Judy Kay-Wolff


As you may recall from my initial blog on Hang-Ups of my Husbands, Norman undauntedly ascended his soap box to attack the use of KEY CARD BLACKWOOD (KCB) and its confederate, ROMAN KEY CARD BLACKWOOD (RKCB)   Now, it is Bobby’s turn to speak up.   Disastrous results stemming from KCB misunderstandings contributed to Bobby’s views, but according to him, those incidents are less prevalent now due to greater partnership discipline — though there are many (way too many) other negative fallouts.

Let us zero in on Bobby’s views about the advantages of Key Card Blackwood (KCB) ………. as envisioned by a KCB lover.

   1.  If all goes well, or at least as well as the user would expect, the final decision-maker will determine if their side possesses an adequate number of aces for slam purposes (good start)!  In some instances, they can also judge whether the partnership has both the king (not always distinguishable) and/or queen of trump which is necessary to assure (or almost assure) a reasonable play for the small or grand slam in the offing.  Another attraction, at least on some hands, a  specific non-trump king can often be named at the six level (instead of just a roundhouse number), to help facilitate the prospect of a grand slam. 

   2. In the minds of KCB proponents (at least theoretically), the above argument is calculated to keep from reaching either a poor small or grand slam.    In the eyes of these devout disciples, it protects them in large measure from being left in the unsavory (not to mention embarrassing) position of their non-KBC counterparts — having to play a virtual or real no-play slam in front of the opponents, bridge gods and everyone else watching as well as it reaching the eventual word-of-mouth audience.   News travels fast in the bridge world and the on line-bridge venues act as a universal telegraph service.

   3. Never underestimate the psychological comfort zone present when, even before the dummy has been tabled, both partners share the glowing feeling that the right contract has been achieved by virtue of an intelligent, systemic, methodical and somewhat artistic discourse.

Having mentioned the positive arguments above, it is time to focus on the poisoned flowers and wicked witches likely to be encountered on the yellow brick road en route to the High Rent District of Emerald City which specializes in Slam Bidding.  So — permit me to now explore the perspective of the KCB devotees’ worthy adversaries:

    1. Against a slam (both small and grand) when not blessed with an obvious lead choice, it sometimes appears more prudent (and safer percentage wise) to lead a trump (even from the jack) when the opponents have announced holding the trump queen (either by auction or inference).  Without such information, many players (and Bobby is alluding to the very highest level) usually shy away from trump leads for fear of blowing a trick (if one actually existed) by doing their opponents’ work for them  — which is now precluded by awareness of their very cushy trump holdings.
      2. It follows logically that it is much easier to take a successful sacrifice against opponents who have announced possession of the trump queen (or at least are confident that the missing queen will not be a factor because of additional length).  After all, the only two vitally important components of determining whether or not to take a save are (a) whether the opponents are favorites to make their contract; and (b) whether your sacrifice produces a smaller net loss than their slam is worth, if fulfilled.   

     3.  The trump king is not worth an ace since it can be finessed — especially when one of the opponents has come into the bidding, thereby suggesting the probability that the finesse is going to work. On one occasion (not playing KCB), Bobby’s team was able to bid a grand slam holding 12 trumps missing the king wherein at the other table the players holding their cards stopped at six since playing KCB they were minus one of the five key cards and it could not be pinpointed as the missing trump king.   By applying shrewd logic (or simple arithmetic), Bobby’s group managed to guess to play for the drop of the king, creating a slam swing in their favor.  

    4. For those not playing KCB, when the 4NT initiator follows it up with 5NT, it is an unconditional proclamation (at least at IMP scoring) that the partnership guarantees all four aces and thereby deputizes partner to use his good judgment toward the grand slam process.   Such incentives to contract for all the tricks would be encouraged by the following: (a) Partner’s trump holding — certainly the king and/or the queen; (b) A likely and anticipated source of tricks; or (c) Any ‘extras’ he may hold such as a stray queen or even a singleton or doubleton (as opposed to the ugly holding of three little) usually in a side suit which partner announced earlier in the bidding.  This partnership method is more valuable than the pronouncement of specific kings (via KCB) as it may enable your partner to weigh the importance of any of his hidden jewels mentioned above — with an eye to contracting for all the tricks.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Obviously, by not playing KCB, it is more likely that the slam (usually a small one) may depend on a simple finesse, but (especially playing against good opposition) — is this really such a bad proposition?   Also, once in a while, even if, in theory, one’s slam depended on a finesse, the opponents will sometimes oblige by getting off to the wrong lead — and fortuitous timing will allow you to bring home the otherwise doomed contract.

Bridge is not an exact science!   There are many variable human factors which impact how the game is played (or misplayed).   Just to name a few — instincts, observations, table presence, habits, reading the moves, knowing your screen mates, indicative pauses or time lapses, acknowledged inconsistency, rigidity or irascibility of your opponents, etc.   Bridge is certainly a game of substance — but also a battle of wits — not unlike poker.  To Bobby’s way of thinking, because of the unfathomable amount of concentration required and mental astuteness demanded, it is the most majestic and challenging game ever invented.

But — life and bridge go on and bridge statistics are still in the dark ages and will remain there until enough money becomes available within the game itself to have all the records of important matches preserved, analyzed and used for the furtherance of learning what is and what is not necessary for winning.



LindaJanuary 9th, 2009 at 5:26 am

Now if you want a more interesting keycard checking convention Ray and I used to play Culbertson 4-5NT. Even saying that makes me feel old but I can assure you that we didn’t personally know Culbertson. 4NT promised 2 aces and the kings of all naturally bid suits or 3 aces. 5NT showed that your side had all the keycards, all the aces and all those kings. As I recall it never seemed a hardship to have that restriction on the ace asking bidder although as I think of it now it means that you would have some deals were neither partner could ask for aces and you might still have the controls needed for a grand slam ( 4 aces and the king of trump but missing a side king).

SandyJanuary 10th, 2009 at 12:56 am

I love reading up on great players’ insights into the game. What a world it opens up for students of the game such as myself. Your articles do make me think of things in a different light than I had before. When someone like your husband speaks out, offering such convincing arguments — it should give us all pause. Most experts talk about conventions they couldn’t live without. It is refreshing (though not surprising) that The Lone Wolff should elaborate on those he places at the opposite end of the totem pole! By the way, what is his favorite convention?

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 10th, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Sandy — Interesting question you posed! Bobby’s favorite convention? Would you believe — I actually had to ask. Without a moment’s thought, he blurted, “Splinters!” I would have suspected it was two-way Stayman — but what do I know? After we complete some of the blogs in progress, I will get him to elaborate on the subject.

Mark LombardJanuary 11th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Ah, the ART and science of bridge….