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by Larry Cohen Larry and the Law

Scientific statements about the Law of
Gravity can be challenging, but that
doesn’t stop us from becoming familiar
with the impact on our daily lives.
Responding to
When an apple falls from a tree, Weak Two-Bids
experience tells us it’s going to land
on the ground, not rise in the air. The
Law of Total Tricks (the LAW) is similar. That makes responding to weak two- Here’s another hand illustrating
It can be difficult to grasp in its bids a good starting point to see the same idea:
original form (see sidebar), but we when the LAW can be applied. 2♠
can certainly take advantage of its
consequences to help improve our When the LAW Doesn’t Apply N

game. This series by champion Larry

W E Pass
The LAW is only needed when the S
Cohen, who popularized the Law of auction is competitive. If our side
Total Tricks, is designed to do exactly ♠5
has the majority of strength and it is
that: put the LAW to practical use. ♥ K 10
unlikely the opponents will bid, we
♦ A K Q J 10 9 3
ignore the LAW and its consequences.
♣ AQ8
Counting Trumps For example:
I want to be in 3NT because I
We learn in the beginning that an 2♠ think I’m going to make it. I have
ace counts as 4 points, a king 3, a
queen 2, and a jack 1. We add up the N seven diamond tricks and a club
W E Pass trick. I expect that I’ll get one more
pictures and come up with our high- S
card points. Our bidding structure trick with the ♣Q, the ♥K, or one of
♠ AJ7 partner’s spades.
then focuses on the combined ♥ 8
points the partnership holds. With So, I don’t think about the LAW if
♦ AK9763 I’m simply bidding to a game
about 25 or 26 combined points, we ♣ KQ8
want to get to a game contract; with contract, expecting to make it.
about 33 or more points, we strive This hand has nothing to do with Another situation where I’m not
to get to a slam contract. the LAW. When I look at this hand, concerned with the LAW after
In a similar manner, in competitive I can imagine taking ten tricks partner opens with a weak two-bid
auctions we should begin to count opposite partner’s hand. The full is when I have enough strength to
the number of combined trumps the deal could be something like this: investigate a game contract.
partnership holds. This will be useful DECLARER
in competitive situations since one of ♠ K Q 10 8 6 3 APPLYING THE LAW WHEN
the simplest guidelines that comes ♥ J94 RESPONDING TO A WEAK TWO-BID
from the LAW is: ♦ 85 When partner opens a weak
♣ 10 7 two-bid:
♠ 95 ♠ 42 • With enough strength that it is
Strive to compete to the level ♥ A 10 7 6 2 W N E ♥ K Q 5 3 likely the partnership can
of the number of trumps held ♦ Q 10 2 ♦ J4 make a game contract:
by the partnership. ♣ J95 ♣ A6432 • Bid Game.
♠ AJ7 • Make a forcing bid (e.g. 2NT)
How do we know the number of to get more information.
combined trumps the partnership ♥ 8
holds when we can only see the cards ♦ AK9763 • If it’s unlikely there is enough
♣ KQ8 strength for game, compete to
in our hand? Partner’s bidding will the level of the number of
often give us the clue we need. When We’ll lose a heart and a club trick. trumps held by the partnership:
partner opens with a weak 2♠ bid, Partner can trump two heart losers • 0-2 trumps Pass
for example, we can imagine that in dummy, or establish some winners • 3 trumps Raise to the
partner holds a good six-card suit. in dummy on which to discard them. three level
We add the number of spades we hold I expect to make 4♠. It has nothing • 4+ trumps Raise to the
to those promised by partner to get to do with the number of trumps. I game level
the total trumps for the partnership. want to be in 4♠, so I just bid it.
VOL. 9 NO. 1

