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Is 4SF natural?

#1 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-13, 10:02

I stumbled across this abstract by Ana Roth of the original 1948 article by Norman Squire about Fourth Suit Forcing.

His first example 1 - 2; 2 - 3 is I guess open to various meanings nowadays in 2/1 GF, where the situation is already forcing (for us it would request a stop).

But his second and oft quoted example 1 - 1; 2 - 2 is the essence of things.

Norman Squire said:


South holds: J64 AJ854 K8 QJ7

North opens 1 and, over 1, rebids 2. What can poor South say? He is being asked to make a limited bid, and can’t. His hand is worth 2NT, but his Spade stop is missing. Either he must guess blindly or he must bid the fourth suit. I contend that the only bridge bid is 2. It is a low reverse here but should certainly not be passed. South thus creates his forcing situation without having limited his hand. North must now make the limited bid. He answers naturally, but he must know the possible implications of the bid of 2. One thing is sure: South has not a balanced holding with good Spades and Hearts, such as : AQ73 AQ92 82 Q62.

With that he bids 3 NT at once. So the bid of the fourth suit automatically denies the ability to make such a limited bid. South has either a Spade suit or is worried about the Spade suit. ‘Which, North cannot yet tell. But long Hearts South certainly has. Try to construct a hand with only four Hearts which makes this bid of 2, which cannot better give jump preference in Diamonds, raise Clubs, or bid No-Trumps quantitively. So North will give preference to Hearts if he can. Otherwise he will rebid one of his own suits or NT. Therefore, it is clear that he can hardly bid No-Trumps unless he himself stops the Spades. The worst he can have will be three small Spades, when No-Trumps will assuredly be the best spot.

There is nothing artificial or conventional about this bid of the fourth suit. It has a natural meaning and an equally natural alternative meaning. South may have a freak and be plugging on to slam in Hearts or , Spades regardless of North’s next bid. All he has done at the moment is to pass the buck, making an unlimited bid and creating a forcing situation.



I almost wrote above 'the essence of the convention', but Squire insists that "there is nothing artificial or conventional about this bid of the fourth suit" (so presumably it should not be alerted under WBF policy) as it 'has a natural meaning and an equally natural alternative meaning'.

What do you think about this argument that 4SF as described here is natural? If you agree, would you still agree when 4SF creates an unconditional game force? Is 4SF alertable in your RA and if so, is that because it is not natural?
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#2 User is offline   nige1 

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Posted 2021-September-13, 11:00

It depends how the regulatory authority defines terms like natural, conventional, and artificial.
My common-sense definitions, which differ from official efforts, are
  • Natural: a call that specifies a contract in which you are prepared to play. e.g. suit bid showing length, penalty double, notrump bid willing to play in that denomination.
  • Conventional: a call (natural or not) about which you have an additional agreement or understanding e.g. a forcing bid
  • Artificial: conventional call that isn't natural e.g. a cue-bid, Stayman, 4SF.

Unfortunately law-makers prefer a more vague and sophisticated terminology, which different regulators seem to interpret in different ways,
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#3 User is offline   paulg 

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Posted 2021-September-13, 11:01

I think bidding and alerting procedures have changed a lot since 1948 and his writing has to be read in the context of the times :)

I suspect Squire's view that "There is nothing artificial or conventional about this bid of the fourth suit" would not go down well with any RA these days.

However his sentiment that this is obviously the best call, when it is not forcing to game, and should be obvious to everyone suggests that it is an expert treatment that should not be considered artificial or conventional by other experts.

If you watch BBO Vugraph, it is often not alerted even when the regulations dictate it should be. Of course it would be hard to claim damage so perhaps Squire's view was not wrong.
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#4 User is offline   Douglas43 

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Posted 2021-September-13, 11:09

I would absolutely alert it as it is not "natural" under EBU Blue Book requirements:

4 C ‘Natural’ bids and passes
4 C 1 The following are considered ‘natural’ for the purposes of alerting and regulation of partnership understandings (see also 3E1):(a) A bid of a suit before the opening bidder’s second turn to call which shows that suit and does not show any other suit. A natural bid before the opening bidder’s second turn to call shows 4+ cards, except for a minimum opening or response in clubs or diamonds which only need show 3+ cards. Bids later in the auction also only need show 3+ cards.Preference bids, completion of transfer bids and raises may be on shorter suits

Fourth suit forcing ("FSF") (not showing the suit) is played by just about every Acol player, and we all alert it. Or look enquiringly at bidder's partner until they wake up and alert.

