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Sometimes, if a player falls behind in a duplicate tournament, he will try to alter his standing by doing things that the "crowd" would not (e.g. making safety plays), getting a top score if he is right, and a bottom score if he is wrong. This is unusual behavior, because he is really playing "double or nothing."

Bridge is a partnership game, and partners are supposed to agree on things. So should one consult with partner about "risking a limb to save a life" in this manner during play? On the hand, if one is doing certain other things such as "psyching," even partner isn't supposed to be on the secret. So is this a "consultation" or a "psyching" situation?

Or is it best to consult with partner before the tournament (but not during) about when to play for "top or bottom."

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It's neither - it's simply terrible bridge. Good bridge is to make those choices during the play instead of during the bidding, when one actually has enough information to make a sensible risk assessment.

Further, you are talking about a change in partnership bidding style - this is simply not allowed during a session, and the meaning of a call is not allowed to vary depending on which partner makes it:

from Law 40 A - Players' Systemic Agreements (my emphasis)

2 Information conveyed to partner through such understandings must arise from the calls, plays, and conditions of the current deal. Each player is entitled to take into account the legal auction and, subject to any exclusions in these Laws, the cards he has seen.

from Law 40 B - Special Partnership Understandings

1(b) Whether explicit or implicit, an agreement between partners is a partnership understanding. ....

2 (a)... the meaning of a call or play shall not alter by reference to the member of the partnership by whom it is made.

Remember, the opponents don't know whether you are having a good, bad, or indifferent game; but partner does. To make decisions based on that information, which partner is privy to but the opponents not, is blatantly violating the requirement that opponents have a right to full disclosure of your partnership agreements.

So, if one feels compelled to take a flyer late in a session, one should do it as Declarer when there is no issue of Partnership Agreement. Adopt a second best line of play and cross your fingers. Play for the finesse missing Qxxx, or the drop missing Qxxxx, and see if it works. If one wants to be an improving player, one has to play like one.

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    Surely this is way too simplistic a view. Over the course of a bridge session, there are certainly going to be some marginal decisions which one might make one way or the other, and there is no doubt that how one thinks one is doing has some subconscious influence on them. There have certainly been sessions of bridge where I started swinging - not a lot - but stretching a point or two in competition or bidding game hoping for near perfect cards from partner - without actually realizing it at the time. It can easily start from around the 10th board of 24 playing weak NT in the US. – Alexander Woo Nov 27 '15 at 6:08
  • So the essence of cheating is making technically inferior plays, and getting superior results, because the Bayesian information set has been illegally altered, right? And if I or Alexander made these "top or bottom" plays without illegal signals, we wouldn't necessarily be considered cheaters, but would run the risk of being tagged as inferior players. – Tom Au Nov 27 '15 at 15:45
  • @TomAu:No, the essence of cheating (in this regard at least) is undisclosed partnership agreements; that is why the Law excerpts in my answer are from Law 40. The difficulty in this case arises from the undisclosed (and improper) manner in which your partnership agreements vary with your perception of results so far; information known only to partner. – Forget I was ever here Nov 27 '15 at 22:25
  • @PieterGeerkens: Then "playing for top or bottom" is like a "psych" situation, where partner can't be in on the secret, right? – Tom Au Nov 27 '15 at 22:30
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    @AlexanderWoo: Formally, whether in the US or not, your partner is required either to behave as if your call meant exactly what it would have on board 1, or to explain when asked "partner may be overcalling light because we have had a bad session" (whether he should alert in order to do so would be a good topic for an Advanced Director's Training Course). Both of these are difficult, so this behaviour (like most cases of unauthorized information) causes problems for your partner. – TimLymington Nov 28 '15 at 17:47

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