34. Advanced Slam Bidding

Slam bidding, especially in the minors, is really hard. This chapter arms you for battle.

Italian Control Bidding

In the Italian style, a control bid shows a first- or second-round control. A second-round control can be shown without a first-control having been shown in that suit. These rules are applied to interpret the bids:

  • A control bid is a slam try after trump agreement in a major. It promises first- or second-round control. (Again, over minors or in 2/1 these bids also possible but agreement is needed.)

  • A control bid is a non-jump bid in a game-forcing auction. Thus 1♠ - 2♠ - 3♦ is not a control bid because we are not yet in a game forcing auction. But 1♦ - 1♥ - 3♥ - 3♠! is a control bid because bidding on is game forcing and we have suit agreement.

  • A control bid that skips a suit(s) denies a control in that suit. So 1♦ - 1♥ - 3♥ - 4♣ shows a club control and denies a spade control.

  • As long as slam is possible, always show a control bid below the game level. Likewise, don’t control bid if partner has a limited hand and slam is not possible.

  • A control bid in a 5+ card side suit promises the Ace or King. For example, 1♠ - 2N! - 4♦ - 4♥ (control) - 5♦ shows the Ace or King of diamonds. Opener’s suit must be a good suit or he would have bid his shortness, so being able to show possession of the Ace or King is important.

  • Once you show a short suit, control-bid that suit only with a void, not a singleton Ace. An example would be a Jacoby 2N auction, with opener rebidding a stiff or void, such as 1♠ - 2N! - 3♦! (stiff or void) - 4♣ (control) - 4♦; this shows opener has a void in diamonds.

  • A control bid at the five level promises first round control, because 4N is no longer available.

Bergen gives this example of a five-level control bid:

  West   East

♠JT752  ♠AK643
♥AK982  ♥Q64
♦A4     ♦87
♣2      ♣AJT

The bidding is:

1♠ – 2N!
4♥ – 5♣ (not 4N here)
5♦ – 7♠

The 4♥ bid shows a five-card suit with two of the top three honors. Therefore East knows West has the AK in hearts. East makes the control-bid in clubs to give West a chance to show the Ace of diamonds; for West to immediately bid 4N would be wrong because of the worthless doubleton in diamonds. After knowing all suits are stopped, and foreseeing setting up the hearts for a diamond discard, East can see the tricks for the 26 HCP grand slam. We don’t promise this will happen to you, but it shows the power of the method.

Note that quite often preliminary control bids below the level of game allow us to bid 4N where we otherwise could not, or to avoid getting to the five level when we don’t belong here.

Bergen’s Better Slam Bidding and its workbook has excellent examples.

Last Train

A modification to control bidding, “Last Train” (named after the Monkee’s hit, “Last Train to Clarksville”, is an agreement that once trump has been established, bidding the last strain before game says, “I have no more controls that I can show you below game, but if you have extras, I do have interest in slam.” This agreement of course does not show or deny a control in the bid suit.

For example, after 1♠ - 3♠ - 4♣ (control), 4♥ would deny a control in diamonds but show a hand that has slam interest but is not good enough to bid past 4♠ on its own. It says nothing about a control in hearts.

The bid of course shows a control in any suit partner skipped over. For example, 1♠ - 3♠ - 4♦ - 4♥ shows a control in clubs but not necessarily in hearts.

The point of Last Train is to allow classifying your hand as having slam interest, possible slam interest, or no slam interest by continuing past game, bidding Last Train, or just bidding game.

Five Notrump Pick-a-slam

When we have not agreed on a suit but you determine that the partnership has the points to be in slam, a jump bid of 5N is a great alternative to just shooting out 6N. It is much, much easier to make 12 tricks in a suit, even a seven-card fit, than it is in no-trump.

In response, partner can suggest a suit to play in or bid 6N.

In particular, after an auction ending in a quantitative 4N, bidding 5N is Pick-a-slam:

(2♥) 2N (P) 4N
(P)  5N(Pick A Slam)

Bergen’s Better Slam Bidding and its workbook has excellent examples.


Redwood is superior to Minorwood in my opinion.

