Don’t Ask, Tell

By Larry CohenLarry Cohen

Courtesy of

Silence is golden. Here are three situations to examine. If you are on the ‘wrong’ side of these, here is your big chance to change your ways.

The sign of an inexperienced player is the frivolous asking for explanations. If your opponents alert, that doesn’t mean you have to do anything. After the auction is over, ask away. But, while the bidding is still underway, don’t ask unless the information is vital to you.

On many auctions, you and your partner are passing throughout. Your opponents are on their way to game, maybe slam. They are alerting away. Why ask? All you accomplish by asking is to help them. They get to explain their bids, thereby clarifying matters for their partners. Too often, I’ve seen situations such as:


Four clubs is alerted by the opponents. You are next to bid, and you hold:

Q J 3 2 5 4 2 Q 6 4 9 5 2

Why should you possibly care what four clubs means? Just sit there and ignore the alert. If you ask, the opponents will verbalize (thereby helping to avoid misunderstanding) if it is Gerber, a Splinter, natural, or something else. Wait until the auction is over. At that point, you can get all the explanations you wish.

Why do people ask when they don’t care? Maybe to show off that they are paying attention? Maybe to look sophisticated? It has just the opposite effect. It is the sure sign of inexperience to ask questions when there is no need to.

If you are on the other side of the equation (you and your partner are doing the alerting), then you are required to explain. Only if you are asked, tell.


Another pet peeve of mine (and another sure sign of inexperience) is as follows:


You open a preempt, and later the opponents cuebid your suit. This is a good time for the ‘silence is golden’ principle. Too often, people foolishly double these cuebids. Sometimes they even laugh and ask if it is their lead. Such doubles can only help the opponents. Trust me, they aren’t playing in three hearts doubled. By doubling, you give them flexibility. They can pass the double back around to their partner. They can redouble to show a control. You give them all sorts of options they didn’t have if you had just sat there and passed three hearts. Your partner knows you have hearts — why double?

Lastly, here’s one I’ve seen many times before. Dealer opens 1. The next player is sitting there with:

K 3 2 A 2 AQ108 7 5 2 2

Wow! What a strange hand to hold when RHO opens 1. Any experienced player would pass in tempo. What else can you do? Presumably 2 would be a Michaels bid for the majors, and 3 would be preemptive. So, you pass and await developments (if you overcall in diamonds on the next round, it will be natural).

What do the inexperienced players do? They ask, ‘What does 1 show?’ Or, ‘How many diamonds does 1 promise?’ Or they sit there with an amused grin on their faces. These players obviously shouldn’t try poker, but they also need to recognize the situation so that next time they play bridge, they can pass smoothly without giving away the show.

Make sure you are aware of the three situations described here, so that you can be thought of as an expert. Or, at least, you won’t be thought of as a neophyte. I am reminded of the famous quote: ‘Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt’