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Third Suit Forcing

When the auction begins 1m-1M-2m, opener has a limited, unbalanced hand with a long minor.  Responder's hand is unlimited.  Martin Johnson lists the following as responder’s potential goals:

  1. "Responder to invite, force or sign off in his own suit.
  2. Responder to invite or force in openers suit (perhaps suggesting slam interest)
  3. Determine if extra values and stoppers are present to play no trump
  4. Occasionally find an undisclosed 44 fit in an unbid minor
  5. Possibly for responder to sign off in clubs (an unbid suit).
  6. Opener to show varying degrees of support for responders major suit (1m -p - 1M auctions).
  7. Where relevant, attempt to right side no trump contracts"  


The problem for standard bidders is there is not enough room to naturally show the many types of game forcing, invitational, and signoff hands responder may have.  

The 1m-1M-1NT auction is analogous.  Responder needs ways to signoff, invite, and force.  Many partnerships use a conventional New Minor Forcing bid to allow responder to show a wide variety of hands and gather the information they need to place the contract.  Those playing 2-Way New Minor Forcing have 2 conventional bids available.

When opener rebids their minor, responder has similar needs.  So most expert partnerships introduce some artificiality, a temporizing bid or a relay, to enable them to cover all the bases.  A common agreement is to treat Responder’s bid of the cheapest unbid suit as artificial and forcing, “3rd Suit Forcing.”  The level to which the use 3rd Suit Forcing forces varies by partnership agreement.  A related question is the meaning of bids when not using 3rd Suit Forcing.  

The following are some suggestions and related articles to help partnerships looking to improve their bidding after opener rebids their minor.

New Minor Forcing Style:  A simple approach is to treat 3rd Suit Forcing like New Minor Forcing.  The advantage here is the partnership can utilize a familiar structure. 

4th Suit Forcing Style:  Another simple approach is to use 3rd Suit Forcing to establish a game force, similar to 4th Suit Forcing.  David Bird and Tim Bourke call this method the “Bourke Relay.”  See Martin Johnson’s article for more details.

TSAR:  Jeff Ruben’s suggests a more complex approach in his “TSAR” article in The Bridge World.  Rubens uses responder’s direct rebid of opener’s minor to look for a notrump game.  The raise of opener’s minor is forcing to game or 4 of opener’s minor.  A direct 2NT rebid by responder is invitational, denying a fit for opener’s minor.  Responder uses 3rd Suit Suit Forcing to show an “invitational-strength hand based on fit, or a stronger hand with which you can't do anything else.  The key to later bidding is that with invitational strength, the relayer will not himself cross the three-of-opener's-minor barrier, and neither will opener in the absence of extra values.” 

“Under TSAR, responder relays on the same hands as in The Bourke Relay except that TSAR switches the notrump-try strong hands to three of the long minor and replaces them with the invitation-with-fit hands.”

New Minor Forcing Style with a Forcing 2NT:  Some experts prefer to play 3rd Suit Forcing as a 1-round force, and a direct 2NT rebid to be natural and forcing to 3-of-opener’s minor.  The forcing 2NT rebid allows responder to right-side notrump contracts when appropriate.  


Jeff Rubens provides the following comparison of TSAR, Bourke, and standard methods:

"The tradeoffs among standard, Bourke and TSAR are these: Standard bidding is clearly worst, and by a lot. It is somewhat simpler, but not really that much... Bourke is a hefty improvement over standard, in exchange for only a moderate amount of added complexity. Most regular partnerships will be better off with Bourke than with Standard. TSAR is perhaps a significant technical improvement over Bourke, but clearly enormously more difficult to implement."

Next Steps:

Partnerships looking to improve their continuations after opener rebids their minor should read and discuss the above articles.  All the approaches are reasonable.  The greatest benefit is provided by having firm agreements.  Choose an approach which is comfortable and easy to remember.

Advancing players may wish to customize their agreements.  The meaning of continuations is greatly influenced by your minor suit structure.  For example, if playing Reverse Flannery, responder cannot hold a hand with 5+ and 4 with less than game forcing values when the auction begins 1m-1S-2m.  Golfers and tennis players are not shy about hiring a pro to help them improve their game.  Many world-class players offer lessons at reasonable rates.  Engaging a pro for an hour lesson to review your minor suit structure and make recommendations is a great way to quickly fine tune your agreements.   



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