Bidding suits we don’t have While we’ve been diligently bidding out our hands and showing the suits we have to our partner, we’ve been missing out on a whole world of pleasure – bidding suits we don’t have. This is analogous to using Stayman over 1NT or other conventional bids (ie it isn’t what it looks like) so you need to alert it and explain if the opposition ask. Overcalling when the opponents have opened Once the opponents have opened a suit ahead of you, you have lots of options. You can pass, double, bid a new suit of your own or overcall in no trumps. But one thing we haven’t discussed is bidding their suit. It seems a shame to waste a bid which is perfectly legal to make, so we assign it a special meaning: Overcalling 1x with 2x shows 5-5 in the two highest unbid suits. This is a great opportunity to get your shape across to partner immediately. We tend to agree that to do this you should be either weak (trying to pre-empt and be a pain) or strong (to get your hand pattern across immediately and then look for a game or slam). If you just have a 5-5 with normal kind of opening strength, then content yourself with an overcall for now. So: Q9864 K8732 J3 3 AKJ64 KQJT6 A4 3 T9864 T9864 AQ 3 These could all legitimately overcall 1 with 2 or 1 with 2 . Note that the third hand requires a certain amount of balls to pull a stunt like this. It also works over major openings (though over a spade you should be careful, since you’ll force partner to the 3-level): AQ964 2 K7643 73 AKQ64 -AK654 Q83 These hands could bid 2 after a 1 opening. An immediate corollary is that we’d like to have a bid to show the two lowest unbid suits when we have an applicable hand type. Our reasoning is that the last time you held a balanced 18+ hand and opponents opened one of a suit was probably, err, never. So we scrap the natural 2NT overcall and instead use it to show precisely this hand – 5-5 in the two lowest unbid suits, and again either weak or strong. It’s called the “unusual no trump”. Overcalling a suit opening with 2NT shows 5-5 in the two lowest unbid suits. Example hands are easy to imagine: 64 2 J7643 AQ973 54 9 KQ654 QT863 2NT over either major. It’s more unusual to bid unusual when you’re strong, mostly because you won’t often be trying to play in a minor and may choose to do something else. However, it does happen. Using the opponents’ overcall against them When partner has opened a major, and the opponents have overcalled, we will no longer bid their suit to show the highest two unbid suit (that would be mad – obviously 2NT is still 10+ will four card support as well). But we can still bid their suit, and not just for a laugh. Basically, we want to support the major any way we can if we’ve found a fit with partner. We already know: we can make a simple raise with a weak hand and four card support (or three if you’re brave) we can make a double raise with better (five card) support we can show a strong four card raise with 2NT What’s clearly missing from this system is a way to show a good hand with three card support – most of the time partner is odds-on to have five cards in his major, and if he doesn’t, then having a cunning distinction between three and four card support will let him quietly pilot the contract to 3NT when it’s right. If the opponents have overcalled, then in Durham we like to bid their suit to show a decent hand (10+) with three card support. Remember this is only if partner has opened a major; who cares about supporting his minor anyway? When partner opens a major and the opponents overcall a suit, cueing that suit shows three card support and 10+ points. Example time: K4 QJ8 KT62 AT97 Partner opens 1 and the opponents overcall 1 . It wouldn’t be mad to start with a 2 bid, but if your LHO then jumps in spades, it’s going to put partner to a guess. You know you want to play in game, so a 2 bid will tell partner you have a hand like this, and hopefully allow him to judge the best contract. KJ4 8 KQT62 AT97 Partner opens 1 this time, and the opponents try 2 . It seems likely they have a big heart fit, so it’s important to describe your hand quickly. Cueing 3 should keep your side in control. If partner has opened a minor and the opponents overcall, then unless we have a major suit of our own to introduce, we’re on the hunt for 3NT. We can still bid their suit though! In this context, bidding their suit asks partner for a stop in it in an effort to reach 3NT. This gets you out of making up something rubbish in situations like this: KT4 Q6 KJ52 AT83 If partner opens 1 and the opponents overcall 1 , your best game looks like to be 3NT. But bidding it yourself is daft; what if they cash five hearts and you just go off, when 5 was easily making? So you can use 2 here to ask partner if he has a stop in their suit; if he doesn’t bid NT