For each hand of bridge, the dealer bids first. The bidding then progresses around the table in a clockwise direction. There are occasions when all players hold hands that are considered only average to poor. Thus there may have been three 'passes' and the player in the fourth seat needs to decide whether to make a substantive bid, or to pass and have the hand 'passed out'.
Edgar Kaplan considered this problem 60 years ago and his ideas have been built on since. If the third seat player has not even been able to open 'light', there is a likelihood that the second/fourth seat pair have the strongest combined hands as shown by having the majority of the hand assessment points. It may be easy to conclude that they should be the declarers. But we need to keep in mind that other pairs in the competition are likely to have overbid such hands, so passing out such a hand is unlikely to result in a score much under average.
The decision to pass, or to bid on should depend on fourth seat's holding of major suits, in particular spades. When the strength of the four hands is about even, the best score will usually be won by the pair holding the strongest of the highest ranking suits.
A hand at the Bathurst Bridge Club was a case in point:
North: Spades 92, Hearts J852, Diamonds AK74, Clubs QT6
South: S A5, H Q64, D QT96, C KJ73
East: S J764, H K97, D 832, C A98
West: S KQT83, H AT3, D J5, C 542
The bidding progressed:
West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 1D
1S 2D 2S Pass
Pass 3D All pass
The three diamond contract made eight tricks, failing by one trick, while two spades by East/West would also have failed.
So, although North/South held the best two combined hands, they did not achieve the 'plus' score hoped for. It was inadvisable for South to have opened the bidding with a minimum hand and length only in the minor suits. The result was that North/South scored poorly on this hand.