play (one's) cards well(redirected from they have played their cards well)
play (one's) cards well
To act adeptly and with good judgment; to make the best and most effective use of the resources at one's disposal. Well Mr. Smith, the bosses have been impressed with your work so far. If you keep playing your cards well, you could see a promotion inside of a year. I'm really hoping Janet will agree to go on a second date, but I'll have to play my cards well tonight!
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
play one's cards right/well, to
To make the most advantageous use of one’s opportunities. Card-playing was popular in England from the mid-sixteenth century on, and terms from card games soon began to be transferred to other activities. This one appeared in print in Samuel Foote’s The Englishman in Paris (1753): “If Lucinda plays her cards well, we have not much to fear.” Whist, the antecedent of modern bridge, involves, with each hand dealt and bid, a suit that is designated as “trumps” (unless no-trumps is bid). For that hand, trump cards outrank all others. From this we have to play a trump card, meaning to make a winning move. Charles Lamb, who wrote extensively about whist between 1820 and 1829 (for London Magazine), was among the first to transfer trumps to mean any winning advantage: “Martin, if dirt were trumps, what hands you would hold!”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer