Sitting South, all vulnerable at IMPS, you pick up this little gem. You open 1, partner bids 2, and you now have, depending on your system agreements and personality, several options. If you are a describer, with a honed system, you can splinter in hearts agreeing clubs. If you are a procrastinator, you can improvise with a 2 bid to see what partner does next. If you are playing 2/1 game force, you could bid 3, but in standard or Acol this would be droppable. The foolhardy hogs might hazard 3NT. And the decisive gladiator types may wish to ask for aces/key cards immediately.

Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that whichever path you choose, you end up wanting to ask for aces/key cards. You are off 2 aces, and playing ordinary Blackwood, or 0314 Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB), you can ask as long as you are happy to hear 5 from partner, one ace or key card, which takes you past your minor game to a dubious slam or an awkward runout to 5NT. Running out here is tough because using 4NT RKCB 0314 type, after partner replies 5, 5 is a queen ask, and 5 could be construed as to play since spades were opened. Even worse, playing 4NT as 1430 RKCB, the last thing you want to hear from partner is 5, showing no key cards.

Classic Blackwood and RKCB both have merits for major suit and NT slam auctions, but have the disadvantage of potentially getting the bidding too high when exploring the possibility of a minor suit slam. Particularly when using 1430 RKCB, and asking in clubs, a 5 response to key card showing 0 key cards, is problematic.

Because of this dilemma, the practice of using 4 of the agreed minor as RKCB, has become popular: it allows you to ask for keycards without the auction going through the roof. This has been dubbed Minorwood. (Alternate systems such as Redwood use the suit above the agreed minor as key card).

Either may be used in the 0314 or 1430 format. This article specifically addresses Minorwood.

Minorwood, though at first glance a panacea, is also a Pandora’s box full of potential bidding mix-ups, the perils of which I have personally endured. This article is an effort to help those wishing to adopt this convention, to consider and discuss its pitfalls with partner so as to enjoy the ecstasy of Minorwood without the agony.

Firstly, your partnership needs to decide when 4 of a minor is Minorwood, and when is it not. My general principle is that 4 of a naturally bid and freely agreed by both partners or naturally bid and freely repeated (by either member of the partnership) is Minorwood in that minor. It sounds simple, but there are plenty of potential clarifications, exceptions and pitfalls. You would need to discuss at least the following with your partner:

– If we have started cue-ing, after agreeing the minor, then should a return to 4 of a minor say “nothing more to cue”? For example: 1 – 2 (inverted) – 2 – 2 – 3 – 4 = nothing more to cue.

– If partner makes a bid that forces you to bid 4 of a minor, it is not Minorwood, as Minorwood must be freely bid. For example: 1 – 2 – 4 (splinter) – 4 is not Minorwood, as you have been forced to bid.

– 1-minor – 4-minor. Minorwood or not? I prefer to play this as preemptive.

– What does a rapid jump after suit agreement to game in 5 or 5, bypassing the opportunity to Minorwood, signify? I play that it shows zero key cards. Some might play it with a key card but such a loathsome hand that slam seems impossible even with partner holding 3 or 4 key-cards: a form of fast arrival.

– After an unusual 2NT overcall or opening for the minors, what is 4-minor? We play it as Minorwood, following the principle that the 3 and 5 levels are for preempting.

– After a 3-minor pre-empt, what is 4- minor? We use it as Minorwood.

– If you’ve agreed both a major and a minor, can you still use Minorwood, or is 4-minor now a cue for the major? We play Minorwood here, and use 4NT as RKCB in the agreed major.

– Can you play Gerber (4 asking for aces) along with Minorwood? I suggest not – the two conventions cannot live together.

Warning: Do not try Minorwood with an American without detailed prior discussion. Gerber is deeply ingrained over there, likely due to excessive consumption of Gerber Baby Food in infancy. My own beloved brother, who is a highly regarded Yankee bridge pro, answered my Minorwood in Gerberese, despite reading my detailed system notes, and we thereby missed a slam.

Continuations after Minorwood

Replies can be given in 0314 or 1430 style, whichever you prefer. After the first two replies showing 0 or 1 key card, the step bid asks for the queen. Some partnerships will play the first step is no queen, with additional steps for Q, and extra steps for additional kings. Some show the queen by bidding their cheapest outside king.

After a disappointing reply to Minorwood, you need a way to bail out with insufficient key cards. We play that 4NT and 5 of the agreed minor are both sign off bids after the response to Minorwood. This means that the queen-ask is the first available bid, other than 4NT or 5 of the agreed minor. For example, after 4 – 4, 4NT is to play, and 5 asks for the diamond queen.

How do you ask for kings? Some use the suit above the agreed minor game, some use 5NT, and others utilise 5 level bids as control asks in outside suits, etc. This needs to be fully discussed with partner.

If you play Minorwood, and have not agreed a major suit, what is 4NT? Options include RKCB in the last bid natural suit apart from the agreed minor, or a general quantitative bid “do you like your hand?” sort of bid, or a trump ask bid. All have merits, you just need an agreement with partner.

Back to the original hand:aaxx

Partner responds 2 to your opening 1. You Minorwood with 4, and partner replies showing one key card. You have no need to ask about the queen since you see it before your eyes, or for kings, as you’re off one ace. So you bid 6. Dummy tables: aaxx

The trumps and spades behave favourably and 6 makes easily. If partner had no key cards, you can sign off in 5 (simple 0314 RKCB will work similarly, but not 1430, as discussed earlier).

Conversely, if partner shows two key cards in response to Minorwood, you can start your investigation for a grand slam, which you will surely bid if partner reveals the diamond king. A two-key-card 5 response to 4NT leaves little room to explore for the grand slam – however the 4 response to Minorwood gives you oodles of room.

In summary:

1) The benefits of Minorwood outweigh the detriments, provided you and partner are on the same wavelength and well rehearsed.

2) Minorwood is useful as an adjunct to major and NT slam bidding.

3) If you play Minorwood, you need to discuss the meaning of 4NT with or without a concurrent major suit fit.

4) If you don’t play Minorwood, 0314 seems preferable to 1430 particularly when asking in clubs.

5) When filling in your system card, Minorwood, unlike the conventions of Lebensohl, Ghestem, Cappalletti, Smolen, and Namyats, has the benefit of being easy to spell.