The ACBL Bulletin
by Paul Linxwiler, USA
I Fought the Law of Total Tricks
By Mike Lawrence and Anders Wirgren
Reviewed by Paul Linxwiler
There ought'ta be a law
The premise of this work by Lawrence and Wirgren is simple: the so-called
Law of Total Tricks is a sham, an illusion whose seeming reliability is
based more on anecdotal evidence than hard fact. While some players will
shout, 'Heresy!' others are giving I Fought the Law of Total Tricks a hard
Lawrence and Wirgren spend the first 100 pages of the book showing why they believe the Law is fatally flawed. The length of this deconstruction is off-putting since readers will want to see if the authors can offer anything in place of the Law (they do), but the copious evidence presented against the Law is necessary. Since Law-related theory is an integral part of the entire edifice of modern bridge bidding, persuading players that the Law is unreliable requires a compelling case with plenty of examples. I believe Lawrence and Wirgren have succeeded in this goal.
In its simplest form, the Law states that the total number of trumps on a deal (the combined longest trump holdings for both sides) is equal to the total number of tricks available. For example, if North-South have an eight-card spade fit (their best fit) and East-West have an eight-card heart fit (their best fit), the total number of tricks available is 16 (eight plus eight). Hence, if one side (say) can make 10 tricks playing in their longest fit, the other side can only take six tricks. This 'rule' can help you gauge how high to bid in a competitive auction or whether you should consider a sacrifice.
Although the Law is a simplification subject to various adjustments, Lawrence and Wirgren maintain that it fails even at the level of generalization. The most damning evidence brought against the assertion that the number of trumps equals the number of tricks is the analysis performed by Wirgren that shows that the Law equation is true in less than half of the cases. For example, in the above case (16 total trumps) there are exactly 16 total tricks only 44.1% of the time. With 18 trumps, the Law is 'right' only 36.1% of the time, and the greater the number of trumps the more feeble the connection between total trumps and total tricks.
In short, total trumps and total tricks are weakly correlated. To be fair, the Law is never presented as an absolute by any of its proponents, but compared to other evaluation techniques (such as high-card points predicting how high to bid, in which a strong correlation exists between the two, especially on balanced hands) the Law falls short. The authors maintain that the number of tricks available to each side playing in their best suit is actually a function of distribution, while the number of trumps held is a secondary matter. Wirgren's alternative approach is to focus on what he calls Short Suit Total (SST) and Working Points (WP) for arriving at the correct number of tricks available. The latter half of the book is spent exploring these concepts. The biggest negative in the work is that Lawrence is sometimes too strident in his attempts to evangelize the reader to the truth of his idea. The central thesis of the book is strong; overselling it doesn't help.
Despite this, I Fought the Law is an important work of theory that deserves serious attention.
Published by Mikeworks, 9138 Saddlebrow Dr., Brentwood TN 37027, firstname.lastname@example.org
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