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Is that a forcing bid? By Lynn Berg

One of the biggest problems in many bidding sequences is trying to decide if a bid is forcing, or to figure out how to force the bidding. It can be particularly difficult in a competitive auction. Your partner has opened 1NT. The next person doubles or bids 2♣ and you have no
problem if you’ve agreed that systems are “on” in this situation. But what if the opponent has overcalled 2♠? You have:
♠6 ♥K J 9 4 3 ♦A 9 7 5 2 ♣6 3.
You have to make a decision about the value of this hand. If you don’t think it’s good enough to force game, probably all you can do is pass. But with 5-5, you may take to heart the late Bernie Chazen’s recommendation that you should “come alive.” You could have the agreement that 3♦ is a transfer to hearts, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. Instead, have the agreement that 3♥ is a game force with a five-card suit. Partner will raise to game with three hearts. She won’t bid 3NT without a spade stopper. In fact, without a spade stopper, she can bid 3♠ and ask you to further describe your hand. After all, you’d also bid 3♥ with:
♠K Q 8 ♥K J 9 4 3 ♦Q 7 5 ♣6 3.
You can also ignore the interference and transfer at the four level with a six-card or longer suit and a willingness to be in game. With:
♠8 6 ♥K Q J 9 4 2 ♦K 3 2 ♣6 3, you know you belong in game in hearts. A Texas transfer of 4♦ puts the contract into the right hand. You don’t have a terribly strong hand, but game is worth the try.
When you have a weak hand and there’s interference, many times you just pass. Sometimes, though, you can tell partner whether or not you’re interested in going on. Again, partner has opened 1NT. This time, there’s a 2♥ overcall. Some people would double 2♥ as a stolen bid, but that deprives you of the chance to make either a penalty double or a negative double after interference. Instead, make 2♠ a non-forcing bid. With a better hand, you can jump to 3♠, a game force.
The two-over-one approach, especially after major suit openings, is the current response to some of the problems of forcing the bidding. It is convenient to know that our partnership belongs in game with the simple bid of 2♣ or 2♦ in response to 1♥. The bidding can be kept low to investigate the most likely game or slam. The danger comes when a forcing bid is made with a questionable hand. Because 1NT is forcing for one round in this approach, it’s not necessary to make shaky new bids at the two level or to employ Jacoby 2NT with a hand where you’re not really interested in slam. 
Even if you’re not playing 2/1, be careful about bidding new suits at the two level with questionable hands and bad suits. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and have an idea what you will do next.
Too many of us bid very passively; instead of thinking ahead, we wait to hear what partner has to say and then flounder mentally when surprised.
Why not take advantage of the opponent’s bid in a competitive auction to tell partner about your hand? Partner has opened 1♥. There’s a 2♦ overcall. If you bid 2♥, you’re showing a single raise in the 6-9 point range. But what if you have ♠K 6 3 ♥A J 9 7 ♦4 2 ♣K T 9 8,
or ♠K 6 3 ♥A J 9 ♦4 2 ♣A Q 9 7 3?
In a competitive auction, jumps to 3♥ and 4♥ can be, by agreement, preemptive. When you have a good fit, tell partner and make bidding
harder for the opponents. But when you have a good fit and points, you should employ a different strategy. Cuebidding the opponent’s
suit is forcing and gets partner’s attention. You expect partner to bid again and to let you know if he has more to tell you than the suit he has just bid. This approach also works when partner has overcalled.
Years ago, my partner, Gail Rust, and I were playing against two men we didn’t know. The guys were having a very involved auction with lots of Alerts. When the auction was over and East was asked about one of West’s bids, he said, “I’m not sure, but I know it was forcing!”
As Jerry Helms has said, “All strange bids are forcing.” If you don’t have a clue what partner means, you should probably bid again.

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