Monday, May 4, 2009

An automatic psych (bridge)

While there's really no such thing as an automatic psych, the following scenario is what I believe to be the best controlled risk/reward psych available without it being a systemic psych (eg. pretending strength opposite a limited partner). I've discussed this psych before, but a similar hand (in the example that follows I'm going to use the most optimal hand) came up while I was playing this past weekend.

Say you hold ♠xxx xx xxx AKQTx with partner dealer and your side not vulnerable.
The auction starts pass by partner, 1 by RHO.

I think the proper bid here is a psych of 1♠!!!

Let's first look at the obvious risk. Partner has spades and raises. If partner has a good hand and makes a limit raise with 2, no problem you pass. Let's say partner raises you to 2/3/4 spades. Because you have 3 of them, it's less likely for one of the opponents to have a spade stack which makes it easy to double you. Also because you have 3 of them, it could be a legitimate suit for your side to play in. 2♠ in a moysian fit wouldn't be so bad, and 4♠ if partner has 5 of them wouldn't be so bad either. This is one of the main reasons why I think it's better to psych in spades than in hearts, even though looking at your hand hearts might be more likely to be their suit. It's much more dangerous when you're wrong if you psych in hearts.

Now let's look at the secondary risks. Let's say you do pick off their spade suit. If it goes pass by your LHO and partner and RHO reopens with a double, chances are LHO had a trap and you can just bid 2. There are some partners who might not work it out, but I try not to play with them. Another secondary risk is that you cannot take advantage even when you have succeeded. You derail their auction, but they land in a different spot and partner makes a spade lead that is very bad for the defense. This is a big risk for a lot of psychs. However, one of the advantages of psyching with this hand is that it takes away one of those cases.

The main advantage of the psych comes from actually stealing the opponents' spade fit. The two most likely scenarios are:

1. LHO has 5 spades and decides to trap, opening bidder with 3-4 spades might not be able to reopen. You might get to play it in 1S undoubled (of course you could be down 250 on a partscore hand, but the chances of them missing a game on that auction have to be much higher)

2. LHO has 4-5 spades and decides to bid notrump, likely raised to 3NT at some point by RHO. This is the killing point of the whole hand. This is the reason why I advocate a psych with this specific hand. You can now DOUBLE to ask for a club lead. This mitigates one of the risks mentioned earlier of partner making the wrong lead against the opponents' contract in the wrong strain.

So it seems to me that the risk to reward for psyching here is immensely in your favor. There is a good chance for the opponents to miss their spade game or play the hand in a notrump game going down instead. At the same time, holding 3 spades and being able to subsequently ask for a club lead strongly decreases the likelihood of disaster, especially relative to most "normal" psychs.

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