opener with:

S 3
C J954

Most of our experts thought this was a routine 2C rebid but Nick Fahrer of The Bridge Shop said: “Tough problem, I think 1NT is best but will listen to arguments for 2C at IMPs”, while Australian international player Sartaj Hans went further: “1NT is a standout. 2C is reasonable, respectable, nothing wrong with it, but it’s just the sort of action that loses against stronger teams”.

Be that as it may, let’s say you opt for the more normal 2C rebid, and partner bids 2D. What next?

The 2D call is fourth suit, so you bid 2NT to show cover in the suit. Partner raises to 3NT; plan your play on the DK lead:

          S AQJT2
          H 83
          D 85
          C AK63
WEST                EAST
S 84                S K9765
H K9754             H T
D KQT82             D 963
C Q                 C T872
          S 3
          H AQJ62
          D AJ7
          C J954

The first key play on this hand is to hold up the DA, a Bath coup. Another diamond lead would present you with a second trick there so West, having observed partner’s discouraging signal, switches to the S8.

This is declarer’s second key moment of decision; take the SA. It is too early to risk losing a trick to East, the danger hand from whom a diamond lead through your A-J would knock your stopper out.

Next, take the heart finesse. This loses, but to West – the safe hand, from whom a diamond lead can do you no damage. West returns the H9 to pin dummy’s H8, driving out an honour from your hand.

Now it is time to cross to dummy (via a club) and drive out the SK. East at last has the chance to lead a diamond, knocking out your DA, but too late to do any damage: you can cash out now, making ten tricks if you play the clubs right.

What's On...

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