Bridge Magazine, September, 2005
by Roy Dempster, Great Britain
I Fought The Law of Total Tricks
Mike Lawrence & Anders Wirgren (Mikeworks)
While bidding gadgets may come and go, the methods of assessing the worth of a pair of hands during a competitive auction have been fairly static. The method known as 'The Law of Total Tricks' was first expounded in 1969 in an article in The Bridge World, by Jean René Vernes. If it received much use, it was written about very little, and it was not until 1992 and the appearance of To Bid or Not to Bid by Larry Cohen that it became the favourite guide to improving your chances of doing the right thing in, especially high-level, competitive auctions. But then, just when it seemed that there was going to be no great argument about its effectiveness, along comes this book.
Written by American, Mike Lawrence, and Anders Wirgren from Sweden, it shows just what the limitations are in 'The Law...', and when you have to be very careful about putting too much reliance on it. Just in case it has slipped by you, the Law of Total Tricks says that (assuming both sides could play in their best trump fit) the total number of tricks which could be taken by each side if playing the hand, is approximately equal to the total number of trumps (each side's best fit) held by both sides.
This seems a magical little thing to discover and, in my personal experience, it has actually proven to be effective rather more often than not. However, nobody has ever actually explained just why it should work, and the authors of this book tell us that that is because it actually doesn't work! In fact, they say that there is no connection between total trumps and total tricks.
The text contains innumerable hands from play where 'The Law' fails (sometimes, quite dramatically!), and as is quite evident, 'The Law' has failed because of there being no way of its addressing distributional features. Now, these do not have to be features such as totally mirrored distribution, but often ordinary features such as xx opposite xx in a side-suit in declarer's hand and dummy.
Rather than spend most of the book harrying away at 'The Law', the authors offer what they believe is a better way of achieving the results that 'The Law' purports to achieve. Credited principally to Anders Wirgren, two concepts are set out, to be used in combination on hands. The first is that of 'Short Suit Total (SST)', and the second 'Working Points (WP)'. Most of the second half of the book goes into detail as to how these concepts should be employed. The authors do not pretend that their method is anything like as simple as that of 'The Law' (nor as wonderfully accurate as it purports to be), but are convinced that their method will produce better results if used correctly.
This book really needs time and study, but will repay both. As Eric Kokish mentions in his introduction, '...it might take you a week to feel comfortable with what you will learn.'
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