Jerusalem Post Bridge Column for Friday, Feb 11, 2005

They Fought the Law
by Matthew Granovetter, Israel

The Israeli International Bridge Festival began yesterday in Tel Aviv and continues through next week. Many of the players at the tournament are familiar with a bridge theory called the law of total tricks, proposed by Frenchman Jean-Rene Vernes in 1969, and later publicized by American Larry Cohen in his popular book (To Bid or Not to Bid) in 1992. This theory states that the number of total tricks in a hand is approximately equal to the number of total trumps held by both sides, each in its respective suit. If, for example, each side has an eight-card trump fit, there will be 16 total tricks available on the hand. If East-West can make exactly seven tricks in their trump suit, North-South can make nine. Or maybe both sides can make eight. The "law" has taken the tournament world by storm over the past 10 years, where thousands of players relay on its validity in helping to solve competitive bidding problems.
   Last month, however, a new book was published, entitled I Fought the Law of Total Tricks, by Mike Lawrence and Anders Wirgren. Lawrence is a well-known author and player in America, a member of the original Dallas Aces team, and Wirgren is a champion, writer and theorist from Malmo, Sweden. The book is filled with interesting concepts that challenge the "law" and also instruct on how to improve upon the theory, which, the authors say, is far from accurate. This week's hand is from the book.

West dealer
North-South vulnerable

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

West North East South
pass pass 1 C pass
1 S DBL 3 S 4 D
DBL pass pass pass

Opening lead: club 3

When this hand was played in a tournament, Lawrence, who had just become familiar with the "law," was sitting West. After passing, he heard his partner open one club. He responded one spade and North doubled for takeout. East raised to three spades and South bid four diamonds. At this point, Lawrence decided to apply the "law." His side held eight trumps and his opponents probably held nine diamonds, a total of 17 trumps. So the "law" said that if his side can make 10 tricks in spades, they could make only seven tricks in diamonds. If his side could make nine tricks in spades, they could make only eight tricks in diamonds. Therefore, he doubled four diamonds and led a club, expecting to collect a two- or three-trick penalty.
   Instead, however, declarer won the first trick and played on trumps. Lawrence's side scored only three aces, and four diamonds doubled was made for a score of 710 to North-South. Upon examining the hands, Lawrence saw that his side can make nine or 10 tricks in spades, depending on the lead. This meant there were 19 or 20 total tricks available, with only 17 total trumps. The "law" had not worked. A few years after this hand, Lawrence and Wirgren began corresponding and discovered a mutual skepticism for the "law," which eventually blossomed into a friendship and co-authorship of what will surely be the most controversial bridge book of 2005, if not the decade.

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Copyright © 2016, Mike Lawrence & Anders Wirgren