Major Suit Keycard
It's Not Roman Keycard Is there anything better than Standard Blackwood or Roman Keycard? Both of those conventions attempt to work with all four suits, but the truth is that neither of them work well with minors and RKC has a flaw when the trump suit is hearts. It's very good with spades, however!
Have you ever committed to a slam in hearts missing two keycards? It can happen when you have to bid 5 to show two keycards and the queen of trump as required in Roman Keycard. Another problem with that particular response is that you can never stop at 5NT.
Experienced players know that RKC is often awkward when used to explore a minor suit slam, especially when the club suit is to be trump. Any response to 4NT other than 5 commits the partners to the six level even when there may not be enough keycards. Roman Keycard works best with majors, but even then it only works best with spades. The problem is that RKC is a compromise to accomodate both major and minor suits. Two different methods would be best, but let's face it, most of us don't have the memory capacity for that. I'm suggesting that Blackwood be modified to work really well with majors and use Gerber for minors.
Roman Keycard was an immense improvement over the old standard conceived by Easley Blackwood, but it has problems. So many that Eddie Kantar wrote four books on the perils and pitfalls of the convention with a great many work-arounds to avoid them. Other expert-level players have devised such schemes as Redwood, Minorwood, Kickback and more because of the faults in RKC and yet... two players will sit down to play together for the first time and you might hear one of them say, "RKC?" and the other will reply, "Yeah, 0314." With that they move on to another area of the card! So much for your four books, Eddie. Anyway, read about MSK and you decide if it's better.
It's certainly more difficult to play different systems depending on whether or not you are asking for keycards in a major or a minor, but there is a big advantage if you decide to do so. The method described here will work with minors but like all of the ace-asking conventions it is better with majors.
I want to thank Bob Locke, a player in the Sacramento area, for his thoughts and excellent suggestions for making this convention better.
First, as in Roman Keycard Blackwood, let's agree that the king of trump is an important keycard as good as a fifth ace and second, that 4NT is an asking bid.
4NT How Many Keycards do You Have?
These are the responses:
5 Two keycards without the queen of trump
5 Two keycards with the queen of trump
5 Three keycards or two keycards with a void
5N Four keycards
After a bit of thought, you will realize that sometimes it's important to know if partner has either zero or one keycard, or perhaps an important void when the response to 4NT is 5 (Although zero keycards would be a rare hand in a slam auction it does happen so this is a Be Prepared bid.)
Obviously, since this is a forcing bid and must have some sort of meaning we can agree that it asks a question to determine if you belong in slam. Partner, do you have one keycard? Responding with the agreed on major at the 5-level indicates no keycard.
When Responder has the missing keycard he might also hold the queen of trumps. If he does not have it he should jump directly to the slam as requested. But Responder could also bid the suit of the ace he holds with the understanding that it also shows the queen of trump as well. Responder bids 5NT holding a trump keycard and the queen.
Showing a Void at the 6-level
Unlike RKC which shows an unspecified void MSK will pin-point the void suit.
A jump response in a minor with three keycards shows a void specifically in that bid suit.
6 Three keycards and a void in diamonds
A jump response in the agreed trump suit with three keycards shows a void in the other major.
It's both. You might be wondering - If the response is 5NT which shows four keycards, how does the rest of the bidding proceed since the Prompter who started the asking sequence can no longer use 5NT to inquire about kings? Not a problem - The 5NT answer also becomes the question - It's simply that the Prompter has switched sides and the player who initiated the sequence now tells how many kings he has. See the steps for this below...
5NT Asking for Kings
First, a question... How many kings are there? Remember, the king of trump is one of the keycards regarded as an ace and is included in the response to 4NT, so that leaves just three kings. These are the responses to the King Asking Bid.
6 Two kings
6 Three kings
Note that when the response is 6 showing zero or one, the partnership can get clarification i with a second asking bid which is the next step -- Bid 6 to say,
Partner, bid the grand slam if you have one king, but just go to six if you have none.
Most players understand that Gerber is best used over notrump bids, but it can also be useful when your partner has opened with a preemptive bid. By using 4 as an ace asking bid you can stop at a lower level than you can with any form of 4NT Blackwood.
Gerber with MSK responses will work well when the suit is spades as there are enough steps to avoid a problem, but there simply are not enough steps when the trump suit is hearts. The solution is to Ignore the Queen when the trump suit is hearts. Use the response of 4 to tell your partner you have either zero or one keycard and bid 4 with two keycards with or without the queen. Of course, the next step above hearts would show three keycards.
If your preemptive suit is spades, you have the room to show two keycards and still be able to show or deny the queen of trump.
Minor Suits - Use Gerber When You Can
Okay, but what about minor suits? Can this be modified to work with clubs and diamonds?
I really recommend that you work out a way to agree on Gerber with MSK responses because asking bids starting with 4NT do not work well with minors. Minor suit slams are always going to be difficult. And remember, you can't show three keycards with a specific void by jumping to the six level because you would then be propelled into a grand slam, but you could jump to six of your minor promising three keycards and also a void in a higher suit. MSK isn't meant for minors, but then, neither Standard Blackwood nor Roman Keycard Blackwood work very well with those suits either. We've just run out of bidding room! But if you find yourself in a bidding situation where you must use 4NT to ask about keycards then use the same responses as you would for majors. So call it mSK, minor Suit Keycard, with a lower case letter "m" if you like.
This is an old convention that's not much used, but can be very helpful - After your side agrees on a major suit as trump you can use a bid of 3NT to ask for aces. You can use any flavor of Blackwood you like, too. If you prefer the old fashioned style or can't give up Roman Keycard you might still consider this agreement. It's important that both partners know they have agreed on either hearts or spades as the trump suit when they use this convention! My partners and I also have an implicit understanding that an immediate response of 3NT to a major suit opening is an agreement on that suit as trump and is MSK. It sure beats using 4NT and having to stop at the 5-level when you don't have enough horsepower.
And... Let's agree that in the interest of good bridge the partner initiating the sequence should have at least one keycard.
It ain't easy being green!
Finally... This hand came up on BBO in a Turkish Championship Trials. Same result at both tables. Down Two.
The lead was the A followed by a small spade which was ruffed. I enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude.
(This one flaw of having to bid 5 with two keycards and the queen of trump is why MSK is so much better.)