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Articles4NT - Ace Asking, Quantitative, or Take-Out (Feb/Mar 2011)
I asked my expert panel. When is 4NT by you or your partner in competition not asking for key cards?

Which of the following is ace asking? (Do you have rules?)
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), what does 4NT by you mean?
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), what does 4NT by you mean?
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), what does 4NT by you mean?
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), what does 4NT by you mean?

In constructive non-notrump opening auctions when is 4NT not ace asking? Do you have rules? In this article “answer aces” means either Roman Key Card (RKC) Blackwood, if that’s what you play, or straight aces if you don’t play Key Card Blackwood.

There could be a disaster if partner bids 4NT meaning it as ace asking and you pass thinking it’s invitational. There could also be a disaster if you answer aces with a minimum and partner means 4NT as quantitative. There could be a mix-up if you think 4NT is ace asking and partner thinks it’s for minors. So when is 4NT a quantitative bid and when is it ace asking? After 1NT and 2NT openers and natural notrump rebids, 4NT bids are quantitative unless a trump suit has been established. After 1NT -- 2 (transfer) -- 2 or 2NT -- 3(transfer) -- 3, 4NT by you is quantitative since no trump suit has been established. After 1NT -- 2 -- 3 or 2NT -- 3 -- 4, 4NT by you is ace asking since hearts has been established as trumps. After 1NT -- 4 (transfer) -- 4 or 2NT -- 4 -- 4, 4NT by you is ace asking since 4 sets hearts as trump. After 1NT -- 2 -- 2, 4NT is quantitative since no trump suit has been established. If you want to ask over 2, you need to set hearts as trump first. There are ways of establishing trumps after Stayman. After 1NT -- 2 -- 2, 3 is artificial and sets spades as trump. After 2NT -- 3 -- 3, 4 is artificial and sets spades as trump. If you had long hearts, you wouldn’t have started with Stayman. After 1NT -- 2 -- 2, 3 is artificial and sets hearts as trump. After 2NT -- 3 -- 3, 3 is artificial and sets hearts as trump. If you had long spades, you wouldn’t have started with Stayman. After setting trump, 4NT is ace asking.

In competition, there are some sequences where 4NT could be asking for aces or could be for the minors, e.g.. the four sequences at the beginning of this article. There are three popular rules: (1) 4NT is always asking for aces; (2) 4NT is always for takeout; or (3) 4NT is asking for aces if partner’s last bid was a major and is takeout if partner’s last bid was a minor.

The following experts play non-jump 4NT in competition is takeout.

Chip Martel---All of these would be for takeout in my agreements. 4NT is takeout over four-of-a-major unless: 1) we have already found a fit; 2) partner jumped in a suit; 3) pass would be forcing; or 4) notrump auction so 4NT is natural. Usually when there is an alternative ace asking bid, such as Redwood, or over four-of-a-major when a minor is agreed, then 4NT is usually a general slam try. (Redwood: similar to Kickback, a jump to one above four of the agreed upon minor suit fit acts as Key Card Blackwood – applies only to the minors.)

Barry Rigal---1) When is 4NT in competition not asking for key cards? Simple answer:
When there is no trump-suit agreement.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is for takeout.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is for takeout.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is takeout.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) - 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is choice of minors.
In constructive non-notrump opening auctions, 4NT is not ace asking if the last bid was notrump or fourth-suit.

Bobby Lipsitz---My rule is that 4NT is NEVER ace asking over four-of-a-major.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT shows the minors.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is choice of minors (typically 6-4).
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors, but serious slam try if convert to 5.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is choice of minors (typically 7-3).

2) In constructive non-notrump-opening auctions, 4NT is NEVER ace asking except after explicitly establishing a trump suit.

Marty Bergen---After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is minors.
In constructive non-notrump-opening auctions, 4NT is not ace asking unless obvious.

Ralph Katz---After an opening bid by partner an easy rule would be if the opponents bid four-of-a-major, 4NT is takeout, and all other 4NT bids are ace asking. Not the best rule, but very easy. 4NT is never ace asking on the second round of bidding in competition.

The following experts play 4NT as ace asking if partner’s last bid was a major, and as takeout if partner’s last bid was a minor.

