Google BridgeHands

 HOME  Encyclopedia  Newsletter  Laws  Products  Services  Reviews  Tournaments  Blog  Training  Practice   HELP
 You are at:

Psychic Bridge Bid

An intentionally misleading call or bluff which departs from accepted partnership agreements or is otherwise designed to confuse the opponents.  Psychic bids attempt to provide an illusion of strength or length in a given suit, thus concealing the weakness of one's hand.  Of course, since trust and confidence are cornerstones of partnership bidding, psychic bidding can be disruptive to both sides. A few systems, such as Roth-Stone and Kaplan-Sheinwold utilize disciplined psychic bids in certain situations.

For mainline Bridge bidders, the psychic bidder seems to throw caution into the wind, walking where angels fear to tread.  Many players have bitter-sweet experiences with psyches, be it by an unscrupulous opponent, cunning partner, or self-inflicted from within. But before discussing the details, let’s define the psych bid itself. Most would agree a psych is a bid that is a gross misstatement of a player’s honor strength or suit length. The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge goes on, saying, “A bid that bears little resemblance to a logical choice for the hand in either a natural sense or as a conventional or systemic partnership agreement.”

Interestingly, when it comes to a player’s strength and suit length, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Back in February 1978, the ACBL Bulletin published the famous “Don Oakie” opinion of what constitutes an excessive deviation to Law 40, Partnership Understandings. In essence, Don defined a normal deviation as, “A bid in which the strength of the hand is within a queen of the agreed or announced strength, and the bid is of a suit of ample length or of Notrump; the length of a suit varies by no more than one card from the agreed or announced length.” (See the ACBL Duplicate Decisions, Law 40” for details). While Don’s guideline was helpful for players and Bridge Directors, over the years many creative bidders have pushed the envelope with some success on Don’s restrictive ruling. For instance, most seasoned players would relate to significant player “deviations” on what constitutes the proper strength for a strong 2 Club opener.

Consider these hands:

   A K Q J 10 9 7 6 5   7 5 4   2   --

   A K Q 10 9 8   J 10 9 8 7 6   4   --

According to the ACBL, opening 2 Clubs with either of these hands is acceptable if, “in the view of the bidder, there is a reasonable chance for game in hand with little or no help from partner.” Hmm, so indeed the classic cliché has an element of truth, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder!”

At any rate, for the purposes of our discussion, let’s simplify the issue by agreeing that a player has psyched when their strength falls under 50 percent of partnership strength agreements, or the suit length is several cards less than expected.

Next, let’s explore the motivation of the psych. Certainly the most common reason folks psych is to obstruct the opponents from finding their best contract. Yet a player might also make a bid for its merit on lead direction. A classic example is the overcall; over the years, the strength (and length) for the overcall seem to get lighter and lighter. Today many players would happily overcall 1 Spade holding A Q J 3 2 with little else, especially considering favorable vulnerability. True, these days players expect overcalls could be light – duplicate players make this clear on the back of their convention card. But what about opening 1 Diamond holding only K Q J 3 2 in honor strength with favorable vulnerability? Definitely a psych! Now then, again with favorable vulnerability, what might you open the same hand in third seat? Those who like “action” might go anywhere from 1 to 3 Diamonds, with some creative bidders testing the water with a 1 Notrump call. Let’s rate these bids:

1D = clearly a psych, albeit nice lead direction
2D = definitely fits within Don Oakie’s normal deviation
3D = at best a semi-psych (deceptive tactical bid), even with an outside Queen or four card side suit and using the “Rule of 2-3-4

In their book, “The Art of Psychic Bidding,” Julian Pottage and Peter Burrows identified two general categories of psychic bids:

Blunderbuss Bridge Psyche

As we saw with the 3 Diamond bid above, the Blunderbuss blasts a high-level bid, typically preemptive with the intent to consume bidding space. As its name suggest, the blunderbuss fires lethal projectiles over a wide path, at best reaching the opponent but perhaps inflicting mortal damage to friendly forces.

Rapier Bridge Psyche

The rapier psyche typically begins with a low-level bid which deliberately misleads players regarding the bidder’s suit shape. Recall the psych bidder who opens 1 Notrump holding something like:

      4 3 2   3 2   K Q J 3 2   4 3 2

If the bidder’s intention was to ultimately flee to 2D or 3D when doubled, the tactic would be considered a rapier – thrust and retreat. An initial bid of 1S would be a more classic form of the rapier. Note: if the rapier was not already dangerous enough, doing so with extreme shortness can be especially disastrous since partner is more likely to have length in the suit and make a monstrous jump in the short suit! Some of those who say psyches are akin to the boomerang (likely to come back and whack the perpetrator), are probably in this category. Assuming a partnership does not have the Gambling 3 Notrump bid in their conventional arsenal, a player might also try the rapier 1S third seat opening bid holding:

       3 2   4 3 2   2   A K Q J 4 3 2

If necessary, the rapier bidder hopes to stall the opponents’ bidding. If the auction gets lively, the rapier will repeatedly rebid Clubs, hoping partner will eventually figure out the psych based on the opponents’ bidding. This illustrates the psycher’s dilemma, requiring one’s partner to believe the opponents instead of the supposed trustworthy partner. Perhaps this is the origin of the tongue-in-cheek term “Center Hand Opponent!”

