Psyches are bids that grossly misrepresent your hand deliberately. They are not mistakes such as forgetting your agreements. Psyches are unpleasant to deal with, but the ACBL says clubs must permit them. Psyches by good players are quite rare because they are bad bridge, usually. Even though legal, when someone gets burned by one, bad feelings can ensue. Therefore, they are highly regulated. But, not every "weird" bid is a psych. The director will judge and take appropriate action.
Psych vs. Deviation
- A psych is a bid that deliberately and GROSSLY distorts the strength or shape of a hand.
- A deviation is a bid in which:
- the strength of the hand is within a Queen of the agreed strength, and the bid is of a suit of ample length or is notrump; or,
- a bid of a suit with agreed strength whose length is within one card of the agreed length.
A deviation is not a GROSS distortion and therefore NOT a psych. However, frequent deviations may establish an illegal, undisclosed implicit partnership agreement.
Using standard 5–10 point six-card two-level preempts, such a bid with a five cards suit and six points is just a deviation, as is a bid with a six-card suit and just four points. But if you do this frequently enough that your partner allows for it, it is an illegal implicit agreement. Such practice isn't illegal because it is a psych — it isn't a psych. But it is illegal and subject to an immediate procedural penalty under a different law.
When is a Psych Not A Psych?
Some psyches are consider disruptive to the game and are subject to regulation, and others are simply bridge tactics.
IMPORTANT: The following examples are not recommended as good bids, just examples of bids within the law.
- Your partner opens 1♠ and you hold ♠QJxxx ♥Ax ♦xxx ♣KQx. You bid 2♦, hoping to prevent a diamond lead, on your way to bidding 4♠.
- You control-bid an ace you don't have on your way to six of a suit.
- A waiting bid is generally a forcing bid made by responder to allow him time to learn more about opener's hand. If partner opens 1♠, holding ♠Axxxx ♥xxxx ♦xx ♣AQ, you have a hand too good for 2♠ and not good enough for 4♠. If you are not playing 1NT forcing then that's out. You can bid 2♣ as a waiting bid, and if opener rebids 2♠, bid 3♠ invitational.
When is a Psych Illegal?
ACBL forbids the following kinds of psyches:
- Excessively frequent — no more than two per session. In order to enforce this, players who psych or believe that they were psyched against should call the director to report it. Just report it quietly, and not in a call whose volume suggests someone insulted your mother. Likewise, if you believe your bid was not a psych, but opponents do, don't argue — it is up to the director to figure it out. Remember, arguing violates Zero Tolerance.
- Frivolous, motivated by a spirit of malicious mischief or lack of will to win. In duplicate, you're hurting your partner and the field so it is not a victimless crime.
- Unsportsmanlike action apparently designed to help the opponents, or against pairs or teams in contention, AGAINST INEXPERIENCED PLAYERS, or psyches used merely to create action at the table.
- Risk-free psyches, in which your system forbids your partner from bidding again and thus making things worse. Example, 2♥ (Pass) 2♠, when the responder does not have spades, is illegal if opener is not permitted to raise it in your system. A psych here makes the agreement illegal and subject to an immediate procedural penalty for that reason.
- You can never psych the bid that is your strong opening bid (2♣ usually).
The enforcement of the psych rules apparently requires that the director be, well, psychic. As a rule of thumb, we're saying, no psyches because you've had a bad day and given up, or want to create a big swing, or if the opponents are not equipped to deal with it.
At our club, our policy will be to include excessive frequency over time. Two a day every day is too much also. Take any warning we give you very seriously.
What Should You Do If You Routinely Make Light Bids?
It is expected that you might open light now and then, especially in third seat, but we're talking about "borrowing a King", not more. You may not have an agreement to open a hand at the one-level with less than eight high-card points. If using a 1NT opener with less than 10 HCP, you cannot use any conventions with it.
If you routinely make very light openers, preempts, overcalls, or third-hand openers, you must check the appropriate convention card boxes on the second line below "General Approach". These boxes also require that you call your opponents' attention to this BEFORE play begins (pre-alert). For example, if you might routinely preempt with xx xx Qxxxxxx xx , you must check the "very light preempts" box and pre-alert your opponents when you first meet them.
Remember, if you routinely do these things, not telling the opponents is a serious violation of the laws.
What Happens When A Psych is Found Illegal?
Scores will not be adjusted (per regulations) unless the director feels an implicit agreement or forbidden system-related factor is involved, but procedural penalties and even suspension could be imposed. A procedural penalty means subtracting match points or IMPS directly from the offender's total for the day. The offended pair is not going to get an adjusted score most of the time.
The full ACBL statement is on their web site.