Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 04/04/2004
Level: Intermediate

Mike Becker

In 35 years of tournament bridge, how many times do you think I have psyched? Answer at the end of this article.

I have some friends who love to psyche. Mike Becker, pictured, will be discussed later. Another friend, who shall remain nameless (initials J.L.) calls me up after each duplicate session he plays to tell me of his psyches. He'll say, "Larry, what would you open with:?Q J 5 2
?A J 8 3
?5 4
?A J 7

I know this is a routine 1? opening, but for J.L., it must be 1?. He loves to bid suits he doesn't have in the hopes of confusing the opponents. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I don't condone this type of action for several reasons:

  1. Your partner can never trust you.
  2. It makes it hard to bid constructively when you haven't shown your hand.
  3. In my opinion, this shouldn't be the way bridge is played (not all will agree).
  4. Even when it works (by confusing the opposition), they will be annoyed--and this creates ill-will and awkward situations.


Furthermore, if you psyche frequently, it provides an unfair advantage (your partner knows what you might be up to, but the opponents don't).

Recently, my opponent (initials B.M.) at an Atlanta Regional opened 1NT (15-17) holding:

?7 6 4 2
?A 5 3
?9 7
?9 8 4 2

He was not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents (the best time for such shenanigans). He is notorious for such tactics. Psyching a strong notrump can be effective, especially in these days when most opponents don't use penalty doubles. This one was not effective. LHO doubled (showing a one-suiter) and psycher's partner raised to 3NT. RHO (that would be me) doubled to show cards. How would you extricate yourself from this mess?

B.M. passed, hoping LHO would bid his suit. No such luck. All passed, and the defense took the first 10 tricks, -1400. (Dummy had a balanced 9-count and the opponent's had no slam).

I love to see failed psyches and no hands give me more joy than the pair I am about to present. My good friend, Mike Becker, is one of those who loves psyching. I'll try to be kind to him since he graciously provides me with the Becker Archives. Occasionally, I partner Mike and beg him not to psyche. Last time we played together (and this deal might make it THE LAST TIME WE PLAY TOGETHER), he opened 1? and I held:

?Q J 7 3
?A Q 8 4
?K J 7 2

Perfect hand for 4?, I thought. I splintered, he alerted, and we soon were -1400 in 4? doubled. What did Mike have for his 1? opening? I'm glad you asked. He had psyched 1? with:

?9 7
?9 7 3
?Q 8 7 6 2
?8 5 3

Don't ask me why.

My favorite Mike Becker story goes back to 1989. He was my teammate in a local knockout match. Playing with his wife Judy, Mike opened 1? with a hand similar to the one above. Judy made a limit raise and the opponents reached 3NT. Not in on the joke, Judy doubled and held them to five, minus 1150. Judy was furious. We compared scores at the half and won IMPs on every board except this one. Because Mike vowed that he would continue to psyche "if the opportunity arose," Judy refused to play the second half.

So, Mike Kamil (the 6th on the team) came in to partner Mike Becker. Our entire team begged Becker not to psyche anymore. he did not give his word. On the first board, Mike Kamil held:

?K Q J 10 9 3
?A 8 7 2
?A K

He was in third seat, but his partner, Mike Becker dealt and opened 1?! Now what? It was favorable vulnerability. Surely, Becker was psyching again. What should Kamil do? If he bid 1? or 2?, his partner would probably pass. Kamil had to make a bid his partner couldn't pass. How about 4NT, Blackwood? Again, partner, with a 2-count, would probably pass.

So, Kamil decided to bid 4?. At least he'd reach game. After he did so, LHO passed, and Becker started to think! This time, Becker held a real opening bid:

?A 8 7 4
?K Q J 10 9 3
?K 2

Should he bid over 4?? I don't think so. A 4? bid typically shows a preemptive hand, something like 8 spades to the king-queen-jack. It doesn't show slam interest. With slam interest, responder wouldn't jump to 4? over 1?. Becker reluctantly passed and there they were, in 4?, making a million. Even at the local duplicate, I'd expect every pair in the room to reach 7 of either major or better yet, 7NT.

The moral of this last deal? Aside from all the bad results when you DO psyche, frequent psyching may also harm your results on boards where you haven't psyched.

Do psyches ever work well? Of course, but as previously listed, when they do work, it creates ill-will at the table (the opponents will not be happy). It often results in recorder slips, director calls and general distastefulness.

I understand "tactical" bids (such as raising a preempt with 0 HCP but support), but outright psyches? Count me out.

So, what is the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article? I have psyched a grand total of ZERO times in my 35 years of tournament bridge. I plan ZERO more in the next 35 if I should live that long.