Introduction

Having discovered that we have sufficient assets to produce twelve tricks in a suit we must still consider the possibility that the defense can cash the first two tricks. Two tools we use are Roman Key Card Blackwood and its variation Kickback. These conventions usually will save us from bidding a slam off two key cards. But even if we have four key cards we may be off two quick tricks in a single suit. To avoid this we use Italian Cuebids to show our controls:

  • The possible controls in a suit are ace, king, void, or singleton. Italian cuebids indiscriminately show any type of control.
  • We always make the cheapest cuebid we can. e.g. 1/2/2/3/4. Opener might have AJ8753 AK7 9 Q52. He cuebids his singleton diamond before his powerful hearts.
  • Skipping a cuebid denies a control in the suit skipped. see If You Bite the System
  • Cuebidding in major suit auctions is closely tied to Serious 3NT.
  • A few example auctions follow. Additional examples appear in the Serious 3NT page.
West 
A7
86
KT9
AK7642

    1
    3
    3
    Pass
East 
KQ6
QJ5
A
JT9853

    2
    3
    3NT
2 is forcing to game. 3 denies a major and strongly suggests that East should cuebid. 3 and 3 are cuebids, the latter denying a heart control. East, knowing there is no slam, tries 3NT which East has no reason to disturb.
West 
A7
86
KJ9
AK7642

    1
    3
    3
    4
    6
East 
K86
KQ5
A
JT9853

    2
    3
    4
    4

    Pass
Same hand as above except that East's major suit holdings have changed. With the heart control that West needs, East bids 4. This is a slam try -- if East had given up on slam he would have bid 3NT or 5. And of course the bid promises a heart control. 4 is Kickback, 4 shows one key card and the slam is reached.
West 
A7
KT9
86
AK7642

    1
    3
    3
    4
    6
East 
KQ6
QJ5
A
JT9853

    2
    3
    3
    4
    Pass
This is the first hand with West's red suit holdings reversed. Here West's 3 elicits a cooperative 3 from East. West, on the strength of his strong clubs, decides to go for it and once again the slam is reached.
West 
AJT5432
52
A53
J

    ---
    1
    3
    4
    5
East 
KQ7
AK64
K7
K942

   1
   2NT
   3
   4NT
   6NT

If You Bite the System the System Will Bite You

An experienced pair went very wrong on this hand. West unwisely skipped his 4 cuebid, denying a club control. East then bid 6NT to make himself declarer and protect his K. 6 is near 100% while 6NT is half that. As it happened, the A was offside and East-West lost a ton of IMPs.

West said he was anxious to find out if East had a heart control so he bid 4 to find out. He was wrong on two counts. First, suppose East had held KQ7 AK64 KQ Q942. After 4 he would have bid 4 on the assumption the partnership was off two quick club tricks.

Second, suppose West had correctly bid 4 opposite the actual East hand. Then it would have gone  .../4/4/4. And that would have sent the message "I am interested in slam but I don't have a heart control." East would have known what to do.

Comments

I have a vague recollection that the association of the Italians with this style of cuebidding goes as far back as the famous Blue Team of the fifties and sixties. The current Bridge Encyclopedia describes the treatment but says nothing of its provenance. Nor can I find mention of this question in any other work. Remarkably not even a Google search could unearth an opinion -- informed or otherwise.

A frequent complaint about Italian cue bids is that they fail to distinguish between first and second round controls. That is a valid point and there will certainly be times you would rather be playing traditional ace showing methods instead of these methods. No system is perfect. There are after all more hands than auctions. But experience shows that these methods work very well in conjunction with Roman Key Card Blackwood (or -- as Colin and I play -- Kickback).