**The ACBL Bulletin**

*Book Reviews*

by Paul Linxwiler, USA

I Fought the Law of Total Tricks

By Mike Lawrence and Anders Wirgren

$17.95

Softcover

268 pages

Rating: A-

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
look.

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, 77bridge@best.com

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