The top rank of American women bridge players suffered a severe loss with the sudden death last month of veteran star Ruth Sherman. Miss Sherman won her first national title, the Mixed Team Championship, in 1935—a victory she repeated 10 years later. She defeated my team to take the coveted Vanderbilt Cup in 1953 for what was to prove her last big title win, but in between these triumphs she was the victor in six other major national contract bridge events. Less than a month before her death, she and Sally Johnson led a field of 414 Women's Pairs going into the final session of that championship event in the Spring Nationals. They finished in third place.
Ruth earned a Ph.D. and was a brilliant research chemist at about the time she got her bridge baptism in a strong group of players that bore the somewhat misleading name of the Bombay Bicycle and Bridge Club. Club headquarters was the Sherman family's Park Avenue apartment, and Ruth's brother John was one of its best players, as was, among others, Louis Kronenberger, the writer and drama critic. The Bombay and bicycling were pure whimsy, but the bridge was excellent.
Perhaps the only chink in Ruth's bridge armor was her very reliability. Her partners could rely upon her, but so could her opponents. In recent years, however, she developed a most successful bridge partnership with the brilliant British international player, Adam Meredith, and her style changed. She added to her repertoire such things as responses in three-card majors and other deceptive tactics, and she and Meredith compiled a good record, especially in European pair play. Through sheer necessity, she discovered how best to handle the bombshells that Adam often tossed into the auction.
Ruth's expertise on the Meredith style caused Sally Johnson to report this hand to me from a recent game. Meredith was one of Ruth's opponents, and in this deal he held the West hand.
Ruth's hand was no powerhouse until her partner responded with two clubs, a bid that fit the North hand to perfection. Ruth's three-heart rebid, when followed up later by her club raise, clearly revealed her spade shortage and enabled Sally to jump to the slam.
When Meredith opened the deuce of hearts and the dummy was put down, Sally figured that the only thing that could endanger the success of her contract was the loss of a heart finesse followed by a heart ruff. So she made a "safety play," refusing the heart finesse and guarding against the remote possibility that Meredith had led a singleton and his partner held a seven-card suit. To South's amazement, East trumped the ace of hearts. A diamond return sank the ship. There was no way for declarer to avoid a second heart loser.
"Sorry, Ruth," apologized Sally afterward. "Do you think I should have played Adam for an eight-card suit?"
"Maybe not," Ruth conceded. "But you should have known he didn't have a singleton. Adam is very apt to pass an eight-card major suit, but he surely would have bid hearts if he had had-a singleton." "And you know," Sally added, "Ruth was absolutely right."