Psychic bids, psychs, psyches...these are bids made in an attempt to achieve a good score by misleading the opponents into taking losing actions in the bidding and/or play. Usually, a psych is made on a very weak hand in an effort to convince the opponents they have less combined strength than they really do. On rare occasion, though, a player purposely underbids his hand hoping the opponents will overestimate their values, or double him in a later round of bidding.

Psychs are expressly allowed in contract bridge, with two conditions. One, a player cannot use conventional psychs as part of his bidding system; his partner must be totally oblivious to the fact that a psych has been made. Two, a player cannot psych more than once in a blue moon. Excessive psyching is frowned upon in social bridge, and disallowed in tournament play. Not only do psych bids have the tendency to irritate opponents, they can lead to unspoken bidding agreements between the psycher and his partner. For example, if you frequently open 1S with only four spades when your agreement with partner is that you promise five, partner will eventually recognize your tendencies, whereas different opponents never will. Consequently, partner can adjust his bidding accordingly, but opponents will always incorrectly assume you hold five spades. Such understandings between you and partner are unethical.

There are also situations that allow "free psychs" - psychs that pose little or no risk to the psycher. The most common free psych is any non-raise response to a preempt made with a hand containing three- or four-card support. For instance, you hold:

S 987
H 2
C 965432

and the auction begins:

2D 1Pass?

1 Weak, showing six diamonds and 5-10 HCP.

This is a free psych situation. Chances are you could psych 2H , 2S, 2NT, or even 3NT and get away with it. If you get doubled, or if partner raises your suit, you can always run back to diamonds. This is a common and easy psych to make, but it is rather sophomoric and you will rarely, if ever, see experts do it. However, because most players are not experts, you should always be suspicious when you hold a strong hand and hear something like:

2D 1Pass3NT 2?

1 Weak.
2 Supposedly strong and balanced.

You should also be careful if you decide to make these types of free psychs yourself. As we have discussed earlier, frequent psychs will lead to unspoken agreements between a psycher and his partner. It is worth repeating that these types of agreements are forbidden.

Finally, if you decide to make a psych bid, be prepared to do a lot of apologizing to your partner if it blows up in your face. Much of the time, psychs turn out disastrously for the psyching player, and there are few blows to partnership morale heavier than a bad psych.