Facts or fiction?

It had to happen. Larry Cohen just couldn't keep ignoring our book, even though he had done so for more than a year. After "too many people" asking for his opinion, he finally published this piece of text on his home page in the end of February 2006:

Fighting the LAW??

Many people have asked for my reaction to the Mike Lawrence (& Anders Wirgren) book called I Fought the LAW. This book was written some 12 years after I wrote To Bid or Not to Bid (the 1992 bestseller on the LAW of Total Tricks).

Although the "LAW" became very popular in the 1990's and remains popular today, these authors decided to fight it. I've read their book and these are my conclusions:

1) They think the LAW works on many deals, but not all. (We already knew that).

2) They suggest a (complicated) formula to fine-tune the LAW. It has to do mainly with counting distribution in suits that have losers. This will be confusing for most readers, but the point they try to make is that depending on how your short suits are distributed in the partnership, the "Total Tricks" will change. I agree with this. It is really just another (more complicated) form of "Adjusting" which is in Chapter 9 of To Bid or Not to Bid.

3) They were unfairly critical (I thought it uncalled for) in some of their claims. They made some factual errors regarding data in my book. Why let facts get in the way of a good story? (Some of the statistical claims are sloppy and inaccurate). I would have preferred their tone to be : "The LAW is a nice breakthrough that helped many players, but we think we can improve upon it." Instead, their tone was "Larry is telling half-truths and we want to show you why you shouldn't believe in the LAW."

The way I see it, To Bid or Not to Bid is a book for the masses. Players apply the LAW (advanced students using "adjustments") and do quite well. People are tougher competitive bidders when using the LAW. I teach throughout the world and see how the LAW (in its simplest form) is so helpful to so many (especially those of intermediate ability). The Lawrence/Wirgren book gets too complex. The authors might be onto a slight adjustment/improvement/upgrade, but it is impractical for most players to apply it.

"Fight the LAW?" Any music fan knows how the song ends."..And the LAW won!"

Has Larry Cohen read our book? We are not sure. If he had read our book, he would know that we are not trying to fine-tune the law. We are recommending that our readers stop using it. We think that using the Law as your primary bidding tool is wrong.

Imagine the world of science. Somebody presents the hypothesis that the number of trumps for both sides on a given deal should be a good indication of the number of tricks for both sides. If statistics shows it to be true no more than 40% of the time, the theory had been found "not good enough", and nobody would care about it. But in the world of bridge, we are supposed to keep such a lousy theory and try to find good adjustments. Why? What's the point in acting as if these 40% are the norm?

Regarding point 3 from Larry's web site, he makes these statements.

ONE "They were unfairly critical (I thought it uncalled for) in some of their claims."
TWO "They made some factual errors regarding data in my book. Why let facts get in the way of a good story."
THREE "Some of the statistical claims are sloppy and inaccurate."

We would like to know where our errors are. In our book, we included proofs to back up our statements. There are no proofs in Larry's statements, only unsubstantiated claims. Larry. Let's talk about this.

And when we are on the subject of not "letting facts get in the way of a good story", we will tell you what Larry Cohen himself has done. Our first example comes from To Bid or Not to Bid (page 176), where Cohen gives an example of when to compete over the opponents' notrump bid:

In the 1978 World Championship Pairs, the eventual winner, Marcelo Branco, of Brazil held:

    S A K 5 4
    H Q 8 7 6 3 2
    C K Q 2

1NT2 C2 H3 H

1NT was 11-14; 2C showed both majors; and 2H was both minors. Branco bid 4H, expecting it to make, was doubled and scored +590. Cohen writes that "Certainly, there are enough tricks to warrant bidding four hearts over three notrump, since both sides rate to have about nine tricks."

The full deal isn't shown, which is very understandable, since if it had been in the book, everybody could have seen that North-South are very far from the nine tricks Cohen thinks they have.

For the record, the details of the hand are as follows.

Board 11. Neither side vulnerable. South dealer

S A K 5 4
H Q 8 7 6 3 2
C K Q 2
S Q 10 2TableS J 6 3
H A KH 5
D J 8 7 4D A 10 6 2
C A 7 6 3C J 10 9 5 4
S 9 8 7
H J 10 9 4
D K Q 9 5 3
C 8

As you can see, it would have been even better for Branco to double three notrump (it is four down). To us it seems that somebody is not "letting facts get in the way of a good story" here...

Another thing is that West's three notrump bid wasn't to play; it was a minor suit take-out. So playing three notrump was never an option, and the whole discussion in the book was meaningless.

A similar example from Following the Law is this one (page 114):

    S K x
    H K x x
    D x x x
    C A K x x x

Larry Cohen had this hand in the Bermuda Bowl semi final in Santiago, Chile in 1983 (against Netherlands, the eventual winners). 1S was opened to his right, Cohen doubled, West raised to 2S. Then, Cohen writes:

"My partner, holding 3-5-2-3 distribution, bid three hearts. RHO passed, I passed, and LHO passed. The full deal is irrelevant here. What's important is that the Dutch knew to let us have it on the three level in this typical eight-and-eight situation. I would much have preferred to defend three spades than to play in three hearts. In fact, each side had eight tricks."

If we take a look in the World championship book from Chile 1983, we find the deal on page 71. Then we realize why Cohen thinks "the full deal is irrelevant".

Board 15. N/S vulnerable. Dealer South.

S 10 7 5
H A J 3
D K J 6 2
C 9 8 5
S K 2TableS Q J 9
H K 8 7H Q 10 5 4 2
D 10 5 3D 8 4
C A K 7 6 3C 10 4 2
S A 8 6 4 3
H 9 6
D A Q 9 7

In the open room, the American pair was allowed to play 2S with eight tricks; +110. In the closed room this happened:

Cohende BoerBerkowitzMuller
1 S
DBL2 S3 Hpass

Larry Cohen wrote in his book that "each side had eight tricks". In fact, Eric Kokish writes in the World Championship book, "with the lucky lie, three hearts made. 6 IMPs to America."

Once again, somebody hasn't "let facts get in the way of a good story".

Copyright © 2016, Mike Lawrence & Anders Wirgren