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ArticlesWhat's a Forcing Pass? (Jun/Jul 2009)
There is nothing worse than passing a call around to partner, expecting him to do something and partner places the green card on the table. There are at least two auctions one doesn't have to worry about, game-forcing two-over-one sequences and strong 2 auctions. What logic do you use to decide whether a pass is forcing in other auctions?

Some experts keep it real simple. If it could possibly be non-forcing then it’s non-forcing.


Zia: I play the waiter rule, i.e. if the waiter doesn’t know it’s forcing, it ain’t. In principle, anytime both sides may logically be able to make what they bid, it’s non-forcing.

Larry Cohen: This question is way too involved for a "short" answer. The only thing I'll say here is that an expert partnership needs a long list of rules--typically with "default" agreements. My default agreement with David, which may sound insulting if you are in the cleaning business, is: "Other than where stated in our notes, PASS IS FORCING ONLY IF THE JANITOR OF THE BUILDING WOULD KNOW IT IS FORCING."

Jeff Rubens: If it isn't obvious or otherwise agreed, then it’s non-forcing.

Bart Bramley: I treat most auctions as non-forcing. My rule is: If it's not CLEARLY forcing, then it's not forcing. When we were all much younger, Ken Lebensold expressed this to me thusly: "If you can find anyone in the room who thinks it's not forcing, then it's not forcing." In particular, bidding a game in a competitive auction, even with a jump, does not establish a force. You must cue bid or bid a new suit at the four-level to create a force. Vulnerability does NOT matter; I play the same way when I'm vulnerable against not. In a not quite related matter, if we ARE in a force, I do not double in front of partner out of fright. My doubles under the gun show positive defense, not merely lack of offense.

There are a few bids that set up a one-round force. After one-of-any-suit – double, redouble promises a rebid if advancer bids at the one-level or two-level. If you hold AKxxxKxxAKxxx and the auction goes 1 - Double - Redouble - 2, you can safely pass knowing that partner promises another bid. You’ll be happy if he doubles 2 for penalties. If you double Michaels or the Unusual Notrump, you promise a rebid if Advancer bids at the two-level or three-level. If you hold AKxxxKxxAKxxx and the auction goes 1 - 2NT (LHO is showing the minors), - Double by partner. Double shows at least ten HCP and says that he probably wants to double the opponents in one of the minors. If RHO bids 3, you can pass it around to partner. He can’t pass.

There are some auctions that logically tell you that the opponents are saving. It’s a save if the opponents raise a third-seat minor-suit preempt or a major-suit preempt to the five-level. If you’re consistently worried about the opponents’ five-level contracts making, you’ll lose lots of IMPs.

Billy Eisenberg: If you have an opportunity to create a force and don’t, then its non-forcing.

One expert has hard and fast rules. Rules are good. You might be –590 or -550 a few times but you’ll never be +200 (beating them four at 50 a trick) when they’re non-vulnerable or +400 (beating them four at 100 a trick) when they’re vulnerable.

Kit Woolsey: Not logic -- hard and fast rules. Vulnerability is irrelevant. We are in a force if one of the below conditions is satisfied:
1) We are in a game force
2) We have shown support and limit strength or better, and have not had a chance to clarify which. For example: 1 - 2 - 3(limit raise or better in spades) - 4
3) We have a spade fit and have shown invitational strength, and opponents have bid to 4. For example, one of us has to do something after 1 - Pass - 3 (limit-raise) - 4. However, if they bid four-of-a-minor instead of 4, that could end the auction.
4) We have bid a voluntary game, the jump was not a raise, re-raise, or preempt, and there was no lower forcing bid available in the suit. 2 - 4 for instance.
5) An unlimited hand has made a strength-showing double or redouble, and the opponents have bid the minimum number of a suit necessary.
6) We have made a cue-bid when we have a known fit (or the cue-bid establishes a fit) and which commits us to game. 1 -3 - 4 setting spades as trump and is forcing to game.
7) They preempt, we act, and they bid to five-of-a-major.
8) They pass, then after they preempt, we act, and they bid to the five-level.

If one of the above conditions is not satisfied, we are not in a force.

Fred Hamilton: Eddie Kantar did a magnificent job writing in the Bridge World magazine on forcing passes. My take is that if we have shown limit raise values or game try values we are not going to let them play undoubled or we will bid on. The penalty for four-of-a major doubled making is five IMPs and five-of-a-minor doubled making is only four IMPs so lets not let them go free. It is very helpful to be of the mind that I do not have to guess in front of partner if I’m not sure to bid or defend when it is not clear.