Here's an example of a classic rapier psyche by Zia, perpetrated against unsuspecting opponents at the 2010 World Bridge Series Championship.

Yet the psych aficionado will go so far as to provide gradations of the notorious psych.

Baby Bridge Psych

This category is less obnoxious, yet still creating an element of confusion. Perhaps partner opens 1H, with right hand opponent doubling and you bid 1S holding:

     2   5 4 3 2   5 4 3 2   5 4 3 2

Mini Bridge Psych

As we discussed above, our third hand opener with a short 2-3 card suit falls in the category of a mini psych, as does the 3 level third seat opener holding a 5 card minor (especially bidding 3 Clubs). Another classic mini psych eluded to earlier was the 1D opener holding:

     Q 3 2   3 2   K Q J 3 2  4 3 2

Another favorite rapier mini psych is the 1 Notrump response holding a bust hand with a great fit in partner's suit. The mini psycer plans belated support of partner's suit when opponents jump into the auction. To illustrate this tactic, let's say partner opened 1H, where responder bids 1N holding:

     3 2   J 5 4 3 2   4 3 2   4 3 2

Maxi Bridge Psych

While the maxi has enough strength to justify a bid, the shape constitutes a distortion of the call. Perhaps you have an 18 count and envision a jump rebid of 2 Notrump holding:

     K Q 2   A Q 2   4 3 2   A Q J 10

A normal opening bid would be 1C, rebidding 2N. Yet an opening bid of 1D might inhibit the left hand opponent from leading Diamonds when the partnership winds up in a 3 Notrump contract. However, be careful doing this with a doubleton, as the auction could result in a passout around the table (a suicide psych?)

Incidentally, “walking the dog” technically does not constitute a psych but is merely a bidding strategy. Perhaps you overcall 1S with an 8 card major that’s a two-suiter with a 4 Losing Trick Count hand; you intend to slowly bid up to 4S, hoping to draw a double and make game when the bidding reaches a level perceived unmakeable by the opponents. Walking the dog falls in the realm of everyday bidding.

Making a third seat preemptive 2 or 3 level bid when holding full opening values and a 5 card suit might be either a strategic bid or a maxi psych, depending on your point of view. Perhaps you are concerned the opponents will find a Spade fit, so you choose to open 2H holding something like:

     2   A K Q 3 2   K 4 3 2   4 3 2


The matriarch of the psychic bidding dates back to 1931 by Dorothy Rice Sims. Bridge was in its heyday during this era, as psychic bidding swept the Bridge tournament circuit. All this was followed by millions of avid Bridge readers who followed the psychic pros in newspaper columns. To fuel the fire, in 1932 Dorothy published her works, titled “Psychic Bidding.” Even the legendary Ely Culbertson, who professed to be opposed to the psych, occasionally found its strategic use in tournament play. Yet aside from Ely’s Bridge prowess, he was arguably the most successful Bridge marketer the game has ever seen. Thus, in Ely’s official “Culbertson System” that made him millions of dollars during the Great Depression, Ely stressed the importance of partnership harmony. Good advice Ely, and with that let’s examine psyches in the wild.

Even before Dorothy’s movement caught fire, the great Sidney Lenz wrote about the evils of the “Shift Bid.” The opener tried a bizarre 1 Notrump opener holding:

             A K Q 9 3 2

             A Q 6

             A Q 7


Sitting to the left of the opener with a solid 7 card Club suit, Lenz passed as did the table. The result was down one instead of a cold Spade slam! Surprisingly, the declarer tried to chide Sidney for not bidding his long suit! Ah, how times have changed.

Returning to Dorothy Sims, in the famous Culbertson- Sims match, she held:

             A 9 7

             J 10 5 4

             A K J 4 2


Back in those days, players opened a four card major, so Dorothy had a tough decision choosing between the weak Heart suit and the honor bound Diamond minor. Certainly the hand is not suitable for a Diamond-Heart reverse call. Instead, Dorothy got creative, opening 1 Club - Dorothy was noted for bidding in such a way to ensure her husband Hal’s strong declarer play would prevail. We’ve previously spoken here about the “Rule of Anticipation” and, sure enough, Hal jumps to 7 Clubs. This time the luck was with Dorothy as Hal presented a beautiful dummy:


             A Q 6 2


             A K Q 9 8 6 5 3

With the Heart King onside, Dorothy pulled trump and easily made the grand slam.