Redwood, or One-Over Keycard, is a Roman Keycard bid for the minors, that leaves more room for responses. The bid one over an agreed minor suit at the four level asks for keycards in that minor: 4♦ for clubs, 4♥ for diamonds. The replies are 3014:

Replies To Redwood


Clubs (4♦)

Diamonds (4♥)


4♥ = 0 or 3

4♠ = 0 or 3


4♠ = 1 or 4

4N = 1 or 4


4N = 2 no Q

5♣ = 2 or Q


5♣ = 2 + Q

5♣ = 2 + Q

After a 1st or 2nd step replay, bidding the next step asks about the trump Queen. After any reply the bid of one over the trump suit asks for Kings. You should use the number of Kings or the cheapest specific King, whatever you do for ordinary RKC.


1♦ - 2♦(inverted or not) - 4♥!(RKC for diamonds) - 4N!(one or four)
1♣ - 2♦ - 2♥ - 3♣ - 4♦! because clubs was agreed
1♠ - 2♦ - 4♥!(RKC for diamonds); implicit agreement
1♣ - 2♣ - 4♦ - 4♠ - 4N to play
1♣ - 2♣ - 4N quantitative

The last two examples illustrate that when the one-over bid was available, to bid 4N is always a signoff or quantitative.

When there is no explicit agreement, the one-over bid is not RKC if it could be something else. For example, 1♦ - 2♣ - 4♦ is not RKC for clubs.

Three Spades Kickback


single:Kickback pair:Kickback;for hearts pair:convention;Kickback

The One-Over Keycard idea can be also used for hearts: a bid of 3♠ after an agreement on hearts is RKC. All responses are just one lower than normal. Kickback is off if either partner has bid spades naturally or bid Jacoby 2N; in the latter case the responses to J2NT take precedence.

These are kickback:

  • 1♣ - 1♥ - 3♥ - 3♠!(Kickback)

  • 1♥ - 2N! - 3♦!(shortness) - 3♠!(Kickback)

but not:

  • 1♠ - 2♥ - 3♥ - 3♠(natural)

  • 1♥ - 2N! - 3♠!(shortness)

Full Kickback

Redwood plus Three Spades Kickback, with 4N for spades, is Kickback.

You can extend the agreement to cover more kinds of auctions, and cases of implicit agreement on the suit, but it can get complicated. For one full treatment see Kickback: Slam Bidding at Bridge by Robert Munger, Master Point Press.

Exclusion Blackwood

“I can’t believe I am writing this article. I wouldn’t recommend this convention to anyone other than a full-time expert with a full-time regular partner. Still, it is a sexy convention and I get asked about it all the time.” – Larry Cohen

Exclusion Blackwood is a way of asking for the number of Aces partner has except for the one in a certain suit where the asker has a void. After an agreement on a trump suit, a jump to one above what would be a splinter in a side suit asks for Aces outside that suit. This is a jump to the five-level except when 3♠ would be a splinter; in that case 4♠ is Exclusion. You’re asking how many Aces partner has not counting the one in the suit you jumped to.


1♣ - 2♣!(inverted)

Here 2♦ would be natural, 3♦ a jump-shift, and 4♦ a splinter in support of clubs. So 5♦ is Exclusion Blackwood and shows opener has a diamond void. The reply is based on the number of Aces not counting the Ace of Diamonds. So the reply 5♠ says “1”.

With that expert regular partner you have, you might talk RKC or other response scales.

Preempt Keycard

When partner makes a three-level preempt, a bid of 4♣ over a 3M preempt, or 4♦ over a 3♣ preempt, is Preempt Keycard. The point of the convention is to ask for keycards but being able to stop in game. To make this work there is a special response set called 0-1-1-2-2, which means:

  • First step no keycards

  • Second step one keycard

  • Third step one keycard with the Queen

  • Fourth step two keycards without the Queen

  • Fifth step two keycards with the Queen


3♥ - 4♣!(Preempt Keycard)
4♥(one keycard) - Pass

We see that you should be willing to go to 5♥ if partner has one with the Queen or better. A more accurate way to say this scale is 0 - 1 - 1.5 - 2 - 2.5.


For a better alternative, see Redwood. I include this because it is widely played.

An optional convention to use with inverted minors is “Minorwood”, a jump to four of the minor after a two of a minor response. This becomes Roman Keycard Blackwood for the minor. For example,

  • 1♣ – 2♣!– 4♣!(asks for keycards)

  • 1♣ – 2♣! - 2♥ – 4♣!(asks for keycards)

but not in a non-jump sequence such as 1♣ – 2♣! - 2♥ – 3♦ – 4♣ in which the players simply discover they lack a spade stopper and decide to play in clubs.

Except in the difference of RKC-asking bid, the convention proceeds as with Redwood, the replies by steps.