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Intermediate Bridge
LESSON 6
Review: Asking for Aces only
  1. Introduction
  2. 3NT or 4NT Blackwood
  3. 4 in the minor trump suit ("Minorwood")
  4. Gerber after a 1NT Opening
  5. Exclusion Blackwood ("Voidwood")
  6. Showing a void in Response
  7. Alternative 3-steps Response
  8. Bidding Guide: 3
Asking for Aces with freak long suited hands (Advanced topic)
Be thoroughly familiar with this lesson before considering Roman Key Cards (Lessons 3, 4 and 5)

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IBR 6.1 - Introduction
Many players with basic to intermediate experience (following the majority) use 4NT indiscriminately for RKC Blackwood, often augmented by playing "1430" (step 1 = 1 or 4 keycards     step 2 = 3 or 0 keycards) instead of the standard "3014".

But think about it for a moment:
RKC Blackwood provides more information (trump K and Q) than ordinary Blackwood within the same bidding space.
But for what purpose? Because when the asking point is 4NT there is only limited space available.
Furthermore, if you happen to play "1430" you can't even ask for either Aces or RKCs when you wish to play in Clubs!   (A 5♦ reply to 4NT, showing no keycards, commits you to Slam no matter what !)

The remedy to overcome this problem is very simple : lower the starting point of Blackwood.
By asking for Aces with 3NT or 4♣ or 4♦, you suddenly have lots more bidding space available, and (unless you are a high level player using additional control asking bids) you will do nicely with asking for Aces only. You are also able to ask for all the Kings (instead of the trump King only) and still end up below the 5-level of your trump suit.

This is what this lesson is all about.


(Down - Up - Top) IBR 6.2 - 3NT or 4NT Blackwood Asking for Aces only is easy. You need to know only two things : with which bid to ask, and the four standard reply steps.   The Blackwood steps are :

1 step = 0 or 4 Aces       2 steps = 1 Ace       3 steps = 2 Aces       4 steps = 3 Aces
When aiming for a major suit contract you can use the standard Blackwood starting point of 4NT.
But why would you when the bidding goes   1♥ - 3♥ - ? ? ? ?
After having agreed on a major suit trump contract there is no way that you would want to sign off in 3NT.
Therefore, whenever possible in a major suit contract use 3NT to ask for Aces. This means that with a negative reply you can still sign off at the 4 level instead of having to bid 5.

So after   1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - ?   replies are :   4♣ = 0 or 4 Aces     4♦ = 1 Ace     4♥ = 2 Aces     4♠ = 3 Aces
Replies to 3NT Blackwood are :
  1. 4♣ = 0 or 4 Aces

  2. 4♦ = 1 Ace

  3. 4♥ = 2 Aces

  4. 4♠ = 3 Aces

Replies to 4NT Blackwood are :
    1. 5♣ = 0 or 4 Aces

    2. 5♦ = 1 Ace

    3. 5♥ = 2 Aces

    4. 5♠ = 3 Aces

A subsequent bid by the enquirer of 4NT confirms holding all Aces and now asks for the Kings.
(After an initial 4NT Blackwood call 5NT asks for the Kings.)

DOPI and ROPI
Over an Enemy Overcall use DOPI :     Double = no Ace     Pass = 1 Ace

Over an Enemy Double use ROPI :     Redouble = no Ace     Pass = 1 Ace

In either case the next bid shows 2 Aces, the bid after that 3 Aces.
For exaple :
1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - (4♣) - DBL = no Ace
1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - (4♣) - Pass = 1 Ace
1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - (4♣) - 4♦ = 2 Aces

1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - (DBL) - RDBL = no Ace
1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - (DBL) - Pass = 1 Ace
1♥ - 3♥ - 3NT - (DBL) - 4♣ = 2 Aces

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IBR 6.3 - Bid of 4 of the trump suit minor ("Minorwood") The Blackwood Convention is not very suitable for minor suit trump contracts, because the enquiry bid of 4NT easily pushes the bidding beyond the Game level of 5 without the number of Aces required for a Slam contract.

The use of 3NT is also not possible, because in the sequence 1♦ - 3♦ - 3NT   is to play in NT.

The Gerber 4♣ Convention is not suitable either, for it interferes with conventions like Splinter raises, Cue bidding Aces, Multi Cues, etc.

