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Is a Psyhic System a Systemic Psych?

We had a situation arise in the Roth Open Teams that I’m still wondering about, and would appreciate people’s thoughts on it.

We played a pair that was playing Multi, and had the following auction, all white:

RHO Me LHO Partner

2* P 3** P***

P      P

When the pair announced they were playing Multi, we announced we were playing the ACBL’s second defense to multi – which in both my seat and partner’s calls for passing initially with strong hands in one of the majors and then coming in after the response.

I had a 7 or so count hand with QJxx of hearts.

RHO alerted the 3 bid as “pass or correct, preemptive.” And, without much thought, knowing that LHO had a preemptive hand, RHO passed, rather than correct with something like Jxxxxx xx Qxx xxx. We then took 12 tricks on defense for +400 instead of reaching our heart slam.

We called the director and after some time were told that, although the pass was “clearly a psych,” the opponents had told them that “pass or correct, preemptive” was their agreement and unless there was evidence that either this was a lie, or they had passed before in similar situations, all we could do is file a recorder form as evidence that they had done it, possibly to be located again if they ever had the same auction in the US as evidence that they had an agreement to psych in this way. I didn’t hear anyone ask our opponents whether they had ever passed before in this situation. (And I don’t have evidence that it had, so I’m not accusing anyone).

I don’t know that the ruling is incorrect, but it raises some questions in my mind.

First, is it really proper to have a system that makes a psych free. By agreeing that the pass or correct bid would be preemptive, and knowing that we are playing the second defense to Multi, their system allows them to know that passing rather than correcting is essentially “no lose.”

You could argue that there are other, very common situations in the US, where psyches are likely to work out. For example, take a natural but aggressive weak two system. Partner opens 2D and the agreement is that a new suit is forcing. There is reason to think that psyching a bid in a short major with a weak hand will work well. Or, say you are playing McCabe, where a bid over a weak-two doubled shows support and is lead directing. Bidding a non-suit with a weak hand has some similar chance of working.

But in these situations, there are differences: (1) over the psychic bid, both opponents have the chance to call and therefore more chance to work things out; over a psychic pass this isn’t true; (2) when you know the Os are playing an ACBL defense that calls for passing immediately with a strong hand, you know that they will be strapped for a defense to your psych in the situation where the strong hand won’t be getting another chance to bid; (3) psyching a bid over a weak 2 or a McCabe bid at least has the chance of finding a partner who is not in on the joke – e.g., 2-(P)-2-(P)-4 may not work out well; or partner may make a losing lead believing the call to be real.

Second, does it really work to assume in a situation where a system creates the opportunity for such a free psych that the psych was out of the blue. Filing a recorder form and waiting until this situation comes up again isn’t much of a remedy when you are dealing with a foreign pair who may play in the US rarely in an auction that won’t come up that frequently. Is someone really likely to find our form if the pair does the same thing against 5 years later. And if it is 5 years later, will they conclude that this is an agreement? Doesn’t calling a system “preemptive, pass or correct” create enough of a risk by itself?

Third, does it make sense to have an approved ACBL defense that creates the opportunity for this type of psych?  If we are going to consider Multi and unusual method in the US, and require a defense, is there argument that we shouldn't set up the defense in a way that creates this opportunity?

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