2♠ tricks to make a game in spades, so

I apply the LAW: nine trumps,
E Pass compete to the three level. I bid 3♠,
S whether or not right hand opponent
♠ A75 bids or passes ... and I still don’t
♥ K5 expect to make it.
♦ AJ763 Here is another
♠ K962
♣ KJ8 hand where I can’t
♥ 84
visualize ten tricks
If partner has a nice 2♠ opening, I opposite partner’s
♦ J 10 7 6 3
want to be in game; if not, I don’t. A hand with six
raise to 3♠ is not invitational, as Larry Cohen and his wife Maria live spades and less than the values for an
we’ll see shortly. So, I need a way to in Boca Raton, Florida. opening bid. So, I add up the
invite partner to further describe the number of combined trumps and
hand. I can do this by using the The raise to 3♠ is not an invita- come to ten. Ten trumps, compete to
conventional forcing 2NT response. tion. Partner is expected to pass. Do the ten-trick level. I jump to 4♠.
If partner rebids 3♠ showing no I expect to make this contract? No, How will partner know whether I
extra values, I’ll settle for partscore. but I don’t care. I think the points have a good hand, expecting to make
If partner bids another suit, showing we will lose for being defeated will 4♠, or a weak hand like this? Partner
extra values, I’m taking us to 4♠. be less than the score the opponents will know when dummy comes
I have only nine trumps in the would get if they were in their best down! Partner is not involved in the
above example, but I don’t apply the contract. My 3♠ bid is simply to bidding when I jump to 4♠. Both
LAW when I’m simply thinking about make it more difficult for them to partner and the opponents will have
getting to the best contract and it’s get to their best spot. to guess what I’m up to.
unlikely the opponents will compete. In the last example, East passed, What if I have two
Applying the LAW’s so it might seem that we aren’t in a or fewer cards in
♠ 10 3
Competitive Guideline competitive auction. Not yet! If our ♥ K864
partner’s suit? With
partnership doesn’t have much no interest in game, I
♦ J 10 7 6
If partner opens with a weak two-bid
combined strength and East doesn’t ♣AJ5
and I don’t think we have a game, pass. With at most
have enough to bid, West is surely eight combined trumps, I don’t
now we’re likely in a competitive
auction. It might not be competitive waiting to get into the auction. Our want to compete beyond the two
at the moment, but it will be. This is 3♠ bid is in anticipation that the level, eight tricks.
the time to start applying the LAW. auction will be competitive.
Opposite a weak two-bid, it is very What if East had made a takeout
easy. To decide whether to bid and double or overcalled at the three The Law of Total Tricks
how much to bid, all I have to do is level? I’d still bid 3♠, competing to
the level of the number of trumps our The Law of Total Tricks (the
count the number of combined LAW) was formulated by Jean-
trumps in the two hands. partnership holds. If East jumped to
4♥, however, I’d pass. I don’t want Reneé Vernes in his 1968 book,
2♠ to compete to a level beyond the Bridge Moderne de la Defense.
N number of combined trumps. After analyzing several hundred
W E Pass deals, Vernes concluded:
I could have a
stronger hand to raise
♠ K62 The total number of tricks
♠ K62 ♥ K4
to 3♠. With this hand, available on any deal is
♥ 84
I can’t imagine our
♦ J 10 7 6 3 approximately equal to
♦ J 10 7 6 3 ♣KJ2 the total number of trumps.
side taking enough
♣ 942
The interpretation of “total number
I’m not interested in bidding to a When Larry and I started playing of tricks” and “total number of
game with the intention of making seriously several years ago, he said trumps” is not straightforward.
it, nor inviting partner to consider that there were only two rules for this
If you want to delve further into
a game. So, I apply the LAW’s partnership. Rule 1 was no yelling (of
course, my wife defines yelling as
the LAW, get one of Larry’s books
Competitive Guideline. Partner has on the subject: Introduction to
raising my eyebrows, but Larry is a bit
six spades; I have three. Nine more tolerant). Rule 2 was that I must the LAW, To Bid or Not to Bid,
combined trumps. So, I bid 3♠, be dedicated to the LAW of Total Tricks. or Following the LAW, available
competing to the level of the number —David Berkowitz from Baron Barclay.
of trumps held by the partnership.
VOL. 9 NO. 1