The solution is to use the 4-level bid of the designated minor trump suit, known as "Minorwood".
For example :   1♦ - 3♦ - 4♦ - ?   or   1♦ - 2♣ - 3♣ - 4♣ - ?   or   1♦ - 3♠ - 4♦ - ?   all are Ace enquiries.
Use the standard 4 steps for your answer :

step 1 = 0 or 4 Aces       step 2 = 1 Ace       step 3 = 2 Aces       step 4 = 3 Aces So that   1♦ - 3♦ - 4♦ - 4♥ shows 0 or 4 Aces   and   1♦ - 3♦ - 4♦ - 4♠ = 1 Ace, etc.
Replies to 4♣ ask for Aces are :
  1. 4♦ = 0 or 4 Aces

  2. 4♥ = 1 Ace

  3. 4♠ = 2 Aces

  4. 4NT = 3 Aces

Replies to 4♦ ask for Aces are :
  1. 4♥ = 0 or 4 Aces

  2. 4♠ = 1 Ace

  3. 4NT = 2 Aces

  4. 5♣ = 3 Aces
Over Enemy interference use DOPI or ROPI :     Double (or Redouble) = no Ace     Pass = 1 Ace

Asking for Kings
Bidding 5 in the minor trump suit is a sign-off. Therefore to ask for Partner's Kings bid the next available bid (but excluding the trump suit) after his Aces reply. For example :   1♦ - 3♦ - 4♦ - 5♣ - 5♥ - ?


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IBR 6.4 - Gerber 4♣ over a NT Opening

Asking for Aces after a NT Opening bid is rare and only used when the Responder has an unbalanced, long suited hand.   In such cases Blackwood is not possible, because 4NT is invitational to Slam and 3NT is to play.

In these cases use the Gerber Convention. It has been around in bridge as long as Blackwood, but is rarely used by experienced players these days.
The enquiry bid is always 4♣ and the answers follow the standard 4 steps, used in all cases.

Replies to Gerber 4♣ are :
  1. 4♦ = 0 or 4 Ace

  2. 4♥ = 1 Ace

  3. 4♠ = 2 Aces

  4. 4NT = 3 Aces

A follow on bid of 5♣ asks for Partner's Kings.

1NT - 4♣ - 4NT - shows 3 Aces.
Responder has obviously a 6+card suit and (in this case) will bid Slam in his suit.


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IBR 6.5 - Exclusion Blackwood   (also known as "Lackwood" or "Voidwood") Asking for Aces is a breeze, but what if you hold a void in a suit ? Any answer you receive is ambiguous for it may include the Ace in your void suit.
Exclusion Blackwood (or "Lackwood" or "Voidwood" as it is also called) provides the answer.

1. After a trump suit has been confirmed

2. the jump shift in a new suit shows a void in that suit

3. and asks Partner to show his Aces in the three other suits.

Once again the standard reply steps are used, except that in this case only 3 Aces are considered :

1 step = No Ace       2 steps = 1 Ace       3 steps = 2 Aces       4 steps = 3 Aces

Here follow two examples.

Deal 1     Opener (W)
♠ K J 6 3
♥ A K J 7 4
♦ -
♣ K Q J 7
  Responder (E)
♠ A Q 8
♥ Q 10 5
♦ A J 7 4 2
♣ 9 8
 

Comment
Opener's jump shift (after trump suit agreement) to 5♦ is Voidwood.
Responder must not include the A♦ in his reply!
Note that with a negative reply (5♥), the contract is not committed to the 6 level.

 

Bidding : (W) 1♥ - 3♥ - 5♦ - 5♠ - 6♥



Deal 2     Opener (W)
♠ 6 3
♥ K 9 7 4
♦ A 6 3
♣ A Q 5 2
  Responder (E)
♠ -
♥ A Q J 10 8
♦ K Q J 7 4
♣ K 10 3
 

Comment
Note that the Responder too can enquire with Voidwood.
Also with sufficient bidding space after the Aces reply a bid of the next suit (excluding the trump suit) asks for Partner's kings (but excluding the void suit King !).