Norman Squire might have thought otherwise but I suspect he was in a minority of one. Many British players in the 40's had a distrust of conventions, so I think this was a bit of flim-flam. Ten years later in 1958 Terence Reese infamously called FSF a "pitiful crutch". He later changed his mind and adopted it.

As for forcing I play:
At the three level it's forcing to game.
At the two level it is forcing for one round. Squire's 12 point hand is enough. Partner's minimum bid can be passed. But if partner's bid shows extra strength, or if I bid again, it's game forcing.
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#5 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-13, 14:25

View Postpaulg, on 2021-September-13, 11:01, said:

I suspect Squire's view that "There is nothing artificial or conventional about this bid of the fourth suit" would not go down well with any RA these days.

However his sentiment that this is obviously the best call, when it is not forcing to game, and should be obvious to everyone suggests that it is an expert treatment that should not be considered artificial or conventional by other experts.

If you watch BBO Vugraph, it is often not alerted even when the regulations dictate it should be. Of course it would be hard to claim damage so perhaps Squire's view was not wrong.


In my RA there is no current specific guidance on 4SF that I am aware of, it falls (or not) into the bucket of "alert bids which are conventional or define abnormal conditions of forcing/non-forcing". Many players fail to alert it and retain this is their right, some TDs agree. My own feeling is that however you define conventional it is hard to exclude a bid which may deny a stopper in the suit, let alone force to game without promising a single card. But a sanity check never hurts, hence the post.
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#6 User is offline   Gilithin 

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Posted 2021-September-13, 20:17

This argument is a little like not alerting a 2 opener that is a Weak 2 in either major on the grounds that it has a natural meaning (weak 2) and a non-natural meaning (weak 2). I doubt there is a RA in the world that would buy this line of reasoning.
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#7 User is offline   Douglas43 

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Posted 2021-September-14, 03:15

If anyone is interested, the EBU posts pdfs of all its old magazines here English Bridge magazine and diary | English Bridge Union (ebu.co.uk)

If you go to October 1958: sceye PDF-File

Reese's quote is on page 48. You will see that FSF was already the popular choice of the panel. The editorial on page 5 is interesting context on the "ban conventions" attitude prevalent amongst some players at the time.
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#8 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-14, 06:57

View PostDouglas43, on 2021-September-14, 03:15, said:

If anyone is interested, the EBU posts pdfs of all its old magazines here English Bridge magazine and diary | English Bridge Union (ebu.co.uk)

If you go to October 1958: sceye PDF-File

Reese's quote is on page 48. You will see that FSF was already the popular choice of the panel. The editorial on page 5 is interesting context on the "ban conventions" attitude prevalent amongst some players at the time.


Thanks for that. It looks to be page 44 as I read it.

Yes the 'ban conventions' movement (see also first letter) is an eye opener and casts light on the attempt to portray 4SF as natural. Ironic that the only mainstream convention they would save is Blackwood, a crutch if there ever was one.
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#9 User is offline   paulg 

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Posted 2021-September-14, 07:37

View Postpescetom, on 2021-September-14, 06:57, said:

Yes the 'ban conventions' movement (see also first letter) is an eye opener and casts light on the attempt to portray 4SF as natural. Ironic that the only mainstream convention they would save is Blackwood, a crutch if there ever was one.

The 'ban conventions' movement is very much alive. Just play anywhere is the world and you will discover it as soon as you play a convention that is not familiar in that environment, even if technically legal.

It is very much 'ban conventions that I do not play'.

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#10 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-14, 09:20

View PostGilithin, on 2021-September-13, 20:17, said:

This argument is a little like not alerting a 2 opener that is a Weak 2 in either major on the grounds that it has a natural meaning (weak 2) and a non-natural meaning (weak 2). I doubt there is a RA in the world that would buy this line of reasoning.


To play devil's advocate, I think that analogy to Squire's argument is imperfect. If the 2 opener does not hold long weak hearts, then it is not natural logic that dictates he holds long weak spades (unless perhaps his system has no other opening for long weak spades, a fact worthy of alert in any case). Whereas in the 4SF example it is already unlikely that responder rebidding 2 can be looking for a fit in the suit and if not then the fact that he did not bid 3NT implies he lacks a stopper (although it could be argued that showing a stopper here is natural and often would be good bridge).

I'm not sure what a better analogy might be though.

In a 2014 Laws column, Maurizio di Sacco argued that 1(2+ cards) - 1; 1 - 2 as a forcing bid not promising diamonds should not be alerted, because responder could not be looking for a fit in diamonds. He offered the analogy of 1 - 1NT; 2 - 2, where responder cannot hold 4 spades and 'must' be implying fit for diamonds and better values in spades than in hearts.

