Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB) - Introduction


This convention is a real winner!  It’s not just yet another gadget.  Learn it well, it will greatly improve your slam bidding.  Let’s start at the beginning, with basic Blackwood … someone bids 4NT, asking how many Aces you have, usually they are headed for 6 of something and are first checking that the partnership is not missing two Aces.  Forgive us for mentioning that, yes, we know, it’s Slam Bidding 101, it was just a segue into the concept of “Key Cards”.


When we are looking for slam, having the right number of Aces is crucial, of course.  But almost as big as an Ace in these situations is the King of the trump suit.  Hence the term “Key Card”, of which there are five … four Aces and that 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?”  And so was born Roman Key Card Blackwood, which has now become one of the favorite conventions of tournament players, a most valuable slam bidding tool … well, valuable when used correctly, but that comment applies to all conventions, of course.


The Responses


OK, Partner bids 4NT, it’s RKCB, these are our 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.


If the responses 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


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


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 1430 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 is Spades.




Whole books have been written about Roman Key Card, it can be a rather complicated subject.  The above is merely an introduction.  Further articles to follow.


      Please see also:    The Queen Ask


For examples of Roman Key Card from actual play, please follow this link to the Archives


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