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A or K (Italian) Cuebids
Briefly: After a suit has been agreed upon, a cuebid shows a first- OR second-round control in the named suit. These controls will be referred to herein as aces or kings, respectively, but can also be voids and singletons with partnership agreement.
Note: Bidding 1st or 2nd round controls is quite similar to strong inverted-minor rebids which show stoppers in trying to get to 3NT.)
As with regular cuebids that show only first-round controls
1st Example: Assume the bidding goes (opponents passing):
1H – 1S; 3S – 4D
“4D” says the bidder: 1) has an interest in a slam try, 2) is missing both the ace and king of clubs (implies at least two losers in clubs), and 3) holds either the ace and/or the king of diamonds (opponents can’t take two quick tricks in diamonds).
At this point the opener would either sign off at 4S without a club stopper or continue bidding towards slam with additional cuebids or RKC asking.
2nd Example: Assume the bidding goes (opponents passing):
1N – 3S; 4D – 4H
(The “3S” bid implies desire for a slam try.) As before, the “4D” bid denies a control in clubs and promises a control in diamonds. The “4H” bid shows: 1) a control in hearts AND (in this case) 2) it also promises a control in clubs! (Without a control in clubs responder would have signed off in 4S.)
3rd Example: Similarly, after a Bergen raise:
1H – 3D; 4C
Opener’s rebid of “4C” denies a control in spades and promises a control in clubs.
Can You Distinguish between the Ace and the King?
Often you don’t need to. For example, when partner cuebids a suit, you might hold the other (ace or the king) control in which case you know you have two top tricks in that suit. Or you might hold QX, in which case you should plan on one loser regardless of whether partner has the ace or the king. Sometimes subsequent RKC asking will provide the answer (and sometimes it won’t).
It’s just one of those things: Sometimes you want (need) to know if partner’s control is an ace (or void) such as when you hold a singleton. Other times it’s more valuable to know that partner has a control in a specific suit such as when you have a long suit topped by two or three of the top three or four honors.
Can You Cuebid Singletons and Voids?
As with “ace-only” cuebids, yes and no. If you’re going to try for top board by running to NT, then you’d better use caution. If you plan to stay in a suit then it’s probably OK after you get used to the convention.
It isn’t a panacea for getting to safe slams. But it seems to offer an edge for slam bidding. That is, when you’re interested in a possible slam, you have some extra “strength” in your side suits (specifically, some queens) and being able to tell that partner has an ace or king in the suit increases the value of that side suit. And it is just as useful to know that partner has neither an ace or a king in such a side suit.
In short, for the few slam hands that I’ve attempted to analyze (from STAC week printouts), it seems that cuebidding 1st or 2nd round controls gives a slam bidder a better insight on how to proceed.