John Carruthers: I play regularly with Joe Silver. We have a simple rule: we are only forced to the level our original bid forced us to. So 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 is non-forcing for us since we were only forced as high as 3 since 3 could be a limit raise. If we voluntarily (important word) bid a game, they save, our pass is forcing. Except if the hand that bid game was under pressure, OR the hand that bid game jumped to it when it had a clear, strength-showing bid below game to say it was our hand and to create a forcing situation. 3- Double- 5- Pass is non-forcing for us, even at Favorable regardless of what Kokish says. 1 - 3 - 4 - 4 also non-forcing as third hand is under pressure. 1 - 2 - 4 - 4 also non-forcing as third hand needed to bid 3 to create a force.

Drew Cason: I can think of a few situations that set up a force:

We cue bid their suit on the way to game. (1 - 1 - 2 - 2- 3)
We double their Michaels or unusual 2NT overcall (perpetual force).
We bid three over their two-level overcall.
We make a negative double on the four-level.
Any other time responder has shown game forcing values (splinters, etc.).

I can think of a few that do NOT set up a force:
We make a limit raise or game try.
We jump to game when we could have cue bid.
We bid a new suit in competition on the four-level after finding a fit (shape showing bid).

Eric Greco: Geoff Hampson and I play passes are not forcing in all non game-forcing situations unless specifically discussed as forcing (such as some of our strong club auctions). This eliminates misunderstandings, which is the most important thing. Partnerships can discuss certain auctions such as the obvious 3 - double - 5 when vulnerable VS non-vulnerable or how about 1 - 1 - 2 -3. We play these as not forcing since we have no agreement to the contrary, as neither is a game-forcing situation. 

Lynn Deas: My rule is that we both have to know we are in a game-forcing auction and the same rules apply at all vulnerabilities. A limit raise is not game forcing so it doesn't set a forcing pass situation. If you want to set a game force you can bid a new suit or cue bid at the four-level.
1 - 1 - 2 - 3 non-forcing since 2 did not force us to game. 4 can be bid on distribution rather than HCP.
1 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. 4 creates a force. A new suit should be bid in any auction like this to set a forcing pass situation.
1 - 1 - 3. Game forcing splinters, such as 3, create a forcing pass sequence.
1 - 1 - 4 - 4 Non-forcing by either hand since 4 can be bid on distribution.

Billy Pollack: If it's ambiguous, un-discussed, and logically forcing, or a bid out of the blue - I assume it’s forcing one round -- and partner knows that's our agreement. Serious partnerships have notes that go into explicit detail about how forcing (i.e. forcing one round or game-forcing) various calls may be. Berkowitz-Cohen take this to great extremes, with forcing pass notations sprinkled throughout.  

Barry Rigal: Any time we double an artificial bid over 1NT it tends to set up a forcing pass to 2NT. Any redouble sets up a force on partner. Any invitational plus call facing an opening sets up as force at the five-level but not at four-of-a-major. Two-over-one in competition by me promises a second call below three-of-my-suit. In competitive auctions we use some 3NT calls as announcing ownership while new suits are two-suiters helping partner and not setting up a force. I don’t play 3Any – double or pass – five-of-the-three-suit - Pass as forcing at Red but some do. Obviously after a passed hand jump to game facing a preempt, pass is forcing.

Steve Bloom: Our rules are very simple:
(1) If we are in a game force, the opponents cannot play undoubled.
(2) If we have promised at least invitational values, the opponents can't play undoubled at the one or two-level, nor at the five-level or higher.
That's it. Very simple. Thus: 1 - Double - Redouble - 1 - Pass is clearly forcing, as would be a pass over 2. But if fourth hand bids 3, or 4, pass is not forcing. Likewise, 1 - Pass - 2 (inverted) - 2, Pass is forcing, but if fourth hand bids 3, our pass is not forcing.
After 1 - 1 - 2 (limit raise or better in hearts) - 3 or 4 - Pass--- pass is not forcing.
After 1 - 2 - 3 - 5--- pass is forcing.
Similar treatments apply after any non-game forcing two-over-one. So if you don't play 1 - Pass - 2 as a game force, then pass over a two-level overcall is forcing, while a pass over a three-level bid is not.

