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Fourth Suit Solves Bidding Woe

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal illustrates the popular “fourth suit forcing” treatment, which is essential for accurate bidding. To understand the need for this gadget, put yourself in the North seat. After responding one heart to your partner’s one club opening, what is your next bid after partner rebids one spade?

3 NT South
E-W Vul
S K 7 4
H A Q 9 4 2
D 5 4
C A 3 2


1 H
2 D
3 NT

1 C
1 S
2 NT
S Q 8 5
H 10 7
D K 10 9 8 6
C Q 8 6
TableS J 9 2
H J 8 6 3
D A 7 2
C 10 9 5

Lead: D 10
S A 10 6 3
H K 5
D Q J 3
C K J 7 4

See the problem? Your strength warrants a jump rebid, but there is no descriptive bid available. You shouldn’t raise spades or clubs with only three trumps (partner would expect four); you shouldn’t rebid a five-card heart suit (partner would expect six); and you shouldn’t bid notrump without a stopper in the unbid suit.

The solution is to manufacture a bid in the fourth suit, which, by agreement, does not promise a real suit. It forces partner to make another bid, after which you will be better placed to decide the final contract. In this case South bids two notrump, so you continue to game in that strain. If South had bid two hearts (showing three cards since he could not have four), you would bid four hearts.

Against three notrump West led the diamond 10, taken by East, who returned the seven. West made an excellent play by allowing South to win this trick. Declarer had eight top tricks and he first tested the hearts — no luck as West discarded a spade on the third round. It would be futile to give up a heart because East still had a diamond to return, thanks to West’s ducking play.

The club finesse looked like the only chance, so declarer won the ace and led low to the jack. West pounced on that trick like a cat on a ball of yarn, and he smugly cashed his remaining diamonds to defeat the contract.

Declarer was unlucky, but he could have succeeded with better card reading. West’s spade discard was a subtle indication that he probably held a club stopper. Declarer now should cash the king and ace of spades (noting that West’s queen drops), and then exit with a diamond. West can take his diamonds but must concede the last three tricks to declarer in clubs.

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© 1988 Richard Pavlicek