Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Blackwood Part 2

This hand may be an example of a triumph for keycard Blackwood and perhaps also a failure.  This was from the first round of the CNTC Final.  Joey Silver and John Carruthers bid this deal to a slam.

Joey Silver

John Carruthers


Here is how they bid this deal:

Carruthers Silver
1 2
3 4
4NT 5

What I like about there bidding is how simple it is.  After John opened the bidding with one diamond, Joey’s two heart bid was a strong diamond raise.  After John made the quiet three diamond bid Joey showed strong slam interest while denying major suit controls.  That was enough for John who bid Keycard.  When Joey showed him two with the queen John knew that he had five diamonds.   This seems quite brilliant except that John was committed to the slam even if they were off two aces.  Could Joey have a hand like this?


I think he could although perhaps its not that likely. So was this really a Blackwood triumph? Let look at what happened at the other table where things took a slightly different turn.  Here Darren Wolpert was sitting South and Jurek Czyzowicz bid the deal like this.



1 2
3 4
4NT 5

The auction started out essentially the same way.  Here Jurek did not bid five spades to show extra diamond length.  Perhaps in their methods the initial two diamond already showed five.  Several of the commentators to the match thought it was easy to bid six now.  But is it?  Are you really certain that you are not off two aces.  Wolpert wasn’t.  He had the space to bid five spades and then sign off in 5NT.  Was this better science?  Playing regular Blackwood over 4NT partner can simply show two aces.  Expecting partner to likely have five diamonds for this sequence and being willing to take the chance of picking up the diamond king if he didn’t you can confidently bid the slam.  The greatest weakness of keycard is clearly the inability to distinguish which keycards are missing.

There are of course other alternatives.  There are systems of relays and asking bids that could establish you have what you need.


Bobby WolffJune 22nd, 2009 at 1:03 am

Hi Linda,

Key Card Blackwood can be a useful tool but sometimes a deceptively poor one. If one plays enough years most all possibilitiies (except perhaps some very rare ones) do arise. The disadvantages of KCBW are;

1. Like in the current example, holding 12 trumps missing the king.

2. When the bidding suggests to you that if missing the king it is likely to be onside.

3. Having to have room to show 5 key cards instead of 4 causes the bidding to often be cramped for space and sends partnerships back to the drawing board to have the ace ask at a lower level than 4NT, but alas that is not always practical.

4. Finding out about the Queen of trumps gives slam bidders comfort before the dummy comes down, but it also is enabling for the opponents since sometimes even from the jack (when the bidders have shown the queen) a trump can be led which on occasion is called for and turns out to be the winning lead, but not led against regular BW bidders, because of the natural defensive fear of finding partner with the queen.

5. It is probably easier for the defense to take non-phantom saves against partnerships using KCBW who have bid confidently to a good slam. Like bluffing in poker. sometimes a partnership who is not using KCBW is allowed to try and make their slam since it may have been bid haphazardly or apparently with some risk involved.

6. When behind in an IMP match, bidding a slam missing two key cards is an excellent way to create a swing by fortunately bidding a slam off two key cards and being able to successfully finesse one’s way to a sizable swing. The rub is that the winning partnership can be almost positive that slam will not be bid at the other table.

7. Perhaps the biggest drawback of all is the possible misunderstandings which occur. There have been several World Championships through the years, which have probably been decided by a misunderstanding in the use of KCBW. I was on the wrong end of one of them. Yes, it was

misbid by teammates, although I still love them, but not their tools.

A few years ago I saw a tantalizing license plate parked at a bridge club which read: KOTINAA

Having my curiosity peaked I asked the director to inquire over the microphone whose car belonged to that plate. The owner spoke up quite proudly and said for the whole club to hear:

” King of Trumps is not an Ace”.

Linda LeeJune 22nd, 2009 at 3:41 pm

I love the license plate, how cool. I have another blog coming from the knockout phase of the European Open Teams where top pairs are in slam off two cashing aces. One used keycard and one didn’t. Thanks for that excellent list of drawbacks.

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