Jill Myers:
1. If I voluntarily bid a game by showing a strong hand (where possible I have methods to set up a game-force). This does not include an auction like 1 - 2 - 2 - (any bid) - 4 or an auction where I was jammed (e.g. 1 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4).

2. They are obviously taking a save, such as two passed hands bidding above me at the game level or five-level. This is particularly true vulnerable VS not.

Jon Wittes: All things being equal, other than the two situations you described, we usually play passes forcing only at the game level or higher when we are vulnerable and they are not.

Eddie Kantar: As far as I am concerned, the general rule should be: If the logic of the auction makes it clear that it is 'our' hand, passes are forcing.

Larry Mori: Generally speaking, if we have a chance to show ownership of the hand in a competitive auction, then pass would be forcing. This means that if I could have made a cue bid (before) raising to game as opposed to jumping to game like four-of-a-major, one would show strength and the other would be distributional or a positional bid. Yes, there are times when we would like to blast and not give the opponents the opportunity to double the cue bid or raise the suit to give them the opportunity to assess the sacrifice.

Even if we are unfavorable, a game bid should not be forcing if there was a chance to show ownership of the hand. If the opponents are both passed hands and compete, then we can say that the pass at the five-level is forcing although we have all experienced debacles with that.

Opener can by agreement make a bid other than a game bid to differentiate the forcing auction, willingness to sacrifice, or just competitive. After a cue bid showing a limit-raise after an overcall, there is the "impossible" 3NT, four-of-another-suit, cue bid, and a game bid which should have different meanings.

Kerri Sanborn: My partners and I agree that when we are vulnerable and have bid a voluntary game, we are forced. When we don't agree whose hand it is, we are not in a force. There also is no force after a preempt.

Marinesa Letizia: If a passed hand jumps to game after a preempt and partner has doubled or bid, pass is forcing. After partner has made a negative double of 3 or higher. We’re in a force if they save prematurely such as 3 - 3 - 5. If we've cue bid that put us in a game force.

Chip Martel: Three main types of auctions: We show at least near game values and both hands are unlimited. (e.g. 1 - Double - 2NT (LR+) - 4). One hand doubles or redoubles to show values and they make a non-jump bid or bid game. They are clearly saving (e.g. they bid game over our game when both are passed hands, or a five-level bid after a preempt). Also, some specific situations where, typically opener, can choose to either set up a force or not. After 1 - Pass - 2 - 2; 3, 3NT and four-of-a-minor create a force, but 3 and 4 do not.

Mike Becker:
When they bid at or above our game:
Non-Forcing pass:
A direct pass is non-forcing when it is uncertain as to whose hand it is or our side has not announced game values, regardless of vulnerability.
A direct pass by a limited hand or known weak hand shows no opinion It is not deemed to be our hand if a passed hand raises a preempt to a four-of-a-major game or a five-of-a-minor with no competition.
When they have a raised suit, double is Cards.
When they do not have a fit, double is penalty if partner has bid.

Forcing pass:
A direct pass is forcing in any of the following situations:
Our side has announced game-forcing values.
Partner has just made a two-over-one or two-over-two in competition.
We have made a three-over-two or three-level or higher negative double.
After our 2 opening:
We establish it is our hand by doubling their bid or otherwise converting a force.
When we haven’t shown game values and they raise a preempt to five-level by a passed hand in competition: Pass – Pass - 3 - (double or 3) - 5; pass is forcing.
However, Pass - 1 - 3 - Pass - 5, Pass is non-forcing because we passed in middle of auction.

When they bid below our game:
Free return to trump suit weakest bid after partner’s game or slam try if they double or overcall.
1 - 1 - 2 -3 or 1 - 2 - 2 - 4: Pass is non-forcing because they bid below game after a two-over-one or two-over-two in competition. Double shows extra values, free bid sets up a game force.

After a three-over-two. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - Pass is non-forcing because it’s below game, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - Pass is forcing because it’s at the game level.

After we open 2♣, Opener’s direct pass implies three or fewer trumps on the two or three-level but a pass on four-level suggests two or fewer trumps. Therefore, double by Opener instead of a pass suggests more trump than above.

When a Pass is forcing, double is a penalty double. When a Pass is non-forcing, double shows cards when they have a fit or implied fit but penalties when they do not have a fit.

