You might be wondering why I’m asking you to use the force, so maybe I should explain! The key to understanding bidding is to know which bids are forcing and which are non-forcing. If your partner makes a forcing bid, that means you are not allowed to pass it; if your partner makes a non-forcing bid, you are allowed to pass it.

Remember the two goals of a constructive auction:

  1. To decide on the best strain.
  2. To decide on the best level (part-score, game or slam).

If you know the strain you should be playing in, all that remains is to decide the level to play at, so you can make a non-forcing bid which shows roughly where your strength lies – then your partner can decide whether to bid on or not. If you do not know which strain to play in, you should make a forcing bid so that your partner gives you more information.

So how do you know whether your bid is forcing or not? Here are some general rules:

·       Previously-bid suits are non-forcing (unless the auction is already game-forced)

·       NT bids are non-forcing (unless the auction is already game-forced)

·       New suits are forcing (unless your partner just bid NT)

·       New suits at the 3-level are forcing to game

·       Responder’s reverse* is forcing to game

* A reverse is where you bid two different suits and the second suit is higher-ranking than the first.

You can also think of the distinction in terms of the upper end of your known point range: if you limit your hand, you are not forcing your partner to bid; if you are still unlimited, your partner must bid.

This means that you need to know whether the bid you are making is forcing and, if so, how forcing it is. You don’t want to accidentally end up in a situation where your partner keeps bidding and you get too high, nor do you want to accidentally make a non-forcing bid and miss a game.

Let’s look at some example auctions.

1. 1♣ – 1♥ = 4+ ♥, 6+ HCP

Your hand is unlimited, so no need to jump – even if you have a very strong hand. Jumping shows a very specific hand type (always 6♥ with a point-count agreed by you and your partner) and, unless you’ve discussed it with your partner before, often leads to misunderstandings.

2. 1♣ – 1♥ – ; 2♥ = 3/4 ♥, 12-15 HCP

Note that your bid has an upper limit here. Why? Because it is non-forcing! You have found the best strain already, so help your partner to decide on the best level. By making the lowest possible ♥ bid, you are showing a minimum opening hand.

3. 1♣ – 1♥ – ; 2♣ – 2NT = 4 ♥, 10-12 HCP

2NT is strictly invitational, with an upper limit of 12 HCP (remember that NT bids are non-forcing). It should not contain 5 ♥; otherwise, you wouldn’t be so sure that NT is the best spot (what if your partner has 3 ♥?) and would make a forcing bid instead, such as bidding your second suit.

4. 1♥ – 1♠ – ; 3♣ = 5+♥4+♣, 19+ HCP

You’ve bid a new suit at the 3-level, so neither you nor your partner may pass below game. You have forced your partner up a level when he may only have 6 HCP, so you should have 19 to force the partnership to game. With less than that, just rebid 2♥.

5. 2♣* = 23+ bal or artificial game-force

You have shown a good hand and you haven’t shown ♣ – your partner clearly cannot pass! In fact, unless you rebid 2NT to show 23-24 bal, your partner may not pass below game.

6.         1♥ – 1NT – ; 2♣ = 5+♥4+♣, 12-18 HCP

Your partner has just bid NT, denying ♥ support, 4 ♠ or enough strength to bid at the 2-level. If you were to jump to 3♣, that would be forcing your partner to a game (new suit at the 3-level), requiring 19 HCP opposite your partner’s known 6. Therefore, you could have up to 18 HCP for this bid and, since you are limited, your bid is, strictly speaking, not forcing (though Partner will almost always choose to bid).

Hopefully, this post should clear up any confusion you have about whether your bids are forcing or non-forcing and why. So if you need more information from your partner, use the force!