Questions and Answers


Question 24

The book you have written, Fighting the Law, is both well researched and well written, thoroughly enjoyable.
   I would however say that when Vernes wrote the famous article on the Law of Total Tricks he was not laying out a gospel. Vernes was a mathematician, if I am not wrong, and he outlined a trend resulting from his researches. When the Law was popularised in the 1980s, it was almost imperative to present is as a true gospel, to simplify the issue, and make it digestible to the public. There is no doubt that putting it on a tall pedestal can be annoying at times (recent converts are the worst, as usual); on the other hand it is not such a bad advice for the average bridge player. In a way,it is in the same class with the old rules for defence (second low, cover an honor and so on), or with Blackwood.
   Just a couple of points I am interested into:
   I have not done a statistical research, but I have the strong impression that the Law is much more effective with balanced or semi-balanced hands. It would have been interesting to find in your book a disaggregation of the relation trumps-to-total tricks in terms of SST. The WP concept is interesting (although not completely new). I would suggest you to flesh it up with a discussion on the value of intermediate cards (and small honor combinations) in fit suits. The 10 was rightly praised and valued (a 10 in combination with higher honor(s) is certainly more valuable than a Quack); however the 9 is also quite valuable, as are small fourchettes (10-8) or combination like Q98x.
   I would treasure your opinion on these two questions.

Best regards

Angelo Gianazza
Brisbane, QUEENSLAND


Answer

In his Bridge World article, Vernes mentioned initially that he was talking about an average, but in the end of his article he forgot and started reasoning as if his law was true most of the time. As our research has shown, that was wrong.
   In all fairness, we have to agree that Vernes' law isn't that bad – if it were, people would have stopped using it long ago – but it is much overvalued. It's not 'the solution to all your competitive problems', as the fans usually claim.
   We think, just like you, that Vernes wanted to show a trend, and nothing more. But the revival of the law have led to stupid and false statements. And it has also led to too many people thinking that counting trumps is more important than valuing their hands.
   For not so many total trumps (up to 17), deals with balanced hands will often be OK for the law. But for deals with 18 or more trumps, the balanced deals will often produce fewer tricks. Here is one example from Larry Cohen's To Bid Or Not To Bid (page 31):

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

Both sides can take nine tricks, so there are 18 total tricks. That is not because there are 18 total trumps, as the book states, but because both sides have a distributional plus value: North-South have a singleton club, East-West have a doubleton spade. Give North one of South's clubs in exchange for a heart, and they lose a trick; and the same is true if West gets one of East's clubs and returns a spade.


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