Consult the Coopers: Fourth Suit Forcing, Nov 2011
by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO
A local player who wishes to remain anonymous asks, “I opened 1C, partner responded 1D, I bid 1H, and my partner jumped to 2S, later explaining to me that it was fourth suit forcing. This was news to me, is that standard?”
Coopers: Yes, that is modern expert standard. Using 2S as an artificial game force, denying spades, allows the bid of 1S to be natural and only forcing for one round. Note that the 1S bid shows at least 8+ (and for some 11+), since with a hand worth only one bid, 6-7 points, you would bid 1S right away and not bother with the diamond suit.
A review of fourth suit forcing seems in order. In modern bidding, jumps in old suits are only game invitational, while responder’s bid of a new suit is forcing for one round. Jumps in new suits are usually forcing and natural, but do not have to be if you play fourth suit forcing (as explained below).
After three bids there is usually only one unbid suit left, the fourth suit. Modern style is to use the fourth suit as an artificial game force, not promising that suit but promising the values for game. This allows a more leisurely exploration for the best contract. Some example auctions that use fourth suit forcing are: 1C-1H-1S-2D and 1H-1S-2D-3C. Opener now shows the cheapest feature in his hand. So after a 1C-1H-1S-2D opener’s first priority is to bid 2H with three card support, next priority is 2S with five spades, next 2NT with a diamond stopper, then 3C with five or more clubs. With none of those, modern players raise the fourth suit to show some length there without a stopper. With a real raise of the fourth suit, opener would just bid 2NT to show the stopper. Opener raises the fourth suit only if responder rebids it to show that he really has it.
Responder can bid game based on the information from opener’s response to fourth suit forcing or he can continue to explore for the best contract. With no slam ambition, responder should just bid game as soon as he is sure of the correct strain. For example, after 1C-1H-1S when responder has four spades, a game force, and no slam ambition he just bids 4S rather than going through fourth suit forcing.
Do you see the problem with the auction 1C-1D-1H-1S? Right, there are no more suits to bid, so what is forcing? Jumps are forcing by either partner in this auction. Since responder has 8+ points (because he stopped to show his diamonds even though he has four spades), opener can jump with a five loser hand or 17+ points and be happy that it is forcing.
Back to our original auction 1C-1D-1H-2S, opener’s first priority is to bid 2N with a spade stopper, next priority is to rebid clubs with five or more, next priority is to raise diamonds with three or more, and so on.
A jump in the fourth suit, that isn’t a reverse, is played by most modern players as an invitational two-suiter. So 1C-1H-1S-3D would be 5-5 in the reds, game invitational if partner has a fit or significant extras. Good to stop bidding as soon as possible when the hand is a misfit!
Fourth suit forcing is a good tool for setting a game force so that both partners can make natural bids without fear of being passed until one partner can set the final contract.
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