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What happened to the Law, Larry?

It has been many years since I first read about The Law of Total Tricks popularized by my good friend Larry Cohen, but I still manage to remember the basics:  the total number of tricks on offense is equal to the number of trumps we hold.  A partnership should try and stop at the two level with eight trumps and at the three level with nine trumps, etc.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  And applying this concept to competitive auctions is often useful when it's not clear whether or not we should keep bidding.   The Law has always been my friend, so it was with noted interest that I faced a competitive decision during a recent session at the All-Star Imp Invitational  (every evening at 7 p.m. CDT on BBO).

At favorable vulnerability I pick up: K987 KQ4 Q7643 J.  Not the most robust collection of highcards, but I decide it's worth a takeout dbl after my RHO opens the bidding 1.  The bidding continues - 3 (preemptive) by LHO, 3 by partner and pass on my right.  Sweet!  It looks like I have made the correct decision to get us involved in the auction.  The bidding continues - pass by me and 4 by the preemptor which is passed back to me.  Now that's annoying.  I guess it's time to start adding up the total number of trumps we hold.  Let's see - partner is not likely to have a 4 card major which means his shape could be 3-3-4-3, but to me it feels more likely he holds a five card diamond suit.  I'm going to guess we have 10 trumps, but does that mean we have 10 tricks on offense?

I do have the right shape and if partner were to contribute something like:  Qx xxxAKxxxxxx  we'd need only the heart ace onside to make 4.  I decide to press on with 4 and all pass. The full deal revealed:

West
J105
A62
J10985
KQ
North
A2
J95
AK2
109653
East
K987
KQ4
Q7643
J
South
Q643
10873
A8742
W
N
E
S
1
X
3
3
P
P
4
P
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 West
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Good Lord, what on earth happened?  Not only did we not have ten tricks available, we didn't even have nine!  Sadly, The Law had failed miserably on this deal not once, but twice!  Our opponents would also have been unable to scramble ten tricks with their ten trumps.  It's true that I was perhaps a bit unlucky to buy the KQ of clubs in partner's hand or South was unlucky to buy the AK of diamonds in North's hand, but that's life.  The deal was a disappointment, but only characterizes that no law is perfect.  The Law of Total Tricks remains my friend and I will continue to  believe in it whole heartedly (and so should you!).

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