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Roman Key Card Blackwood
Roman key Card Blackwood

You may have noticed some of our members now using Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB), as a method of asking for Aces. But what actually is RKCB, how does it work and why should we use it?....well read on and we will attempt to answer all of these questions for you:

When someone bids 4NT, asking how many Aces you have, we now find that beginners (and some allegedly experienced players) are abusing the intended use.......

.......If your partner employs Blackwood of any type, then they are looking to bid a slam of some description and are first checking that the partnership is not missing two Aces. Not the other way round.

In other words any form of Blackwood should be a method used to keep you out of a slam when you are missing 2 aces, rather than a method used to get you into a slam.


When we are looking for slam, then obviously, having the right number of Aces is crucial.  But almost as crucial as an Ace in these situations is the King of the trumps. Hence the term “Key Card”, of which there are five … these are the four Aces and the trump King. From that thought developed Key Card Blackwood, whereby the responses encompassed 5 Key Cards, not just 4 Aces.  Then some Roman chap said, “Hey, what about the Queen of Trumps, that’s pretty important, too, why not throw that into the mix?” 

So was born Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB), which has now become one of the favoured Ace Asking conventions of tournament players. A most valuable slam bidding tool then … well, valuable when used correctly, but that comment applies to all conventions, of course.


The Responses


When partner bids 4NT, RKCB, these are the basic responses:


            5♣       0 or 3 Key Cards

            5        1 or 4 Key Cards

            5        2 Key Cards, without the Queen of Trumps

            5♠        2 Key Cards, with the Queen of Trumps.


Quite simple really... No? Well if the responses still look complicated and hard to memorize, think of it step by step, and the whole thing becomes quite logical:


                  Logical                           Add The                     Throw in the

               Progression                    Alternatives                 Trump Queen

5♣                   0                                  0 or 3                            0 or 3

5                    1                                  1 or 4                           1 or 4

5                   2                                   2                                  2 without

5♠                                                                                             2 with


Ignore this next section if you wish.

3014 or 1430? 

So, there we have it, the basic responses to RKCB.  Well, not quite, some folks just cannot resist tinkering, and those responses which you have just taken the trouble to memorize, and which we went to some lengths to explain in the clearest way that we possibly could, alas, these responses have now become old hat.  It seems that there is a small advantage to be gained from transposing those 5♣ and 5 responses, and now just about everybody who is anybody answers RKCB this way:

            5♣       1 or 4 Key Cards

            5        0 or 3 Key Cards

            5        2 Key Cards, without the Queen of Trumps

            5♠        2 Key Cards, with the Queen of Trumps.


These are the so-called “1430” responses to RKCB.  “1430” as in “1 or 4, 3 or 0”.  It’s not so important right now to understand why 1430 responses exist, but it is all-important that you and your Partner agree on whether you are playing 1430 or 3014.  There’s nothing quite so chilling as hearing Partner bidding 4NT and realizing that you have no idea whether he or she plays 3014 or 1430.


An Example of The 0341 original Method in Action:


Opener             Responder

♠ AQT654       ♠ K732

KQJ5           AT74

7                   AJ43

♣ A4                ♣ 8


   1♠                    4♣

   4NT                 5

   7♠                   Pass


A pretty simple auction.  That 4♣ bid was a Splinter, showing a Spade fit, Club shortness, and game-going values.  Opener used RKCB (the 3014 method) to discover that Partner held 0 or 3 Key Cards, and it was pretty clear that it was three and not zero.  That was all he needed to know to bid 7.


What Suit is Trumps?


Playing old-fashioned Blackwood, having agreement on what is the trump suit is not important … an Ace is an Ace, regardless.  But, when we are answering Key Cards, we need to know what card is that 5th Key Card, the King of trumps.


How about this auction?

            1♠        2

            3        4NT

No prizes for correctly divining that Hearts have been agreed in this auction, and therefore that the K♥ is the 5th Key Card.


How about this auction?

            1♠        2

            2♠        4NT

No trump suit has been explicitly agreed at the point where we bid 4NT.  In such cases, we apply this simple rule:


When no suit has been agreed, the trump suit is assumed to be the last suit bid naturally.


So, in the previous auction, Spades are agreed indirectly.  Let’s try another one:

            1♠        2

            3        4♣


Not too difficult, Hearts are obviously agreed, and 4♣ was merely a cue-bid in pursuit of a Heart slam.


Now, for something rather tricky:

            1♠        2

            3♥        3♠


First, Opener agreed Hearts, but then Responder seemed to be saying “Wait a minute, maybe Spades are better!”.  For better or worse, we would simply follow the aforementioned rule, and say that, in this auction, Spades looks like a natural bid to us, so therefore 4NT is RKCB with Spades.


After the response to 4NT. Many pairs use 5NT, to ask for specific Kings below the agreed trump suit in the order, clubs first, then diamonds, etc.

Unfortunately once again at club level we see all to often, inexperienced partnerships and players, asking for kings when they have no intention or know full well that a Grand Slam is not on. In fact it is not uncommon to see partnerships, asking for Aces, find one missing and still go asking for kings!!!! WHY??......

.......Just bid the slam, unless we are looking at a void, then what purpose does asking for Kings have (apart from giving the opposition more information to find the right lead or just confusing partner). We can hardly want to be bidding a Grand Slam missing an Ace now can we?....No....good....So just bid the small slam then!

So if you insist on asking for Kings then, presumably you are looking for a Grand Slam, and assuming Hearts is the trump suit, for example; a 6response, to a 5NT asking for Kings would show the King of Diamonds and deny the King of clubs. Now that sounds simple enough?

Our advice here, would be for the partnership to agree in advance, any alternative meaning to the 5NT ask.