Bill Root stands tall among bridge teachers and players, both in reputation and in height. But at 6'9" he was regarded as only "average" when he played recently on a team from the New York area that included Dick Budd, a runt at 6'6", Jim Linhart, who stands eye to eye with Root, and Harry Stappenbeck, who barely slips upright under a 7-foot doorframe. It would be hard to assemble a taller starting lineup of equal talent. Indeed, we may never see the likes of it again.
This winter Root will be going back to Florida, where he spent most of his life before moving to New York in 1957 and becoming the most successful bridge instructor in the East. He will teach in Florida during the winters and return each summer to Southampton to serve as bridge guru for some of the top golf and country clubs on Long Island, in Westchester County and in New Jersey. All of which means he will have little time for tournament play. His New York team will be hard put to find a replacement of such stature.
Root is a man who disproves the old saw, "He who can does. He who cannot, teaches." In addition to his teaching Root has won six national titles and has twice competed in world team championships. As an example of his playing prowess, consider this deal on which he was the declarer for the tall team.
At the other table Linhart and Budd (East-West) were allowed to play and make six clubs, losing only a diamond trick. When the auction went as shown, however, Stappenbeck bid six hearts as a sacrifice, figuring that vulnerable opponents would not bid a slam unless they could make it. Root applied the same thinking to guide his play.
A spade opening would have set the contract from the start, and under some circumstances East's double would have called for that lead. In 1929 Theodore Lightner recognized that a penalty double was likely to gain very little when the opponents had bid to a slam voluntarily and suggested instead that the double be used to direct partner to an unusual lead that might be required to set the contract. But the Lightner double conventionally does not apply to leads against sacrifice bids. In this hand West's only thought was to score a big penalty, so he tried for a fast club trick, assuming that sooner or later he would collect a spade trick, anyway.
Root ruffed the club lead and considered East's cue bid in spades. He concluded that it was honest and that the odds therefore were against his dropping the king of hearts. To ensure getting to dummy for a heart finesse without giving West a chance to get in and play a spade for East to ruff, Root led the queen of diamonds. East had to win and was helpless. He continued clubs and Root ruffed in his hand, trumped a diamond in dummy and led a heart for a winning finesse. After the ace of hearts had gathered in East's king, Root's only remaining problem was to avoid a spade loser. The play of the queen of spades confirmed East's void, and on the next spade West split his honors to force dummy's king. But Root was able to return to his hand with his last trump and pick up West's remaining spade honor by leading toward dummy's ace-9.
The result was 1,210 points, which when added to the 1,370 made by Root's teammates at the other table produced a towering reward for the tall team of 21 international match points, only three short of the maximum number of IMPs that can be scored on one hand.