Let’s jump forward to the 1966 Bermuda Bowl. In third seat with favorable vulnerability sat Eric Murray, who ventured a mini-psych holding:

             9 3

             Q 8 7 6 5 4 2

             9 6

             10 6

Certainly the stars were in ideal position for the mini- psych. Eric had to know his Left Hand Opponent held a proverbial rock crusher, and Eric’s seat and vulnerability provided an irresistible temptation to do something. And although one might argue the Heart suit does not conform to the standard definition of “self sustaining,” many would agree the hand is 7- 8 Losing Trick Count. At any rate, sitting to his left was the Italian’s Walter Avarelli who jumped to 3 Notrump holding:

             A K 7

             A J

             K Q 10 7

             A K Q 8

Unfortunately, Walter’s partner did not realize he was a “card rack,” missing the slam bonus found at the other table where the auction was not impeded; Bob Hamman began 3 Notrump, bidding 4 Diamonds after Lew Mathe’s Stayman bid, who subsequently signed off in 6 Notrump (making 7). Today many bidders overcall using the following step sequence with stoppers:

            15-17 = 1 Notrump

            18-20 = Double followed by Notrump

            21-23 = Double followed by jump in Notrump 

Speaking of Notrump overcalls, recall last month we covered the “rapier,” a low-level bid intended to deliberately mislead opponents regarding the bidder’s suit shape.

           10 9 7 6

           K 8 2


           K Q 10 6 4

J 8 4                 A K Q 2

J 10 3                A 9 7 6 5

Q 9 8                 2

A J 8 7               9 5 2

           5 3

           Q 4

           A K J 10 6 5 4 3



West  North  East  South

              1H    1N

2H     X      P     3D

P      3N     P     P

X      XX     AP

Here our psycher was Pamela Granovetter, not known to attempt a rapier. Unfortunately, hubby Matthew didn’t recognize the psych after Pamela pulled his Double to 3 Diamonds. After the smoke cleared, Pamela was down six for a whopping 3600!

While Matthew was not a stranger to an occasional psych (having earlier opened 1H with zero points), pointed out it only makes sense to psych in the first seat before the opponents get in the bidding. But as the saying goes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. From Pamela’s perspective, Matthew ignored the aggregate bidding. But as often happens, the psychic bidder mistakenly assumed partner is at least as creative as the psycher – a fateful conclusion. Pamela felt Matthew mistakenly deduced she had the requisite points to overcall Notrump but not the requisite shape (perhaps a 3=1=5=4 hand). Thus, hubby Redoubled 3 Notrump to show a Heart stopper and, never having seen his bride psych, figured their contract was secure (ignoring West’s freebid). We close with Matthew’s immortal words, “I'm beginning to think that for partnership bridge, psyching is self destructive.”

Perhaps Matthew would relate to this psych, taken from “Psychological Strategy in Contract Bridge” .” (pg 107)

           A Q 2

           8 2

           K 6 5 3

           Q 7 6 4

K J 9 5 4 3         10 6

A 7                 K 4

A Q 7               9 8 4 2

J 9                 A K 10 8 2

            8 7

            Q J 10 9 6 5 3

            J 10

            5 3


West  North  East  South


 1S     1N    2C    P

 2S     AP

Despite the offside SA-SQ and HK, East-West missed their Spade game. Chalk one up for the psycher. Earlier we saw how Matt couldn’t believe Pam’s psych. Next, we will see how the converse is doubly (sic) true. We have all heard the story about the little boy who cried wolf one too many times. Sure enough, Bridge players may suffer the same epitaph:

          A K Q

          7 6 2

          A K 10 6 5 3


J 9 7 5              10 6 4

K J 9 8 5            A 4

9 8                  7 2

3 2                  10 9 8 7 6 4

           8 3 2

           Q 10 3

           Q J 4

           A K Q J

This hand comes from the 1997 McCallan Pairs held in London. Most players bid 6D, going down. Michael Rosenberg and Seymon Deutsch were among the lucky few that made slam, even though Zia Mahmood sitting East, doubled Hearts for lead direction. So why didn’t Michael go down, you ask? Well, a few boards earlier Zia made a psychic lead directing Double with three inconsequential cards when the opponents cuebid a suit. That time it worked well, seducing the opponents to misplay the hand. So Zia’s partner, Gabriel Chagas, figured his partner was up to his old tricks. Thus, Gabriel led a Spade instead of his HA to set the contract after Zia’s HK. As the saying goes, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away!” Most advanced Bridge players are aware of the mantra, “anything goes in third seat.” (especially with favorable vulnerability) Witness the Blunderbuss in action – akin to the shotgun spewing projectiles in every direction (heads down, partner):

