We present here the eleventh in an occasional series on Roman Keycard Blackwood (RKC).

Sometimes bidding 4N to ask for keycards just won’t do. For example, suppose the auction begins 1C-2C (inverted) and you bid 4N to ask for keycards; hearing that partner has no keycards (5D, showing three or zero assuming that you play 1430, as we do in the rest of this article) may not be what you wanted to hear if you have only two - we are now too high to make anything.

Fortunately, there is a way to ask for keycards that prevents the partnership from getting too high if the RKC responder has a disappointing number of keycards. Depending on what the partnership’s suit is this is variously referred to as Redwood, Kickback, or Minorwood.

First, Redwood. Redwood applies when our agreed trump suit is a minor. A jump to four of the red suit one above our minor - to 4D when our suit is clubs and to 4H when our suit is diamonds - is RKC. The answers to Redwood are the same as they are to 4N, except that the counting starts at a lower level. Thus, over 4D you bid 4H with one or four keycards, 4S with three or zero, 4N with two keycards but no queen of clubs, and 5C with two keycards with the queen of clubs. If you have a void and an even number of keycards you bid 5D; if you have an odd number of keycards and a void you bid above 5D - 5H and 5S show the odd number plus a void in the suit bid, and 5N shows an odd number with a diamond void. Over 4H, Redwood for diamonds, you bid similarly, but everything is one step higher.

Consider the auction given earlier, where the bidding began 1C-2C-4N and opener’s 5D bid took us too high. Playing Redwood you would bid 4D to ask for keycards, and all of partner’s answers are below 5C (yes, we know, that if partner has one keycard and a void he could get us past 5C; the simple answer is that he almost never shows a void with less than two keycards).

When using Redwood (as well as the other non-4N keycard asks to be discussed in our next piece on RKC) there remains the question on what a jump bid of 4N should be since you don’t need it as RKC. This can be a tad complicated, and a reasonable thing to do when starting out is to treat 4N as also asking for keycards (in case partner forgets about Redwood). But expert usage is to substitute 4N for whatever 4D or 4H would have been if you weren’t playing Redwood. Let’s assume the auction is 1D-2D-4N - here 3H would be a splinter and 4H, if you weren’t playing Redwood, would be Exclusion; thus, 4N becomes Exclusion in hearts. If the auction begins 1S-2D-3D-4N it is a splinter in hearts - if you weren’t playing Redwood that’s what 4H would have been. Suppose the auction had begins 1H-2D-3D-4N - since you can’t be short in hearts 4N is quantitative - you have a hand that would have bid 3N but a little too good.

Follow-ups to Redwood are similar to those after 4N, RKC: The first new suit step (that is, not our suit and not the Redwood suit) is the queen ask, rebidding the Redwood suit or notrump, whichever is cheaper, asks for specific kings, and all other suit bids mean whatever they would have meant over a response to 4N, RKC (and the higher of the Redwood suit and the cheapest notrump - the one that isn’t the specific king ask - means whatever a new suit bid would mean in regular RKC; if you bid notrump it means whatever a bid of the Redwood suit would have meant after 4N, RKC).

Another advantage of Redwood is that you can better deal with the ambiguous responses - if you bid 4D, Redwood for clubs, and partner bids 4S, showing three or none, you can bid either 4N or 5C to play if partner has the lower number (here, zero). If partner has the higher number he answers as if you asked about the queen, except that bidding five of our suit simply says that partner would rather play in our minor than in notrump.

One final advantage to Redwood is in how you respond to the queen ask - since the queen ask must be below five of our suit (over 4D only 4H and 4S leave possession of the queen uncertain; over 4H only 4S and 4N leave possession of the queen uncertain), partner is able to sign off in five of our minor when he doesn’t have it (and if he does have it he bids as always - he shows a king, bids 5N if he has extras but no kings, or bids six of our minor with the queen, no kings, and no extras). Compare this position with using 4N as RKC for hearts and hearing partner bid 5C (showing one or four) - if you ask for the queen by biding 5D partner bids 6H to deny having it, thus leaving you in a slam off a keycard and the queen (and yes, we know that this isn’t the worse thing in the world; indeed, it seems to be fashionable to bid slams missing a keycard and the queen these days).

Up next: More on Redwood, Kickback, and Minorwood.

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