Kit Woolsey---Our rules are: When the last bid is four-of-a-major by the opponents, and we do not have an established fit, and we are not in a force, then 4NT is takeout, unless partner's last bid was the other major. If partner's last bid was the other major, 4NT is RKC. Thus, for these auctions:
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking since partner's last bid was the other major.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is takeout since partner's last bid was a minor.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking since partner's last bid was the other major.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is takeout since partner's last bid was a minor.

Our rules are: 4NT is natural unless one of the following conditions exists:
1) We have an established major-suit fit.
2) Four-level transfer followed by 4NT is not natural.
3) Transfer to three-of-a-minor followed by 4NT is not natural.

Roger Bates---Examples one and three are ace asking, two and four are takeout.

Bart Bramley---My general rule is that 4NT is ace asking when we open a major, and takeout when we open a minor. I don't recall discussing this when we overcall, but I'd play the same way.

If 4NT is a raise of notrump, even if we did not open 1NT, then it is natural. If we remove 3NT to four-of-a-minor and the 3NT bidder returns to 4NT, then that is to play. If a minor is agreed, AND we have cue bid TWICE at the four-level, then 4NT is forward going and forcing. If it wasn't on that list, it's a key card ask. My fallback position in close cases is key ard. I like asking for key cards and I don't want to create a lot of obstacles for doing so.

Eric Greco---This is certainly a good issue for all partnerships to know. One rule can be that after a major-suit opening and a preempt, 4NT is ace asking. After a minor-suit opening and preempt, 4NT is takeout. This is decent because our major-suit openings show five while we don’t always know the length of the minor. When they open on the one-level and we overcall, 4NT should be for takeout because it seems much less likely to be asking for key cards after an opening bid by them and a raise. In other competitive auctions I don’t know if there are any hard and fast rules, just logic. As a partnership you can just lean towards playing most 4NT bids in competitive auctions as takeout, which is best, or RKC. One rule I like is (the exception is when we overcall their one-level opening), when partner has shown five or more of the suit, 4NT is RKC, and when they have shown only four, it is takeout.  So after 1 -- 1 (opponent) -- Dbl -- 4 (opponent), 4NT is takeout, but after 1 -- 1 (opponent) -- 2 -- 4 (opponent), 4NT is RKC.  After 3 (opponent) -- 3 -- 4 (opponent), 4NT is RKC. After 1 -- 1 -- 4 (opponent) is takeout.

Jill Meyers---After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking. After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is takeout. After 1 (by opponent) - 1 (overcall by partner) - 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking. After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is a good 5 bid.

Generally, with some exceptions, a jump to 4NT is natural over last bid of three-of-a-minor or if the opponents open three-of-a-major and partner overcalls four-of-a-minor.

After 1 -- 2 -- 3, 4NT shows extra values and is not ace asking. No trump suit has been established. Some play that after three-of-any-suit-other-than-clubs (opponent) -- four-of-unbid-minor (partner) – pass, then 4NT by you is to play.

Marinesa Letizia---After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is to play.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is to play.
If we bid a minor, 4NT is to play, but if we bid a major, 4NT is ace asking.

In constructive non-notrump opening auctions, 4NT is not ace asking. If there's room to set trumps, then 4NT is quantitative. I play a lot of kickback, which solves a lot of these problems.

Lynn Deas---The rules I like to play are as follows:
1. We open one-of-a-major and the opponents bid four-any, then 4NT is RKC.
2. We open one-of-a-minor and the opponents bid four-of-a-major, then 4NT is pick a minor.
3. We open one-of-a-minor and the opponents bid four-of-a-minor, then 4NT is to play.      
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking.

Dan Gerstman---As a rule, when we started with a major, 4NT is ace asking and when we've started with a minor, it's takeout. However, there are exceptions: for example, we started with a major and they bid the other major, and we made a negative double and they then bid their major to the four-level, then 4NT would be takeout. I imagine that other negative double type auctions would lead to exceptions. Such as they stop bidding at the two-level so that a cue bid is available at the below game level which would make 4NT ace asking and not takeout.

Carol Simon---My VERY simplistic rule is that when the opponents’ suit is hearts and our suit is known to be spades, then 4NT is ace asking ONLY in the situation where we find ourselves bidding over 4. So, the first and third examples are ace asking.