              10 8 7 6 4 3

              A 10 6

              K Q 6


A                          K Q 2

K J 9 8 7 5 2              Q 3

A J                        10 8 7 5 4 3 2

A K 4                      2

               J 9 5



               Q J 10 9 8 6 5 3

Playing in the 1967 Vanderbilt Team Championship, Martin Cohn opened 3H sitting in third seat, definitely earning the “Gross Misstatement” award! West hoped his Pass would be converted to Penalty Pass but East passed out the auction. At the other table South proved not to be a shrinking violet and opened 5C, overcalled 5H by West. North could not resist doubling the contract, but alas, the contract made with an overtrick. And who said Bridge can’t be as risky as poker?

Those who follow international competition have seen psyches like this one, albeit usually not with such a devastating result:

              K Q 8 3

              A J 3 2


              8 5 3 2

J 10 7                         6 3

K 10 8 5                       Q 7

A K 7                          Q J 8 6 2

A 9 6                          K Q J 10

               A 9 5 4

               9 6 4

               9 5 4 3

               7 4


West  North  East  South

        P     P     1H

 P      3H    P     P

 X      AP

It was 1957, the United States playing Italy. Koychou, sitting South tried a risky 1H with all vulnerable. Sitting West was Walter Avarelli who smoothly passed, awaiting a positive development. Apparently Koychou and partner Harold Ogust did not play Drury, so Harold’s 3H seemed like the perfect bid. Walter could hardly believe the gift, Doubling the contract and was awarded 1100 points for his patience. As we said last month, sometimes the psychic boomerang hits the wrong target. One could easily imagine dinner conversation was strained for the U.S. team that evening!

Now let’s view an Appeal of a psych, taken from the Spring 2003 Philadelphia NABC. First the hands:

                      K Q 3 2

                      J 10

                      A K Q 5 4 3


J 10 9 8 7 6 5                    4

A 8 5                             K 9 6 4

--                                9 8 6 2

10 5 2                            K J 8 4



                       Q 7 3 2

                       J 10 7

                       A 9 7 6 3


 West    North    East    South

          1C*      X        2C

  2D      X        P        P

  2S      X        AP

North’s 1C* was Precision, showing 16+ points and East’s Double ostensibly showed Clubs and Hearts. When the dummy came down, the defenders summoned the Director, claiming East had “fielded” West’s 2D psych. The Director ruled there was not any evidence to support the assertion (Law 40), letting the score stand. Afterwards, the defenders persisted, filing an Appeal. While the Committee ascertained East/West had played Bridge together in excess of 20 years, North/South’s bidding promised game-going values. Thus, West’s 2 Spade bid could not be interpreted to show interest in competing to win the auction. The Committee noted North’s Double of East’s 2 Diamonds demonstrated they had a method to expose the psychic bid. Their confusion in follow-up bidding was not the fault of East/West – it was North/South who did not appear to know their best follow-up action. The Appeal team went on to note that given East’s poor holding, the pair aggressively competed with favorable vulnerability against the strong Club system.

For a comprehensive book on the psych, we encourage you to read “The Art of Psychic Bidding,” Julian Pottage and Peter Burrows. Fred Karpin’s “Psychological Strategy in Contract Bridge” also has many illustrative hands showing beneficial and detrimental psych hands including some wonderful humor. In the 1950 Master Pairs Championship, South opened 1H with 6 Hearts and A-K-Q-J. No, the honors were not in Hearts, instead one in each suit (a nasty holding, regardless of the fact Matthew Granovetter might understand the semi-psych, since the bid was made in the first seat).

Unfortunately, North made a strong jump shift, inviting slam. Rather than Pass (see next article), South rebid Hearts and North bid 4N, Ace-asking. Sometimes a lie gets out of hand and so South bid 5C, showing no Aces. This time South figured if North could signoff in 6N when South held no Aces, certainly South could be a hero by bidding 7N. Apparently North read the conventional response as showing two Aces and jumped to 7N without assistance! Holding the trump Ace, East found an easy Double with South going down 800. Next, our psycher asked partner to fetch a Coke. Returning with a Coke and a beer, psycher South grabbed the beer. Again befuddled, North chortled , “I thought you wanted a Coke.” Not missing a beat, South chimed, “Gosh, partner, can’t you recognize a psych?”


HOME  Encyclopedia  Newsletter  Laws  Products  Services  Reviews  Tournaments  Blog  Training Practice Links HELP
Contacts: Sales  Support  Reviews  Q&A    Disclaimer    Privacy    © 2005 BridgeHands   Updated 01/22/11