If your opponents know that psyches are in your arsenal, they will often suspect that you have done it even when you've just bid normally. Even if they're not sure, there will be doubt in their minds. Having that reputation is more valuable than anything you will ever gain from your actual psyches.
I psyche in real life about twice a year (if you do not include light openers in third seat or light overcalls which are done systemically and marked on my convention card) and that is about two more times a year than most people! The fact that psychic bidding is so rare adds to the effectiveness; even most experts have little experience dealing with it and don't design their systems to cope with it.
Psyches may seem like random bids but there is certainly a logical reason behind every good psychic bid. Typically you will want to satisfy all of these criteria before considering a psyche:
- Have a limited partner. You don't want to open 1N with 0 points in first seat; partner may jump to 6. Partner will need to have limited his hand in some way to make sure that things don't get completely out of control.
- Have a suit to run to. Ideally you will have a fit for partner or a long suit of your own. Also ideally, this suit will be higher ranking than the one you're psyching so that if you have to run after getting doubled when partner raises you can at least stay at the same level.
- An understanding partner! Psyches will not always work out and are high variance actions. If you are playing with a partner who will get very upset by a psyche gone badly, you're better off not even trying it.
Let's look at some examples where a psyche or tactical bid is most often employed. Some of these bids are known as "baby psyches" because they are so easily unmasked.
Most psyches are done in third seat. This is because partner has limited his hand with a pass and if you are very weak you already know the opponents can make a game (or more). Sometimes throwing up a smoke screen will deflect them from their path.
A third seat 1N is the most common psyche. Let's say you had x xx JTxxxxx Qxx and were not vulnerable with 2 passes to us. Instead of the normal 3 bid you may mix it up with a 1N opener. This is especially true if the opponents play one of the many common systems that don't allow for a penalty double, such as DONT. They will have no way to bid a strong balanced hand, or to show any hand as powerful as the one they probably have. If partner bids any kind of transfer or stayman, we will just pass (we're not doubled, and if we get doubled we can run to diamonds). Even if the opponents do have penalty doubles available, when we run what is forcing for them? What do doubles mean? Who has shown what strength? Even most expert partnerships won't know, so you will have achieved your goal of confusing them.
You may even try a 1 opener if you are really adventurous. It could work wonders if you pick off the opponents fit, but it is much more dangerous. Partner may well hang you if he has a good fit for spades, and you will be forced to run to 5 which could be disastrous.
A less common hand type for a 1N psyche is what I call a semi-bluff (taken from poker). Say you had xx xx AKJTxx Axx white/red in third seat. A 1N opener would have a number of ways to win. The opponents could be cold for 4 of a major or a major suit partial and miss it, and if partner bids 3N you may well make that with your trick source. Remember, the more imaginative the better because the opponents will not expect it.
When Partner Preempts
Most psyches that are not done in third seat are done after partner makes a preempt. Again, he has limited his hand and isn't going to go crazy no matter what you bid. Let's say partner opens 3 and you have xxxxxAxx QJxxx not vulnerable. If RHO passed, you may choose to bid 3N. This will work if the opponent's points are divided equally, in which case they will both pass. I do not recommend ever trying this psyche if RHO has Xed, it has no chance of success.
Again, you may try the more risky psyche of 3. This could pick off enemy fit and create mass confusion, but is more likely to lead to something bad happening. If you REALLY wanted to be tricky you may try jumping to 4 when partner opens 3 on a hand like xxxxx --- xxxxxxxx. Most people would treat a X of 4 as takeout (or just a strong balanced hand). LHO may really be put to a tough problem if he can't make a penalty X. The possibilities are endless.
Psychic, Cuebids, or Splinters
Psyching game tries, cuebids, and splinters are pretty well known tactics most notably employed by Zia. Say you had AKQxxx x xxx AKx. You open 1 and partner raises you to 2. Obviously you are going to 4, but you might try the effect of bidding 3 to deflect the lead. The same applies when you know you're going to jump to slam, but have a potentially dangerous lead possible. You might try cuebidding that suit first.
Hands to psyche a splinter are rare, but let's say you had AKQx --- xx AKxxxxx. You open 1 and partner surprises you by bidding 1. Although partner is not unlimited, you are going to take control of this auction. You may try splintering in diamonds and then asking for aces to try and get the heart lead.
If partner passes and RHO opens, you may still try a 1N or 1 of a major psyche. This will pretty much always get smoked out because LHO will always have a penalty double available, but it still creates problems. If LHO Xs and bids a new suit is it forcing, or does he need to jump? Can he make any takeout Xs? Even though they know you've psyched, it's not clear they know what to do about it.
One psyche I have made before is to psyche michaels when partner was a passed hand and RHO opened 1. The best hand type to do this with is long spades and short hearts. The opponents will never have a natural heart bid available, and you can correct hearts to spades. This is dangerous though; partner may keep correcting spades to hearts!
The only other common psyche is when partner opens 1 of a minor and RHO either Xs or passes. With a big fit for the minor (7+ cards) and a very weak hand, you may try psyching your short major. I wouldn't recommend this though, because if partner raises you to game correcting back to his minor is a cuebid. Basically, partner isn't limited enough to make this psyche. Opposite a precision 1 opener, such a psyche is MUCH more attractive.
The key is creativity. Don't always make one of the psyches above, try and look for new opportunities where a psyche has a good chance of success. Keep in mind you cannot psyche any strong and artificial bids, like a strong club or game forcing stayman. Also, do not make the same psyche with the same partner in a short time period. That would create an implicit agreement. Everyone should be on fair playing ground, partner should have no more right to know that you may have psyched than the opponents. Everyone should have to figure it out on their own, using bridge logic. If you ever get to the point that you are underbidding because you know your partner tends to psyche 1N openers in third seat, you are fielding his psyche and are doing something illegal. You cannot field a psyche unless you can figure out from the auction that someone had to have psyched.
I don't recommend psyching at your local club game, or against weak players at a small tournament. The players there are mainly social players looking to have fun. If you are a seriously competitive player in one of those environments, you are a minority. It is perfectly legal to psyche but you will be ruining the fun of others, and for what gain? To win a club game that you probably would win even without psyching? Sadly, it took me a while to realize this. Against other competitive tournament players, or in a flight A regional or higher go ahead and psyche if you feel like it's right, and don't feel badly about it.