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PSYCHED OUT

My partner and I, both life masters and decent enough C bracket players, recently played in a 2 session stratified pairs event in the Seaside Regional (a great tournament, by the way). We came second in C over the two sessions, collecting some gold, but would likely have done better if not for the board described following.

Partway through the first session, playing East-West, we met a pair of A level players. On the first of the two boards, I picked up a 24 point rock-crusher, and opened 2 clubs. Left hand opponent overcalled 3 diamonds. My partner bid 3 hearts and right hand opponent bid 3 spades (not alerted). The 3 spade bidder had zero points and 3 low spades in his hand. We wound up in a 4 heart contract for a bottom. At every other table, the contract for East-West was 4, 5, or 6 spades, most making 5.

After the session concluded, I sought out the 3 spade bidder to discuss the situation. He said "I bid spades to mess up your auction, and would only do that since I had diamond support for partner in case I had to run" and then he added "I would have bid the same playing against Meckstroth and Rodwell". I subsequently approached the director to request some kind of rectification. His conclusion was that the 3 spade bid would be considered as a "psych" and the fact that my partner and I didn't have methods to deal with it was basically just our tough luck.

In subsequent discussions with more experienced players, it would appear that the purported psych bid in the situation described above (essentially a disguised raise of partner’s pre-empt) is a well-known strategy in higher level bridge, and would be recognized as such by most experienced players. But it certainly was new to my partner and I at the time, and has left us with what we believe are some valid questions and concerns.

First, was that 3 spade bid really a psych bid? I thought that a psych bid is supposed to be a mystery not only to the opponents, but also to the psych bidder's partner. However, if that specific type of psych bid is a common strategy in the higher levels of bridge, and since our opponents were both A level players with many thousands of masterpoints, how likely is it that the psych bidder's partner did not know, or at least strongly suspect, what the 3 spade bid really meant? And if he was to some extent aware of the real meaning of that bid, he was definitely in possession of information that my partner and I did not possess.

Second, is it good for the game for psych bidding to be used in events where players of unequal experience levels are competing? The following is an extract from the ACBL website explanation of psych bidding: "Unsportsmanlike Psychic Bidding — ...psychs against pairs or teams in contention, psychs against inexperienced players...are examples of unsportsmanlike psychic bidding." To be fair, there was no way that our opponents could know whether my partner and I were in contention (at our level, that is) or whether we were less experienced than themselves. But nonetheless, both of those things were in fact true. So, while we are not saying that they were being deliberately unsportsmanlike, my partner and I still feel like we were taken advantage of.

It is likely that other less experienced players could be equally bamboozled by such bidding, would be unprepared to deal with it with their standard bidding methods, and would consequently often get bad results, leading in turn to bad feelings. And I don't think that is in the best interest of the game. So perhaps the best solution is for psych bidding to be allowed only in open, not-stratified events.

In a broader context, I personally find it hard to understand how any bid could be considered a valid psych in the higher levels of bridge competition, other than ones that occur literally "once in a blue moon". Good players playing together for any length of time at all will get to know their partner's style. And psych bids are memorable, as they typically generate an abnormal result, be it good or bad. Back to our A level competitors, I have no doubt, even if the partner of the psych bidder was genuinely unaware of what the 3 spade bid meant at the time, he would have no trouble recognizing the same scenario 5 years hence. My partner and I certainly won't forget it anytime soon.

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