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Subject: 3rd suit tells – 4th suit asks [in Bridge auction]

I occasionally used to hear the old fogies round my bridge club quote the above phrase. However, none of them could ever really explain it well.

As I haven't seen any of them since the pandemic started, I've searched online; but even there I find very little to advance my understanding of it.

If anybody reading this can help I would be eternally grateful.

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This Aces on Bridge shows a good example of this. Look in the "Bid with the Aces" section.

What this describes is an auction where you're exploring NT, and trying to figure out if you're comfortable with coverage in all four suits.

If you have an auction like:

N E S W
1C - 1H -
1S - 1NT -
2D - ? -

2D there would be "asking" for diamond suit coverage. It wouldn't show coverage, because that's pointless - if N is not worried about diamonds, N would just bid 3NT.

However, in this auction:

N E S W
1D - 1S -
1NT - 2C -
?

Now you'd be showing a clubs stopper, and looking to see if North had a hearts stopper, since there are two outstanding suits.

All of this assumes fairly basic conventions, as there are other options for conveying this information of course.

It's also worth noting that this is distinct from "fourth suit forcing" - had South bid 2D in the initial auction, that wouldn't necessarily be "asking" for diamonds, it's a generic forcing bid. As noted in comments, a common response to fourth suit forcing is still in line with this idea - showing the stopper in the fourth suit by bidding NT.

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  • I'd only add that after "Fourth Suit Forcing" by Responder, one of Opener's options, with a balanced or semi-balanced hand, is to show the stopper by bidding notrump. – Forget I was ever here Feb 3 at 23:14
  • I wasn’t really intending to go quite that far in but makes sense to include I suppose! – Joe Feb 3 at 23:16
  • No pressure; you've already got my upvote. It just seems to round out the discussion. – Forget I was ever here Feb 3 at 23:17
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I have never heard that phrase for the concept, but it's a very valid one. The version I hear is "two suits shows, one suit asks". That is, if there are two suits your side are concerned about (stoppers for NT), you bid the one you have (and NT with both, of course); with only one suit of concern, if you bid it, you're asking for one (because you'd bid NT if you had it).

Notice that this maps onto your phrase perfectly - "third suit tells", because you're concerned about two suits (the third and fourth); "fourth suit asks" because you are concerned only about one (the bid fourth suit).

Of course, these can apply one after the other - with two suits open, I show the stopper I have. If partner then bids the other suit, there's only one suit open any more, so she's asking. Note that since I've denied full stoppers in both suits (I would have bid NT myself), what she's asking for is a half-stopper (I have Qx, do you have Jxx?)

This applies a little more generally than just "third suit shows, fourth suit asks", although that's the most common situation.

  • After inverted minor raises (1C-2C or 1D-2D "limit or better" or "game forcing"), the "standard" set of responses is to show the major stopper you have, and NT if you have both (3 of the minor if you have none, usually). The other minor is usually ignored here, because these auctions get major suit leads (as the 2m bidder has already denied a major suit).

  • When there is interference, there may be multiple suits unbid, but not enough room to find them all out. The "one suit" that you absolutely have to care about is the one they bid (potentially, and raised), so bidding it asks. (what it asks depends on the pair; some show a half-stopper looking for the other half, some show none, needing a full stopper; some can do both with different auctions).

  • Similar style when cuebidding for slam (though these phrases don't completely apply): The person who knows they have sufficient controls to not lose two tricks in a suit can switch to Blackwood or some other "are we off two quick tricks" call. A (very confusing) convention called Last Train[1] replicates this "fourth suit asks" trick - instead of using the "last bid below game" to show a stopper, it shows "real slam interest, but I don't have this stopper", so partner if they do, can take over, and if they don't either, can stop in 4M.

    [1]: (originally "to Clarkesville", but the people who saw the Monkees live are dying out)

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