Join Bridge Winners
Asking and Answering Questions
(Page of 2)

In my last article, I discussed how UI can be communicated in the auction and steps you can take to reduce it. Today I move on to a different area where UI can be an issue: asking and answering questions.

Unfortunately, asking questions about an opponent's agreements is not as simple as it might seem. Your questions can communicate extraneous information about your own hand to partner. Further, many players have trouble explaining their agreements clearly. This article provides advice for both asking and answering questions. For experienced players, this article will be no more than a helpful review. For the less experienced, it contains useful guidelines for asking and answering questions clearly while minimizing UI. 


Asking Questions

Let's start with issues around asking questions.


Why Ask Questions?

Before asking a question, consider why you need the information. For example, suppose you are in fourth chair and the opponents have bid:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
?

Are you considering a bid at this turn? If not, then there is no reason to ask about the alert of 1 right now. If you don't need the information immediately, don't ask. Asking only risks transmitting UI. Should you ignore the alert completely? No, the information may be important to your defense even if you don't bid. However, you can wait until the play before asking questions. 

What if you are considering a bid at this turn? Then ask for more information. I usually say simply, "Please explain." 

What if you know what 1 means but your partner probably does not? Unfortunately, it is not OK to ask questions for partner's benefit. If partner has a habit of forgetting to ask, give him this article but don't ask questions for him. Ask questions only if you need the answer to:

  • Make your next bid
  • Interpret your partner's bid correctly
  • Declare or defend to best advantage

 

When Should I Ask?

The rules say you may ask during the auction or during the play, but only at your turn. Here are some guidelines on when to ask.

During the auction:
Ask questions about a call only if the answer might affect your next call. Some players prefer to ask  after every alert. This does no real harm although it can slow the auction. The advantage is that partner will soon learn that your asking a question contains no implication about whether or not you are close to bidding yourself. Personally, I don't ask unless i really need to know. 

Occasionally, you may need information about an opposing call when it is not your turn. Suppose you use an artificial defense to a Precision 1 but a natural defense to a short 1. As West in the auction below, you will need to know whether 1 is strong before you can tell whether to alert partner's 1 overcall. 

W
N
E
S
1
1
?

Unfortunately, your alert needs to come during RHO's turn, before you can ask about the meaning of 1 or read the opponent's card. Partner should ask about 1 before making a bid with a meaning that depends on the meaning of 1, but perhaps he saw the opponents' card earlier or didn't hear the alert. Since you are not allowed to ask at this point, alert 1 and explain that if 1 is strong, then 1 is conventional and if it is not strong then 1 is natural.

What if partner does not know that 1 is a Precision club opener and has bid a natural 1? If I alert 1 as artificial, haven't I then given misinformation? Actually, no you haven't. Your duty is to explain your agreement correctly, not to explain what he holds. As long as you explain your agreement, you have given accurate information even if he forgot your agreement. If you fail to explain, you will be guilty of providing misinformation and the opponents may be entitled to a score correction if partner knew it was a precision club all along. If partner has misbid, that is his problem not yours and damage, if any, will accrue from his failing to remember your agreement, not from any misinformation you gave. 

Won't partner unfairly be aware of his error after I alert? Yes he will, but your alert and explanation are UI to him. He is obligated to ignore them and to treat your response as though it were a response to a natural 1 overcall. If the result is a disastrous contract, well, so be it. 

On defense:
Before leading, ask your questions about the auction. If partner is on lead and he does not obtain the information you need, ask him to lead face-down then ask your questions after he has chosen his lead. This avoids the possibility of inadvertently guiding him to the suit you would like led.

When declaring:
Ask your questions about the auction and signalling agreements when it is dummy's first turn to play, after the opening lead has been turned face up. 

 

How Should I Ask?

The best way to avoid communicating UI with a question is not to ask at all. Get your answers by reading an opponent's card instead. When playing a KO or a Swiss match, review the opponent's card before you begin to play. This allows you to ask questions before UI enters the picture. 

