Roman Keycard Blackwood (RKC), part 5

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

Sometimes just knowing how many keycards your side has is not enough for you to decide whether or not slam is a reasonable shot. Last time we discussed how to ask for kings. The time before that we discussed how to ask for the queen of trump. But sometimes, even knowing all of that isn’t enough. What to do then is the subject of this article.

Suppose that you hold S AKQxx H Kx D Kx C AKxx. The unopposed bidding begins 2C-2D-2S-3S and you trot out RKC. Partner bids 5H, showing two keycards (which you know to be the aces of clubs hearts and diamonds since you have the other three keycards) and denying the queen of spades (also not a big surprise since you have it!). If you bid 5N, asking for kings, partner will bid 6S, since he has none. But that will leave you not knowing if a grand is cold (if partner has, for example, S Jxxx H Axx D Axxx C Qx or no play (if partner has, for example, S Jxxxx H Ax D Ax C xxxx). Wouldn’t it be nice to ask partner what he has in clubs?

That brings us to today’s topic, specific suit asks (SSAs). Now before we get into a bit of the nuts and bolts, we want to warn you that SSAs are not for casual partnerships. It takes a great deal of discussion to know when a bid is a SSA and when not, as well as how to answer.

OK, disclaimer aside, a SSA is a bid made after asking for keycards that is not the queen ask or the specific king ask. In the example auction above you bid 6C to ask partner what he has in clubs. Probably the simplest way to start playing SSAs is to treat a SSA as asking partner to bid a grand if he has third round control - the queen or a doubleton. We actually use a series of steps in response to a SSA: the first step denies having any control (xxx or worse); the second step shows third round control (the queen or a doubleton or both); the third step shows the king to length; the fourth step shows the king doubleton or any singleton; and the fifth step shows a “happy marriage”, the king and queen (possibly with one or more small cards).

There are a few complexities worth mentioning (and this is by no means an exhaustive list): First, what do you do when playing step responses when have the ace of the suit partner asked about? This one is easy: treat it as a small card (partner already knows about this ace from your answer to the initial RKC bid). Thus, if you have Ax in the suit partner asks about tell him that you have third round control (a doubleton); if you have Axx tell him you have no control (xxx). Second, what do you do if your answer would take us by six of our suit? Also easy: don’t go by six of our suit unless you have at least second round control (the king or shortness, but see below) or are sure that 6N is a playable spot. Third, how happy should you be that you have shortness in the suit partner asked about? The answer here is that it depends on how many trumps you have. If you have a singleton and three trumps you’re right on the cusp as to whether or not you should be happy (and thus whether you should show the shortness if it’s above six of our suit); if you have four or more trumps you should show the shortness.

Enough already! We’re somewhat sorry that we even brought this up! Next time we’ll return to more basic topics and discuss how to respond to RKC when you have a void.

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