I failed to follow his logic. But his analogy is interesting, because I don't see many people alerting that bid and natural logic does paint a reasonably clear picture of the situation without prior discussion of the sequence.
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#11 User is offline   Gilithin 

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Posted 2021-September-14, 13:50

View Postpescetom, on 2021-September-14, 09:20, said:

1 - 1NT; 2 - 2, where responder cannot hold 4 spades and 'must' be implying fit for diamonds and better values in spades than in hearts.

I failed to follow his logic. But his analogy is interesting, because I don't see many people alerting that bid and natural logic does paint a reasonably clear picture of the situation without prior discussion of the sequence.

If 2 is agreed as showing a good diamond raise then it should, as far as I am concerned, be alerted. If I made this bid with a random partner on BBO, it would not surprise me in the least if they passed thinking it was natural. It is really not at all uncommon for poor players to respond 1NT with 4-5 and a weak, balanced hand.
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#12 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-14, 16:20

View PostGilithin, on 2021-September-14, 13:50, said:

If 2 is agreed as showing a good diamond raise then it should, as far as I am concerned, be alerted. If I made this bid with a random partner on BBO, it would not surprise me in the least if they passed thinking it was natural. It is really not at all uncommon for poor players to respond 1NT with 4-5 and a weak, balanced hand.


I think he meant a good fit for playing in diamonds if necessary rather than an actual diamond raise, but I agree that fit is not an automatic natural implication and should be alerted if agreed. If he had not mentioned fit at all, his argument would still be on the table and be stronger.

Yes we've all seen (and done) strange things in BBO pickup games. If they pass 2, would they raise 3? :)
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#13 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-16, 06:26

Thanks to those who answered so far.

I was hoping somebody from ACBL world would chip in, they often hear a different drum about conventions and alerting.
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#14 User is online   mycroft 

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Posted 2021-September-16, 08:36

"Logically it can't be natural" has never been a reason to not Alert in the ACBL (since 1990 at least). "Natural bids are not Alerted, not-Natural bids are, here are exceptions to both rules." Anyone who decided not to Alert 2 in the "can't possibly be natural spades" is playing "well, I know that, and you know that; let's hope the opponents don't know that."

The Alert Procedures (now and before) are complicated, and it's hard to get it all right? Sure, no arguments there. But if you're able to work out that 1-1NT; 2-2 can't be Natural, and *work out a logical meaning for it*, you're capable of checking if that agreement is an exception to "don't Alert Artificial calls". I have Opinions on the new phrasing of the 2021 version of protection (lamford/vampyr would like it much more than I), but "Penalties for failing to Alert are not automatic. However, a player who is misinformed by an opponent’s failure to Alert will be protected" fits perfectly with my expected ruling - unless the opponents were only "misinformed" and actually knew what was going on.

4SF shouldn't be "not natural" because it "usually is natural, but sometimes we have to fake a bid"? Yeah, back in the '60s, that was probably correct. Nobody plays that now - 4SF is no "guarantee" of length, in fact most hands with length bid NT instead. It has always been Alerted in the ACBL (since 1990 at least), and legitimately so.

I Alert 3SF, which (at least the way I play it) is actually like what 4SF used to be - my explanation is "Ostensibly natural, but if she had to fake a bid, that's the bid she would fake." Once, when dummy came down, partner said "how did you know?" (this one had come up with "this is what I have to do" on her own, not knowing).

Note: this is the opinion of a director in the ACBL, but not an opinion of the ACBL. If you want an official opinion, email rulings@ acbl. org. I'm just reading the same documents you can.
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#15 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2021-September-16, 09:40

Thanks for that.

View Postmycroft, on 2021-September-16, 08:36, said:

4SF shouldn't be "not natural" because it "usually is natural, but sometimes we have to fake a bid"? Yeah, back in the '60s, that was probably correct. Nobody plays that now - 4SF is no "guarantee" of length, in fact most hands with length bid NT instead.

Our agreement (for instance) is that the 4th suit could be a singleton or void, let alone no guarantee of length. The other aspect that has gone well beyond a "natural convention" is in the degree of force, which for many if not most of us is now unconditionally forcing to game. It's hard to argue that this is natural and even harder to argue that such a commitment is implicit in the bid. Our regulations actually come close to catching this, because they replace the very limited point 3. of WBF "Non-forcing jump changes of suit responses to opening bids or overcalls, and non-forcing new suit responses by an unpassed hand to opening bids of one of a suit" with a generic "Bids that define abnormal conditions of forcing/non-forcing". Whether that was intended to extend to a game force (and if so to comprise a modern 2/1) is a moot point, however.
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