Paul Cronin

To psych or not to psych, that is the question!

Much interest lately in our club as to whether psyching should be allowed or not. Some players feel it should only be barred against newer players, others that it should be barred in all cases, others that it should be allowed in all cases, etc. Would love to get some feelings from players at large as to their opinions.


Cam FrenchJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Hi Paul,

Psyching is a legal act in bridge and therefore should not be banned, anymore than unblocking or redoubling. You also have the difficulty of determining exactly what a psyche is. E.g. If I open 1spade (which I did) on:


Is that a “deliberate and gross misrepresentation” of the hand? Which is how the rule book used to define a psyche.

But it is wise to enlighten players about the ethics and repercussions of psyching. A long time ago a wise man and veteran player asked me for a game at the club (I was thrilled) and he told me – I have only one rule, never psyche against inexperienced players; he cited two reasons.
1) It turns them off the game.
2) You don’t need to do it to beat them.

this eventually became well-known around the club and I remember vividly when a newish player beamed with excitement because a good player has phyched against her! Why? She explained – everyone knows you don’t psyche against the weaker players – so I must be a good player if X chose to phyche against me!

K/S used to even have a “mandatory” psyche in their system. Players do have to be careful that they don’t develop a pattern (within a partnership) as that could be construed as a partnership understanding requiring alerts.

I think a little enlightenment by your senior players to the newer ones would probably do the trick. I imagine you have one or two newish players who continue to psyche often and diminish the experience for others. I never feel diminished if they psyche against me, because they often work out poorly for the psychers. Zia is famous for some of his writings about psyching. Mollo (in The Finer Arts of Bridge) has a chapter about psyches and one about what he called psychic plays!

I suggest enlightenment, espcially to the new players and hopefully the pyche can become a teaching tool that eventually adds not subtracts to our enjoyment of this wonderful game.


Howard Bigot-JohnsonJanuary 24th, 2012 at 12:51 am

HBJ : Hi there. Well my take on this subject is this. Psyching is Ok if partner is completely ( 100% ) unaware of it taking place. However SERIAL PSYCHERS known to do such things by their partners cause all sorts of ethical problems. Partners cannot help but anticipate the use of a psyche which may or may not end up being fielded. Subconsciously he will adopt a slow approach bidding and a measure of caution into the bidding auction. Certainly he won’t double when the oppo reach 3NT supposedly on minimum values ( even if partner had the values for his bid ! )
I once recall a TD partnering a top class player/ serial psycher, who rounded on him for not doubling a doomed 3NT contract by his oppo. His reply was ” if it had been anyone else partnering him he would have done “.
So yes psyches have to be so rare one doesn’t develop a reputation of being a psycher, which will always cause ethical problems for all those in the know.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 24th, 2012 at 3:34 am

Yes, psyches are PERFECTLY LEGAL but to me it is sad that people have to resort to that sort of thing to achieve advantages and good scores. It is like trick or treat. I would rather bone up on improved bidding, careful dummy play and imaginative defense.
I think it destroys the beauty of the game!

kenrexfordJanuary 24th, 2012 at 5:15 am

I never can understand comments like some of the above. Psychic bidding is not just a legal part of the game that we tolerate. Psychic bidding is a theopretically sound way to deal with the problem of opponents not yet spotting a great contract to take many points away from you.

Would it make you sad to have people resort to unfair tactics like preempts? Bidding at ridiculously high levels with nothing resmbling strength seems to destroy the beauty of the game. It is reckless, as people often end up down 800 against partscores. It is logically inconsistent with constructive sequences to find sound contracts. It creates unnecessary and unfair advantages when used against weaker players. It is very much like trick or treat.

Years ago, people felt that takeout doubles were unethical and inconsistent with the beauty of the game, too.

The constant degrading of people for psychic bidding frankly makes me sick. Sure, abuses happen. But, I would much rather play 100 deals against a pair who occasionally field psychics (which I can easily field also) rather than to play with the more civilized people who never use psychic bids but who field every grunt and hesitation and head scratch of their partners on every contested deal, on every game or slam decision, and in every defensive quandry that arises.

Begijn LurpoaJanuary 24th, 2012 at 10:38 am

Well placed psyches, like some of Zia’s, make this game so interesting…..
I always congratulate my opponents when they get away with it, and at the same I experience an enormous satisfaction when we can unmask them and get a big score…
Psyches are adding an essential pigment to our game !

