By Prof. Tony Campbell

ONE of the most difficult contracts to find when bidding is a slam. To make a small slam you need 12 tricks. Whereas to make a grand slam you need them all, 13 tricks. It is absolutely essential you don’t bid 6 of something if you have two aces missing, or 7 if you are missing one ace. An important tool to check this out is Blackwood. This was invented in 1933 by the American bridge expert Easley Blackwood. A bid of 4 no trumps in standard Blackwood simply asks for aces. 5 clubs is none or four, 5 diamonds 1 ace, 5 hearts 2 aces, and 5 spades 3 aces. So here is a huge hand from Penarth Bridge club in March, the penultimate session before lockdown.

The Auction

South has a balanced hand with 21 points, ideal for opening 2NT. North has 15 points, so he knows they must have at least 36 points between them. But they could be missing an ace. 4NT here is standard Blackwood, as no suits have been bid. Five hearts tells North they have all the aces, but could still be missing a king. Six spades by South in response to North’s 5NT tells North they also have all the kings. But with all the aces and kings this only makes 8 tricks.

The six diamonds held by North is the key. South has shown two aces and three kings, making 17 points. So he must have at least another 4 points, made up of two queens or one queen and two jacks. With at least two spade tricks, two heart tricks, six diamond tricks, and two club tricks, plus at least one queen, North can count 13 tricks and safely bid 7NT.

The play

In a suit contract against a grand slam, the classic lead is a trump. In 7NT the best lead is a safe one, so West led the jack of spades. South as declarer has tricks to spare as the clubs break 3/3. He takes the first trick with the king of spades, cashes six diamonds, three clubs, the ace of spades and the ace and king of hearts, making 13 tricks. Well bid. In fact in this hand 7 clubs or 7 diamonds also make. But 7NT is a far better score.

What have we learnt?

First, after your partner has opened, work out the maximum and minimum points you might hold between you. Secondly, when the points add up to more that 30 and you have a long suit check how many aces your partner has. If you have 4 between you, then see how many kings your partner has. There are two versions of Blackwood – standard and Roman Key card. In the 1960s, when I began to play bridge seriously, there was a famous Italian Blue team that were world champions, winning 16 world titles between 1957 and 1975. A key player and inventor was Benito Garozzo. The Blue team invented several systems, one is called the Blue club, still played with variations on the original, another is Roman Key card Blackwood.

This operates when in a suit contract. I will show you how to use it next week. But crucially, it considers there are five key cards, the four aces and the king in the suit agreed or in the last genuine suit bid. There are other systems to discover key aces or cards in your partner’s hand. One popular convention is Gerber. This was actually invented in 1936 by two Swiss players, William Konigsberger and Win Nye.

But it was the American player John Gerber who introduced in the States in 1938. A bid of 4C instead of 4NT asks for aces. The response goes stepwise from 4 diamonds telling partner how many aces you hold. Gerber is popular with players who use 4NT after a 1NT or 2NT opening by partner as quantitative. Personally I don't like the quantitative bid of 4NT. So more next week using Roman Key card Blackwood in a suit contract.

Further information

Good luck with your online bridge. Bridge Club Live (BCL) is the best and may be open again for new registrations. If it is, then open Clubs and put your name against Penarth. We aim to organise some sessions where we are all playing. Bridge Online Base (BBO) is OK, but the software is not nearly as good as BCL. BBO is still open for registrations and our membership secretary is trying to encourage members and friends to play at the same time. Contact for information.

A number of members of both Penarth and Sully Bridge Clubs are already registered at both BCL and BBO. There are several good books available for beginners and improvers. Today Paul Mendelson is a good writer, as well as Andrew Robson who has teaching classes online. Griffin Books can obtain any book for you. Contact them online. It would be marvellous if you can keep copies of my articles as I build them up. Please let me know if they are useful. You can always find my articles online at www.penarthtimes/bridge. Keep an eye on Email me if you have anything you would like me to discuss Keep well. Keep safe. Bon chance. Virtual table up.