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Retro Edition

Matchpoints. N-S vulnerable.
♠K 10 2   9 8 2  A K 4  ♣J 10 9 2

West North East South
3 Dbl Pass ?

What’s Your Call?

3♠ 3NT
4♣ 4 4 4♠ 4NT
5♣ 5 5 5♠ 5NT
6♣ 6 6 6♠ 6NT
7♣ 7 7 7♠ 7NT
Dbl Pass
Click to reveal awards
Bid Award
Pass 100
4 70
3NT 50
4♣ 40
5♣ 40
3♠ 10
4♠ 10
Panelists
August Boehm, Larry Cohen, Mel Colchamiro, The Coopers, Allan Falk, Bob Giragosian, The Gordons, The Joyces, Betty Ann Kennedy, Mike Lawrence, Jeff Meckstroth, Jill Meyers, Barry Rigal, Steve Robinson, Kerri Sanborn, Don Stack, The Sutherlins, Karen Walker, Bridge Baron

Obey the law?

Rigal: “Pass. The law of total tricks suggests that they have nine trumps and we have eight, and Larry Cohen has promised to pick up my losses whenever I do this. If it doesn’t work, he will explain how to adjust the law — just kidding, Larry!”

The law of total tricks (LOTT), sometimes simply called The Law, is a guideline used to gauge how high to bid in competitive auctions. The LOTT is a complicated subject, but a simple definition is that the total number of tricks available on a deal is equal to the total number of trump cards held by both sides in their respective best fits. Cohen wrote two books that popularized the LOTT. What does he say?

Cohen: “This causes me lots of conflict. I preach to ‘win it on some other board,’ and don’t take actions that might lead to bottoms. On the other hand, there is no good action available. I suspect that pass will be the long-run winner, but I will score minus 530 every now and then with this choice.

“Because there will be LOTT references, my take is to imagine partner with 4=1=4=4 distribution opposite. This means nine trumps for them plus seven trumps for us or 16 total trumps usually and 17 tricks due to their long suit. With 17 expected/approximate tricks, it isn’t really obvious what to do. Probably there is a better spot for us than defending 3 doubled, but there is no clear way to reach that spot.”

Colchamiro: “I went back and forth on this between pass and 4. My LOTT analysis is that either both sides are down one or if we make 10 tricks, they make only seven, so it’s a guessing game.”

Robinson: “I don’t often pass takeout doubles, but minus 530 could be the same matchpoint 0 as minus 200 in whatever contract I bid.”

Sutherlins: “The most likely result is that we’ll be plus 300 when we have no game.”

Kennedy: “I will go for the plus.”

Boehm: “We probably have a better spot, perhaps a much better spot, but really no assurance of finding it.”

Sanborn: “I don’t like it, but there seems to be no better call.”

Joyces: “What else can you do?”

Stack: “Bidding 4♣ doesn’t show my strength and bidding 5♣ is too unilateral. I know stoppers are for children, but I can’t bring myself to bid 3NT.”

Six experts choose to cuebid 4.

Walker: “4, then 5♣ over partner’s 4♠ bid. I’m tempted to pass and take a tiny plus score, but if partner has a typical minimum, such as: ♠A J 8 3 3 Q J 8 7 ♣A Q 5 3, for example, 5♣ should make. My hand is not the right dummy for a 4♠ contract.”

Gordons: “Partner could be 4–2 in the majors and pass is right, but his having zero or one heart is more likely, and then our hand is golden.”

Meyers: “I think I have enough for game, so let’s allow partner to pick her best suit.”

Coopers: “We were tempted to pass, but because partner had the strength to double at the three level, we think we can make a vulnerable game somewhere, so let’s let him pick it.

We won’t defeat them enough in 3 doubled.”

Two calls received one vote each.

“4♣,” says Falk. “Blech! I’m sure some panelists will bid 3NT, which in real life might be down three off the top while partner looks daggers. Others will cuebid and that will put us at an elevated level with no goal in mind other than blaming partner in the postmortem. Passing might score only plus 100 and, on a bad day, might make. I’d really like to bid more than 4♣, but my first goal is to avoid disaster.”

“3NT,” says Giragosian. “It’s a little risky, but our best chance to get to the correct game. Hopefully, if partner has a good suit and heart shortness, he will bid his suit at the four level.”

You have to admire how brave our new panelist is.

The LOTT can be a guideline to help you decide when to pass and when to bid on.

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