Howard Bigot-JohnsonJanuary 24th, 2012 at 1:11 pm

HBJ : Just a curious point : a system card is meant to inform opponents what gadgets and conventions are using. Therefore if someone is partnering a known psycher, the opponents are surely entitled to know that psyches are lurking in their armoury. If not….. then surely this gives licence to use other UNDISCLOSED CONVENTIONS, such as light openers in the 3rd seat, light-weight non-vulnerable 1NT openers, and 3-level pre-empts on a 5 card suit !!
Either rip up the convention card or disclose on it the possibility of psyches.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonJanuary 24th, 2012 at 1:21 pm

HBJ : And one final point. Non-vulnerable, with partner passing and holding 9 diamonds to the jack and a void spade, why not open a controlled psyche of 5S.
What harm can you come to ? You have an easy retreat if the oppo double. Even 11 off undoubled is only minus 550 This is a psyche without risk. But since it looks the obvious bid to make in such situations, then by definitiion it is a conventional bid which should be noted on the system card……in a box called unusually high level obstructive bids ( UHLOB )

kenrexfordJanuary 25th, 2012 at 1:21 pm

The comment about convention cards having a box to check for frequent psychics is not all bad. However, characterizing this as hidden conventions is misleading, IMO. As psychics are allowed, one could as easily interpret this as meaning that all calls that could be “psychic” are already disclosed by the rules of the game. For instance, the ACBL convention card does not have a box to check to indicate how long your major must be in response to a minor opening, even though a fair number promise five. Same for a One Spade response to One Heart openings, for some being 5+. No box. Some things you have to know. Some things, granted, need alerts, but not all. Psychics are not alertable and not on the convention card, but that does not mean that this violates some sort of disclosure, because it is not a required disclosure, per the rules.

Stuart KingJanuary 25th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I always put ‘occasional psychs’ on my convention card. Not because I psych with any great frequency, actually I very very rarely do, but I want the flexibility to be able to if I pick up a ‘poker hand’.

Judy: Aren’t a lot of ‘imaginitive defense’ plays just psyches in the play?

paul croninJanuary 25th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Appreciate all the comments – a very complex issue! What are your thoughts on the specific case of “no cost” psychs, like
(i) partner opens 1H – you hold x Jxx Kxxxx Qxxx. Instead of bidding 2H directly, you bid 1S first, and then bid 2H over opener’s rebid. Particularly cost free for those playing Flannery, as opener is extremely unlikely to hold 4S
(ii) with your partnership playing 2/1, you pysch a 1C opening in 3rd seat holding Jxxx Qxxx Qxxx x knowing that partner can’t respond anything higher than 1NT, and you’re going to pass any one- level response.

Gary MugfordJanuary 25th, 2012 at 8:38 pm


Psyches cause bad feelings despite their legality in the absence of a pattern. Bridge is still a social game and i have no problem pulling any one particular ‘kind’ of psych with any particular partner … as long as I’m picking on players of a similar level of play or better. I think doing it to the newbies and never-will-be’s is destructful to the game of Bridge and the evil-doers need to be punished to some degree.

BUT, I think all clubs should make a point of having every psych or bids that smell psych-like booked. If the book gets big enough for repeat entries, well that’s what scoring adjustments are made for. The key is to take the stigma of reporting out of the process and make it as matter of factly as turning in a score slip. No accusations made.

So, now if I have my day’s worth of comments right, the Director starts his or her pre-game announcements like this: “Ladies and Gentleman, thank you for coming. I want to remind you that we require civility here at this club and the lack of same will result in the barring of repeat offenders. Furthermore, we expect you all to have a convention card maked with your playing agreements and to know how to play any conventions you have agreed to play. Finally, all psychic bids or bids you think MIGHT be psychic, are to be recorded by the club secretary, and that means either pair at the table can report the psych. We allow psychic bidding at our club, but we penalize systemic psychic bids and controls are barred, as per ACBL law. Good luck and lets start playing.”


paul croninJanuary 26th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

The ACBL does not allow clubs to bar psychic bids, as they are connsidered “part of the game”. Clubs can however bar the use of any convention, like Flannnery, Blackwood, Stayman, etc. I guess they’re not part of the game! What have we come to???

Richard WilleyJanuary 29th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I have long argued that the very notion of a “psyche: is outdated. The fundamental problem comes about because the construct doesn’t match actual player behavior.