If you’re in a forcing pass situation, play that double shows an opinion. You have values in their suit. If you have a minimum or have two or three small cards in their suit pass and let partner make the next decision. What you don’t want is to double in front of partner who happens to be void in their suit with three small when he should very likely bid on.

Russ Ekeblad: I think a few simple principles can eliminate 99% of the "forcing pass vs. non-forcing pass" issues:
In ANY competitive auction, if advancer has room to cue bid, presumably showing support, and chooses not to do so, it NEVER creates a force.
Example: They open 1 - 2 - 2 - and we bid 4.
1. If they bid 4 it does not create a force. Advancer must bid 3 "on the way" to create a force.

2. When advancer does not have room to cue bid it DOES NOT create a force unless we are vulnerable and they are non-vulnerable.
Example: They open 1 - 1 - 4 - advancer bids 4.
If they bid on to 5 it DOES NOT create a force unless we are vulnerable and they are non-vulnerable. We give up the vulnerable vs. non-vulnerable save.
3. In non-game-forcing sequences the partnership is forced to the level that their previous bidding had committed them to if the opponents had stopped competing. Example: They open 1 - 2 - Pass - 2 - 3: Pass by 2 bidder is FORCING since we were committed to 3 if opener had passed.
Fast arrival ALWAYS shows weakest as a corollary to #3 above.
Using the auction in #3: With no interest in 4 and no interest in penalizing them, overcaller should bid 3 over 3 showing the worst hand. Therefore, Pass above implies either some interest in 4 or interest in perhaps penalizing them (on the above sequence the 2 overcaller can likely double 3 if advancer can double 3). Fast arrival applies in other sequences as well. On the above auction say opener had doubled the 2 cuebid rather than bid 3. Then: Pass is stronger than immediate 3.If the opponents bid higher than our "commitment" we are NOT forced. Using the Example in #3: After 3 - Pass (interest) - 3 preference by LHO: neither advancer nor overcaller are obliged to take action.

Giorgio Duboin: Suppose the action after 1NT - Penalty double - Two-of-any-suit. First of all we don't play penalty doubles. Double of two-of-a-minor is takeout and pass is forcing. Over two-of-a-major, double is takeout and pass is non-forcing. So the problem is when they bid two-of-a-major and we have a penalty double. Normally we tend to pass with hands up to good nine-count hoping for reopening by partner. He will reopen all the time with shortness in the suit. If he doesn't we will score from one to three down but chances of missing game are minimal. With stronger hands we bid directly, double or bid 3NT depending on shape. After the first takeout-double the bidding is forcing for one round if the opener bids something except if he raises the suit.
For the generic question what logic do you use to decide whether a pass is forcing in other auctions? We tend to show during the bidding as much information as possible exactly to prevent unexpected pass. We don't play fast arrival and we use a lot of takeout doubles, cue bids and conventional bids to describe strength and distribution to try to know which line is on defense.

Showing where you have strength helps you decide whether to bid on or to double. Suppose you hold Q10xK10xxxxKJxx. Partner opens 1 in fourth seat and RHO overcalls 1. You bid 2 showing a limit raise in hearts and LHO bids 3 showing a limit raise in spades. If partner bids 4 and they bid 4 you should double since you have strength in their suits clubs and spades. However, if partner bids 4 you shouldn’t double them since you have clubs and hearts and they have spades and diamonds. Partner holds -AQJxxxxxxAQxx. It’s very important to play new suits in competitive auctions as showing where your values are and not a slam try.

Mark Lair: Any time partner has shown limit raise or better values and the opponents are particularly at favorable vulnerability. I play the pass is forcing. Vulnerable against non-vulnerable opponents can be a wild card but usually not a forcing pass situation. Anytime my opponent passes in first chair and then saves over his partner’s opening preempt after our side has overcalled I play the auction must end with the opponents getting doubled or our side bidding on. At favorable vulnerability, 3(opponent) – Double - 5§ is a forcing pass situation.

1 - Pass -3 (limit raise) - 4. Can it go 4 all pass? Kit Woolsey and Fred Hamilton say that you’re in a force. John Wittes and Mark Lair say that you are in a force only vulnerable and they’re not.

Frank Stewart: If I were pressed to compress my logic into one sentence, I could say only that in some situations a pass is logically forcing and in others it is logically not forcing.

If you’re in a casual partnership and you’re in doubt about whether an auction is forcing or non-forcing, make the decision yourself. If you’re in a real partnership, then have rules.
Don Berman, Web Master.