then you can make a further effort in clubs - but be prepared to subside below game if the signs aren’t good. This leads us, conveniently, onto the fourth suit force. The fourth suit force It’s a grand name, to be sure. But what does it mean? Well, it may (or may not) have occurred to you that it’s a bit of a waste of time having an auction like 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 - err? Partner has already shown her two suits, so the chances of you mysteriously having a diamond fit are essentially nil. If you were to do this then presumably you’ve got a hand without support for either major, that doesn’t want to bid 3NT – something like: K4 K86 9652 AQ83 As things stand, you know partner has five spades and four hearts, 11-15 (she didn’t jump, remember) and it doesn’t look like you have a fit with either of her majors. But it would be foolish to bid 3NT and lose five diamond tricks – partner might have a fifth heart, a sixth spade or a stop that will only work if she declares. Take the hands below: AQ9862 AQ73 J3 3 AJT52 AQJT6 A4 9 AQJ74 AT97 K2 T6 On the first hand, 4 is a great contract; on the second, 4 should make easily; and on the third 3NT will be best if partner plays it. If you play it, you’ll go off a lot of the time, and not just because you’re a worse declarer than your partner is. The obvious diamond lead through the K2 will, more often than not, shaft you. The solution is to use a bid of the fourth suit, diamonds in our example, to ask for information. Partner can show a sixth card in her first suit, a fifth in her second, a stop in the fourth suit, or even support for your suit (typically 3-card support if you’ve responded a major since a failure to raise implies denial of four card support). This will get you out of all sorts of holes. It’s called fourth suit forcing because partner can’t pass it. Most people play that it’s forcing to game. Don’t pass out in three diamonds, is my top tip; I did it once and Robin was *angry*. Some example hands and sequences I’d like to have on them: K54 AK985 4 QT86 AQT62 72 J7 AJ93 1 2 2 1 2 4 While East could support clubs at his second go, that just looks like a good way to get a poor score when any of 3NT, 4 or 4 could be available. A fourth suit force sorts the problem out nicely. Q AQT65 AQ4 J852 AK875 94 75 AQ63 1 2 2NT 1 2 3NT The same auction as before up until West has to respond to the force. This time he has a nice diamond stop to show, and 3NT is a good contract from his hand. It might work from East’s hand too, but it’s much less safe. J9 AT5 A64 KJ852 AQT865 KQ94 5 Q63 2 3 4 1 2 3 Perhaps a more controversial auction, this. East deals and opens a spade, and chooses to rebid hearts over West’s club response. West now has a bit of a ponder. If partner has a sixth spade or a fifth heart then those contracts are likely to be safer than 3NT, but if she has KJ5 of diamonds or something then 3NT will play beautifully. There’s nothing wrong with just bidding 3NT on the West cards. But many people would probably choose to fourth suit force just to try to find a better contract. In the layout I’ve depicted, 3NT has good chances even on a diamond lead since you can take the spade finesse and if it works you have ten tricks. But that’s only a 50-50 shot. 4 is an excellent contract; when 3NT is making 10 it will make 12 (losing only the A) and if the spade finesse is wrong then 11 tricks are still there since you can set the clubs up without fear of losing control. Priorities It’s great that you can show all this stuff over a fourth suit force, but what’s most important? Well, this is a thorny kind of issue. I’m going to say that these are my priorities in the situation; if you disagree wildly then you can always agree something else with other partners: 1) Show three card support for partner’s major 2) Show a stop in the fourth suit 3) Show extra length in one of your suits If the auction has developed something like 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 then the fourth suit forcer is unlikely to be interested in club support! In particular, opener should be wary of going beyond 3NT – though if he has nothing else to show he may have to. Some summary principles: Bidding the opponents’ suit is never natural! - If you overcall their opening with it, you show 5-5 in the two highest unbid suits - If you cue their overcall after partner has opened a major, you show 10+ with three card support - If you cue their overcall after partner has opened a minor, you’re asking partner for a stop in their suit Bidding the fourth suit is never natural - Use it to ask for more information o Support for your response (mostly majors) o A stop in the fourth suit o Extra length beyond that already shown Don’t forget the 2NT overcall – showing 5-5 in the two lowest unbid suits.