This conventional method was devised and developed by Mr. Easley Blackwood, born 1903 and died 1992, and is of Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.
When Mr. Easley Blackwood submitted his concept to The Bridge World for publication, a magazine with the reputation of being the vehicle of communicating information from the organized bridge authority to the bridge playing members, the idea was rejected for publication. Owing to its subsequent popularity within the bridge community, however, the managers of the magazine The Bridge World relented, and published his concept, and is known simply by the surname of its developer.
Note: His most notable quote is that he devised the convention, not to bid slam, but to know when not to bid slam.
The picture of Mr. Easley Blackwood was taken in the year 1978.
The idea behind the concept is to determine whether or not a slam is possible and/or whether the partnership should avoid a slam contract owing to a lack of controls or Aces or even Kings. As soon as the partnership has determined a trump suit or explicitly inferred a trump suit, then one partner can begin asking for Aces. This partner triggers the Blackwood conventional method.
One such bidding sequence could be:
North East South West 1 Pass 3 Pass 4 NT Blackwood convention
The convention uses the unique and single bid of 4 No Trump, which asks the partner to disclose the number of Aces held in the hand. That is the complete concept of this particular convention.
For this reason, there have been no examples provided owing to the simplicity of the concept. In order to learn the responses the bridge player only has to memorize a few bids.
The responses to the Ace-asking bid are:
5 : meaning no Ace or all 4 Aces 5 : meaning 1 Ace 5 : meaning 2 Aces 5 : meaning 3 Aces
Mr. Blackwood's convention, however, does not stop there. After the 4 No Trump bid has been made and answered, the 4 No Trump bidder can continue to ask for Kings by bidding 5 No Trump.
Note: any continuance of the bidding via a bid of 5 No Trump is considered to be a guarantee that the player asking for Kings has ascertained that the partnership holds all four Aces, and that the bid of 5 No Trump is an attempt at a grand slam.
The responses to the King-asking bid are:
6 : meaning no King or all 4 Kings 6 : meaning 1 King 6 : meaning 2 Kings 6 : meaning 3 Kings
Most every bridge player will ask how many points should be present in order to initiate the concept of Blackwood, and sometimes this question can not be answered with any mathematical formula. The requirements are not vague, but they are not exact either. Even though there are no definite requirements needed to attempt to bid slam, the two partners should feel safe in the attempt.
The first suspicion is mainly due to the information and holding descriptions exchanged during the bidding auction. If this information leads the two partners to believe that a slam could be a possibility, then they should initiate the Blackwood convention. As Mr. Easley Blackwood explained, the two partners can stop at the five level if they discover that two Aces are missing.
Past experience has, however, shown that attempting to bid slam is not a clever idea when:
1. the hand has a void 2. the hand has a worthless doubleton in an unbid suit 3. the quality of the Trump Suit has not been established
The Blackwood convention is also used to bid slams in the Minor suits. However, this does present a problem sometimes since the bidding may take the two partners beyond a safe contract. Once on the four level, asking for Aces takes the responder to the five level. If the targeted suit is Clubs, and the response is 5 Diamonds, informing partner that he holds 1 Ace, and the discovery is made that 2 Aces are missing, the partners have already exceeded 5 Clubs in the bidding auction, and have now gone beyond a safe contract. Caution is therefore advised.
Many variations upon this concept have been conceived, all with and for valid reasons. The bridge student is admonished to acquaint himself with such variations in order to understand the principles behind these variations. The attempt has been made to list them together owing to their similarities, likeness, and resemblance in concept. The following icon is a link to this list.
An article by Mr. Alan Truscott about Mr. Easley Blackwood appeared in his bridge column for the New York Times, April 12, 1992. This bridge article has only been preserved and archived on this site in .pdf file format for future reference.
If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.