However in many situations questions that risk communicating UI are unavoidable. When you do ask questions, use a neutral tone and ask broad, non-leading questions. For example:

"May I have a review of the auction with explanations?"
Frequently, your interest will be in one particular bid by the opponents. By asking for a review of the entire auction, you conceal your interest in one call reducing the chance of UI. You may also gain some other information you didn't know to ask about.

"Please explain"
Be particularly careful to avoid questions that could direct an opening lead or show interest in bidding a particular suit. For example, a question like, "What does that 2 bid show?" carries an implication that diamonds are important to you. The plainer request, "Please explain," will get you the same information without suggesting as strongly that diamonds is your suit.

"Anything more I should know before I lead?"
This is a great question if you suspect an opponent's explanation has left something out. Players sometimes unintentionally omit some implications of a call in their initial explanation.

 

Can I ask about non-alerted calls?

Yes. You can and should ask about non-alerted calls. Though 2NT is natural and non-alertable in the auction below, you still want to know whether it was invitational or game-forcing n this auction.

W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

Ask about their partnership bidding style for many other non-alertable calls, such as:

  • (2) -- (P); 
    Do they open weak 2's on 5-card suits? Unusually soundly or aggressively?
     
  • (1NT) -- (P);
    Could opener open 1NT light or offshape?
     
  • (1) -- (1); (1NT) -- (P); 
    Does the 1NT rebid denies a 4-card spade suit?
     
  • (P) -- P -- (1NT) -- ?; you hold a balanced 20 HCP.
    Does opener have a history of psyching 1NT in 3rd chair? 

 

What If I Do Not Understand The Explanation? 

Unfortunately, many opponents habitually explain their agreements poorly. Don't be afraid to ask followup questions until you get the information that you need. When an explanation is unclear, look at their card or ask probing questions.

  • "You said he showed a 5-card major. Could he also have more than five cards?"
     
  • "You said the call showed a good hand. Could he have game-invitational values or is he creating a game force?"
     
  • "You said 1 could be short. Could it be bid on two?"
     

Answering Questions

Let's turn our attention to answering questions.

 

Do I Explain What He Showed Or What He Holds? 

Newer players often think they must explain what partner holds--strangely enough, this notion is not true. Bidding is a private communication language. Your opponents are entitled to know what was communicated between you and partner but not what you and he actually hold. Partner's actual hand could differ from the picture he communicated with his bid(s) for several reasons. He may have:

  • Picked a call which was only an approximate description of his hand
  • Forgotten an agreement and hence unintentionally misdescribed his hand
  • Displayed poor bidding judgment and chosen a poor description of his hand
  • Intentionally lied to mislead you and the defenders about his hand

Your obligation is to explain your bidding agreements so the opponents can decode the meaning of his bids. If partner has sent a misleading or false message, even if you can tell from your hand that his message was false, your job is still to explain his message rather than what he holds. There is nothing unethical about an explanation that accurately reflects your agreements, even if it does not correspond to what partner holds.

 

Do I have To Tell If Partner Frequently Deviates From Our Agreements? 

Yes. Your second obligation is to flesh out your explanations with your knowledge of partner's bidding tendencies. If you have seen your partner open a 15-17 NT on 14 HCP more than once, then the opponents are entitled to know your partner sometimes will stretch. 

 

Should I Tell Them Everything?

Your third obligation is to provide helpful information. If they ask during the auction, presume they are considering a bid. They want to know if a call is natural or artificial and the type of hand it shows.

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
2
?

Wrong: "2 is a spade raise"

Right: "2 is artificial and promises a 3-card limit raise or better in support of spades."

If you gave the incomplete explanation above, it will be unclear whether 2 also shows a club suit and how many values it shows. Give the opponents an explanation that contains all the information they may need.

 

When the opponents ask before defending, they are preparing the defense. In general, they need the information that is known at the conclusion of the auction. For example:

W
N
E
S
1NT
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Wrong: "2NT is Lebensohl. It is a relay to 3. It could show a weak hand that wants to compete to 3 of a minor or a game forcing hand with a heart stopper or a game invitational hand with 5-6 spades."

Right: "Responder promised 4 spades, a heart stopper and the values for a raise to 3NT."