Here’s a rather pedantic piece that I drafted a few years back…

The academic discipline of game theory differentiates between “pure” strategies and “mixed” strategies. Pure strategies are deterministic. Players choosing a pure strategy follow a predictable course of action. In contrast, mixed strategies deliberately incorporate random action. The simplest example of a mixed strategy equilibrium is the Penny Matching game. Two players simultaneous display a penny. If the two coins “match” (both coins are heads or both coins are tails) then Player 1 keeps the two pennies. If the two coins don’t match then Player 2 keeps both pennies. The only equilibrium strategy to this game is mixed. Each player should randomly determine whether to display Heads or Tails using a 50/50
weighting scheme.

The concept of a mixed strategy can be applied to a number of areas within bridge. The simplest and best know examples come from declarer play and defense. Many well understood problems like restricted choice make use of mixed strategies. For example, declarer leads a low Diamond into D QJ9 and plays the Queen after LHO plays low. RHO holds both the Ace and the King and needs to determine which card to cover with. Restricted choice analysis presumes that the defender is applying a mixed strategy will randomly chose to cover with the Ace or the King, once again applying a 50/50 weighing scheme.

Mixed strategies can also be applied to the design of bidding systems. Players applying a “pure” bidding strategy will always chose the same bid bid with a given hand. In contrast, players employing a mixed bidding strategy allow deliberate randomization. Consider the following example taken from Bridge My Way by Zia Mahmood. You hold

H K5
D 873
C A653

The auction starts

1H – 1S
3S – ???

and you need to chose a rebid. Zia advocates a bidding style in which players should randomize between 4C and 4D cuebids. Zia never goes so far as to discuss probabilities, but hypothetically he might chose a 4C cuebid 80% of the time and a 4D cuebid 20% of the time.

Alternatively, consider the following example: White versus Red
partner opens 1H in first seat promising 5+ Hearts and 10-15 HCP. RHO passes. You hold:

S 742
H AK762
D 9732
C 4

I advocate a hypothetical “mixed” strategy in which players bidders

4H: 60% of the time
3NT: 20% of the time
2NT: 10% of the time
2D: 5% of the time
1S: 5% of the time

Players who adopt mixed bidding strategies allow for the use of multiple bids to describe a single hand. As a consequence, many responses could show radically different hand types. For example, players adopting Zia’s Sting Cue bid style need to describe their 4C cue bids as either “First round control of Clubs or [rarely] no
control of clubs”. In an equivalent fashion, my partners would need to describe my 3NT raise of a Precision 1H openings as either a strong balanced hand willing to declare 3NT OR [rarely] a preemptive raise of

In turn, this brings us to the last major area in which mixed strategies and bridge overlap: Regulatory structures. Few if any Zonal authorities incorporate mixed bidding strategies into their regulatory structures. Instead, regulators attempt to sidestep the issue using the concept of a psychic call. Regulators and players
pretend that psychic calls are “deliberate and gross misstatements of honor strength or suit length”. In actuality, so-called psychic calls are a subset of a more complex meta-agreement involving mixed bidding
strategies. I argue that neither players nor regulators are served by this pretense. Complete disclosure can never be achieved unless the regulatory structure matches the actual strategies employed by players.

paul croninJanuary 29th, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Hello Richard,

Your comments were excellent, and will serve as much food for thought! The discussion here however was dealing with the question of whether or not psychs should be allowed in club play,where the regulatory authourity would be the club management or board of directors (except for the issue of the ACBL not allowing the banning of psychs at clubs). There would be few (if any) players at the club level consciously employing a mixed strategy in their bidding, and it would be very unlikely therefore that their psychs would be a subset of a mixed bidding strategy.

Daryl DrewJanuary 22nd, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Bad boards usually ruffle feathers. As a director the axe would fall on psych’s that are followed by crowing as this creates hard feelings. Any player crowing after fleecing a novice (taking candy from a baby) would find themselves one step from the door.

SwellApril 9th, 2016 at 12:30 am

Is a psyche bid in third seat with
♠ J 10 5 3 2
♥ Q 6 5 2
♦ A 8 6
♣ 5
be considered a psyche bid?

Gini CrossJune 19th, 2018 at 1:36 am

If my partner opens the bidding and an opponent bids and I make a weak jump shift, is that called “phych”? I’ve been told that twice by the same opponent (the director’s partner in a very loud manner). Therefore, the director (it’s a non-sanctified game), that pysch bids are not allowed.
We do not fill out convention cards. May we still use that bid and just alert it?

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