Billy Eisenberg---I would play over one-of-a-minor, 4NT is never ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is simply a slam try in partner’s minor.
After1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) - 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors.
A good rule for when 4NT is not ace asking might be, after two cue bids, 4NT is stronger than five of partner’s suit.

Chuck Berger--- After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is clubs and diamonds.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is diamonds and clubs.
In two-over-one auctions, raises to 4NT over 2NT or 3NT are quantitative. After one-of-a-suit --3 (by opponent) --four-of-either-minor (by partner), then 4NT is to play and 4 is ace asking.

Mel Colchamiro---After one-of-a-minor – four-of-a-major, then 4NT is for takeout, but after one-of-a-major -- four-level (opponent), then 4NT is ace asking. After a three-level preempt and four-level overcall, as in 3 (by opponent) -- 4 (by partner) -- Pass, then 4NT is natural and to play.

After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is takeout.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking or a strong club raise depending on partner.

Henry Bethe---After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is ace asking in spades. When the opening bid is a major followed by a high-level preempt by the opponents, a non-jump 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is minors with longer diamonds (in case partner does not have real clubs), typically six plus diamonds and three plus clubs.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT is for the minors, since double would be either penalty or cards. When the opponents open, we assume we are not in position to look for slam unilaterally.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), then 4NT shows diamonds with club tolerance.

A) When partner makes a natural notrump bid, e.g. after 1 -- 2 -- 2NT, then 4NT is quantitative.
B) When you bid a forcing 2NT, and then bid 4NT, e.g. after 1 -- 2 -- 2NT -- 3NT, then 4NT is quantitative.
C) When Redwood is available, 4NT is either (1) a substitute cue bid, or (2) an attempt to sign off.

Michael Lawrence---After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking. Partner bid a major and he has values.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is for takeout.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is takeout. Partner bid a major but did not show values.
After 1 -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT can be either takeout or simple aces. This one needs an agreement, which I do not have.

Steve Bloom---Our rules are very simple. In auctions like 1 -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking since we can bid a major at the four-level. If not, then 4NT is takeout (or a slam-try if we convert). Thus after 1 -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking. After 1 -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is takeout. After 1 -- 4 by opponent, 4NT is takeout. After 1 -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is takeout, or a heart slam try.

Kathie Wei-Sender---4NT is ace asking when partner has bid any suit.

Jeff Rubens---Playing in 4NT based on one's own suit is possible, but is unlikely compared to other uses. Perhaps wanting to offer a five-level choice of new suits is more likely, but not likely enough. Furthermore, in both such cases there are plausible alternatives. This suggests these treatments:
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is natural.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 1 (overcall by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is ace asking.
After 1 (by opponent) -- 2 (by partner) -- 4 (by opponent), 4NT is natural, though in this highly specific case, choice of minors also makes sense.

Complicated (and, like using Kickback, sometimes dependent on meanings of earlier actions). Generally, if there was a natural notrump bid and no playable fit has thereafter been revealed, 4NT is natural and it makes sense to require that fit to be in a major at matchpoints, ugly though it may be to draw such distinctions. Otherwise (that is, 4NT is the first notrump bid), 4NT is natural only by specific agreement, which needs to be done case by case (and here, especially, earlier meanings may matter).

Richie Schwartz---4NT is takeout when their four-level bid is above our suit; otherwise it is ace asking. After 1 -- 4 (opponent), 4NT is takeout. After 1 -- 4 (opponent), 4NT is ace asking.

There are experts that play 4NT is always ace asking.

Eddie Kantar---I would play all four as simple ace asking, no agreed suit.  After the fourth suit, 4NT is natural. 4NT is natural after opening notrump, 1NT, 2NT or 3NT has been rebid and there has been no prior eight-card or longer major suit agreement. 4NT is natural after a natural 1NT, 2NT or 3NT overcall. 4NT is also natural after partner makes a four-level minor-suit overcall.

You and your favorite partner should decide what various non-jump 4NT bids mean. Default means are: After partner bids a major-suit, a non-jump 4NT is ace asking. After partner bids a minor-suit, a non-jump 4NT is choice of suits.

Don Berman, Web Master.