 

Bidding : (W) 1♣ - 1♥ - 2♥ - 3♠ - 4♦ - 4♠* - 5♣ - 7♥       * = ask for Kings



Asking for Kings
As shown in Deal 2 above a bid of the next suit, (excluding the trump suit) after Partner's Aces reply, asks for his Kings, but excluding the void suit King.

Over Enemy interference use DOPI or ROPI :     Double (or Redouble) = no Ace     Pass = 1 Ace


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IBR 6.6 - Showing a void in reply There are occasions when the Enquirer makes a 3NT, 4NT, 4♣ or 4♦ request for Partner's Aces and the Replier has a void.
In such case the Replier shows his number of Aces, but one level higher than normal.

The prerequisites are :

  1. the reply is not too high in the bidding sequence

  2. that it is obvious to the Enquirer in which suit Partner is void.
For example :   1♥ - 3♥ - (3♠) - 3NT - 5♦     Here Responder shows a void in Spades plus 1 Ace.

Deal 3     Opener (W)
♠ J 9 5 3
♥ A K 10 7 4
♦ K 8
♣ K Q
  Responder (E)
♠ -
♥ Q J 8 5
♦ A Q J 4 2
♣ J 7 6 3
 

Comment
A great way to show Responder's Splinter void. That, and Responder's one Ace in a side suit is enough for Opener to bid to 6.

 

Bidding : (W) 1♥ - 3♠ - 3NT - 5♦ - 6♥



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IBR 6.7 - Alternative 3-steps Response (Optional) The jump shift reply, showing a void, is great after an enquiry bid of 3NT, but with the other enquiry bids (4NT, 4♣ and 4♦) this is often not possible as the response would commit you to Slam without holding the necessary Aces to make such contract.

If you wish to alleviate this problem I recommend the following :
Use only 3 steps to show your Aces instead of 4 (and in line with the Roman Key Cards approach) :

1 step = 0 or 3 Aces       2 steps = 1 or 4 Aces       3 steps = 2 Aces
Using this approach one can show Aces without a void and Aces with a void in just 6 steps :

4 steps = 0 or 3 Aces + a void     5 steps = 1 Ace + a void     6 steps = 2 Aces + a void

Replies to 4♣ ask for Aces are :
  1. 4♦ = 0 or 3 Aces

  2. 4♥ = 1 or 4 Aces

  3. 4♠ = 2 Aces

  4. 4NT = 0 or 3 Aces   & a void

  5. 5♣ = 1 Ace   & a void

  6. 5♦ = 2 Aces   & a void
Replies to 4♦ ask for Aces are :
  1. 4♥ = 0 or 3 Aces

  2. 4♠ = 1 or 4 Aces

  3. 4NT = 2 Aces

  4. 5♣ = 0 or 3 Aces   & a void

  5. 5♦ = 1 Ace   & a void

  6. 5♥ = 2 Aces   & a void
Note that only with 6 steps the Partnership is committed to Slam contract, but with Responder's 2 Aces and a void, that would always be the case.

To be consistent throughout, the same approach should be taken after 3NT or 4NT Blackwood.

Replies to 3NT Blackwood are :
  1. 4♣ = 0 or 3 Aces

  2. 4♦ = 1 or 4 Aces

  3. 4♥ = 2 Aces

  4. 4♠ = 0 or 3 Aces   & a void

  5. 4NT = 1 Ace   & a void

  6. 5♣ = 2 Aces   & a void
Replies to 4NT Blackwood are :
  1. 5♣ = 0 or 3 Aces

  2. 5♦ = 1 or 4 Aces

  3. 5♥ = 2 Aces

  4. 5♠ = 0 or 3 Aces   & a void

  5. 5NT = 1 Ace   & a void

  6. 6♣ = 2 Aces   & a void
Above Table clearly shows the great advantage of using 3NT Blackwood after a major suit agreement whenever possible. It provides lots of bidding space for exploration.
With 4NT Blackwood however, showing a void, especially with Hearts as trump suit, may be inadvisable in many cases.

RULE : 0 or 3 Aces and 1 or 4 Aces ?
Whenever the Enquirer takes a dim view of the Reply, judging it to show 0 instead of 3 Aces, or only 1 Ace instead of 4, it is the responsibility of the Replier whenever he holds the larger number of Aces to bid to Slam.   (It is otherwise inconceivable that the Enquirer would have asked for Aces in the first place.)

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© 2013 Michael Furstner