Quick summary

The 5 keycards are the 4 Aces + King of Trumps.

Got 2 keycards? Find Q !

More questions:

Junior can bid on after "NMQ" if he had 3/4 Keycards

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Example Deal
+West
North
S 3
H K 8 5 4
D A K J 10 9 6
C K 5
+East
+South
Example Deal
Dealer: East
Vuln: All


Sorry partner, we should have been in a slam.
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Roman Keycard Blackwood

Two keycards ? Great, find the Queen aswell

So, you've discovered in the bidding that you've got the potential for 12 or 13 winners. "Roman Keycard Blackwood" is a way to find out how many very likely losers you need to worry about. By "very likely", we're just thinking about the 4 Aces and the King of trumps.

But note! It won't tell you how many winners you've got, nor will it tell you how many less obvious losers you may have.

The RKCB convention is a variant on the "Blackwood" conventions for exploring slams, and is a way of asking your partner how many of the 5 Keycards they hold.

It also extends the question to try to find the Queen of trumps, which is helpful when exploring a Grand Slam.

"Roman Keycard Blackwood" has largely replaced Keycard Blackwood, in itself an improvement on standard Blackwood. It's named after the clever Italian teams from the 1960s that invented it.

In standard Keycard, or "5-Ace" Blackwood, the responses to 4NT are these:

  • 5club=0 or 4 keycards
  • 5diamond=1 or 5
  • 5heart=2
  • 5spade=3

The Standard (0314) "Roman" version gives data on the queen of trumps in the case of 2 keycards being present:

  • 5club=0 or 3
  • 5diamond=1 or 4
  • 5heart=2 or 5 (no queen of trumps)
  • 5spade=ditto (+ queen of trumps)

Note the change of response required compared with "non-Roman" Keycard Blackwood when replying about 3, 4 or 5 keycards.

Signing off, when not liking the answer to 4NT "How many keycards have you got ?"

A bid of 5 trumps by the senior partner means "Stop bidding! No slam with our cards...".

So the junior partner stops bidding, unless

  • his first reply meant either 3 or 4 keycards, in which case he can continue to bid like this...
  • ...bid as if he'd been asked about the Queen of trumps, as discussed in the "Queen of trumps" section below. (Basically, 5NT or any suit other than "trumps" means I have the Queen, plus a king in the suit I just bid 6 of.)

5NT - Let's talk Kings

If you want to go for a grand Slam, you'll need to know about Kings too. You've already nailed the King of trumps, and there are 3 others to ask about.

System a. "OK, we've got all 5 keycards. Which exact King have you got?"

Often you need to know which Kings your partner has, more than how many. Therefore I prefer to answer the 5NT question by bidding the suit of my lowest ranked King.

So, for example, a reply of 6diamond promises the King of diamond, and denies having the King of Clubs. It does not mean "I've got one King". It says nothing about the other higher ranked Kings.

Denial: A bid of trumps from the junior partner means "I have no other Kings".

Note The junior partner should only mention a King which is going to be useful - there's no point mentioning a king opposite a known shortage, for example opposite a splinter. It's better to use your bidding space to refer to the next Kings up the ranks. If junior does bid such a King (from a splintered suit), more advanced players can use this to mean "I do have another higher ranking King". Note that this is a useful partial solution to the "higher-ranking King" problem, where you don't want to bid higher than 6 of the trump suit - for fear of forcing the bidding into Grand Slam against the will of the senior partner.

Any more kings ?

Having told partner about a specific King, Senior partner can sign off, or alternatively ask about more kings, simply by bidding that suit. A responding sign-off in trumps, by the junior partner, means "I don't have it".

System b. "OK, we've got all 5 keycards. How many other Kings do you have ?"

  • 6club=0 of the other 3 Kings (excluding King of Trumps, of course)
  • 6diamond=1 of the other 3 Kings
  • 6heart=2 of the other 3 Kings
  • 6spade=3 of the other 3 Kings

Asking about the Queen of trumps

The spadeheart replies to 4NT allows you to say whether you have the queen of trumps. However, if you use the diamondclub replies, the senior partner doesn't know if you have it or not. If he wants to know, he then bids the next suit up from the previous answer. For example, let's say heart are agreed as trumps. And let's say that the answer to the Keycard question was "1 King", i.e. 5 diamond. After this reply of 5diamond to the 4NT ask, the senior partner can bid 5spade to ask about the queen of trumps. . . (note that it in this case, after a diamond reply, the "next bid up"bid had to be spade, because a heart bid is the trump suit, and thus simply means "Silence! No Slam here". Here are the replies to the 5spade "have you got the Queen of trumps" ask:

  • Trump suit (i.e. 6heart in this example). The junior partner DOES NOT have it
  • 5NT.  Junior partner DOES have it, but DOESN'T have any more side kings
  • Any other suit (e.g. 6clubdiamondspade). Junior partner DOES have it, AND the specified side king, (lowest rank, if more than one).

0314 or 1430 ?

The standard method of playing, RKCB 0314, which is not necessarily the best, treats 5club as meaning 0 or 3 keycards, with 5diamond to mean 1 or 4. This is known as 0314. Some players reverse the meaning, for good reason, and this is known as RKCB 1430 - which is not standard. It's obviously quite a good idea to agree this with your partner before you start!

When not to use Roman Keycard Blackwood

It's quite easy to make mistakes with Blackwood, and even easier with the Roman version.
  • Never use RKCB when you haven't agreed clearly a particular SUIT to be Trumps, either directly or very clearly by implication. (Which is the King of trumps? Which is the Queen of trumps? And also, without a trump agreement, 4NT means something quite different).
  • As with ordinary Blackwood, don't use it if the response might go too high: For instance, if club are agreed as trumps, and you need 2 keycards from partner for slam, then a 5diamond reply showing only 1 key card is a disaster. You are forced to bid 6club. In other words, you need to hold 3 keycards yourself to use RKCB 0314 if the agreed suit is club, or 2 of them if it's diamond. (The alternatives are Cue bidding and the Losing Trick Count).
  • Don't use it for a small Slam if you already know there are 4 of the 5 keycards in the partnership;
  • (you can often work out how many keycards you've got by using Cue bidding);
  • Unlike RKCB, Cue bidding also tells you in which suit you have an equally deadly void (or singleton);
  • Don't use it for a small Slam if you need to know exactly which suit needs to be controlled - try Cue bidding;
  • Don't use it for a small Slam, generally, if you can see that you have 31+ HCP (when there's only a one in 30 chance of lacking 2 Aces);
  • NEVER use it until you've discussed its "angles" with your partner, and until you are familiar with bidding slams without RKCB;
  • But, provided the other provisos have been met, DO use it if slam is on but you're point count is obviously low.

Now try the quiz

Can you put all this into action ? Try the quiz for this subject by clicking on the link at the top left of the page, just below the main menu.
(You can try quizzes for any other subjects too while you're there. Look out for the thin red line).

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