The opponents are preparing to defend. They don't care about what 2NT might have shown. They care what the complete auction actually did show. Unnecessary information that does not apply, given the subsequent auction, is simply confusing.

In theory, you should explain your partner's calls and he should explain yours, each taking turns. In practice, it is often faster and clearer for one player to explain the entire auction. For example, in a long cuebidding auction, one player can often explain the entire auction faster and with less confusion than if both do.

 

Some Other Common Mistakes

W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
?

Wrong: "Jacoby"

Right: "A 4-card, game-forcing spade raise." 

Jacoby is a name for a bidding agreement, not an explanation of an agreement. It will mean nothing to a person unfamiliar with the convention. A better approach is to explain what 2NT shows (a forcing spade raise).

Remember also that not all players use a convention in the same way. For example, some players use Drury to show a limit raise plus while others use it on a constructive raise or better. Rather than saying, "Drury", avoid misunderstandings by saying, "3-card constructive raise or better" (If that is your agreement).

 

W
N
E
S
1NT
2
2NT
?

Wrong: "A relay to 3"

Right: "An artificial bid used for a competitive hand with a long minor or as a first move with some stronger hand types."

Describing 2NT as a "relay to 3" describes how opener is expected to respond to 2NT, not what the call shows. The opponents don't care about your structure; they care about which hand type(s) the call shows.

 

W
N
E
S
2
?

Wrong: "A weak 2 in either hearts or spades, or a balanced 23-24, or a game forcing hand with diamonds, or 19-21 HCP with exactly 4-4-4-1 shape."

Right: "Normally a weak 2 in a major. Occasionally, one of three strong but rarely occurring hand types."

This time the poorer response is accurate, having correctly described the possible hands responder might hold. It has also buried the opponent with detail. In practice, a multi 2 bidder will hold a weak 2 in a major 98% of the time, so RHO should focus on the weak 2 option to make his bidding decision. If your opponent needs to know about the strong hand possibilities, he can always ask a followup question.

 

Some Useful Phrases

"I don't know."
If you don't know the answer to a question, the best way to respond is to say so. Some players get nervous when asked a question they don't know how to answer. They hem and haw rather than simply saying they don't know. 

"We have no agreement."
A useful answer for when your partnership has not discussed your partner's bid. When in doubt, some players try to explain what they think partner's call probably means. Often, this interpretation is based upon what they themselves hold. These explanations are both unnecessary and misguided. Your job is to explain your agreements, not to speculate on what might or might not be logical in the context of this auction. If you have no agreement, there is nothing wrong with saying so, even if you are certain you know the type of hand your partner is showing. In some cases, you may say, "We have no agreement, however in other similar sequences his call would mean X" if that statement is true.

"Our agreement is X, but I have often seen him bid this way with Y."
If you have observed your partner bend an agreement more than once, inform the opponents if asked. 

 

What If Partner Misexplains Our Agreement?

When you play complex agreements, the partnership can sometimes be on different pages about what a call means. How you handle partner's misexplanation depends on the stage of the game:

In the Auction
Say nothing. Make your bids in accordance with your understanding of the auction--his explanation is UI to you. For example, the auction begins:3NT! -- (???) and partner explains 3NT as a broken 8-card minor. Unfortunately, your actual agreement is that 3NT promises a strong preempt in a major. Ugh. After RHO's pass, partner bids 5. What now? Pretend he bid 5 understanding your 3NT as showing a long major. If your style would be to use 5 as natural, then you should pass now, playing him for 8+ clubs.

The Auction is Over and Your Side Is Declaring
Before opening leader leads, explain that your partner has given misinformation, then explain your actual agreement. Do the same thing if partner has forgotten to alert your call. If the MI affected the final contract, the director may offer to roll the auction back or may grant an adjusted score.

The Auction is Over And Your Side is Defending
Wait until play is complete, then explain that your partner communicated misinformation. Again if the MI negatively impacted them, the director may award a score adjustment.

 

Conclusion

Learning to ask and answer questions appropriately makes the game more pleasant for all and reduces misunderstandings, complaints and director calls; something everyone can benefit from.

70 Comments
Getting Comments... loading...
.

Bottom Home Top