March of 2002 brought sadness to the bridge world, with the loss of one its great icons in Bill Root. Besides being a first-rate player for many years, Mr. Root was a household name for countless players. Like Goren of a previous era, according to Root was a catch-phrase of the times. His popular bridge books, bridge teaching (arguably the worlds most successful) and bridge cruises enlightened myriads about this great game.
As Roots regular partner in major events for some 20 years, we had our successes, but we also experienced some heart-breaking losses. I think it was the losses that cemented our friendship the most. Bill was helpful to me in my teaching career, and always there when I needed advice, filling a profound gap when I lost my father in the same era. Thank you, Bill, for all the good times.
Enough sadness. I looked through my collection of old deals and chose these six from the Nationals (1992-94) and put them together here as a quiz. Each deal features Bill Root on defense. The winning defenses might best be described as thoughtful rather than brilliant, but they certainly illustrate what a great player he was.
As West or East on each problem, simple select the button of the defense you would follow. If you would do something else, please dont admit it! Click Score Me at any time to see your IMP score, which is based on your expected result combined with our teammates result at the other table. Your goal is to finish plus! Are you ready to see if you can keep pace with Mr. Root? Batter up!
With North bidding spades, you lead a deceptive J against 1 NT. Trick 1 is shown.
Your next lead: Q 6 4 K 2 Q
After the J held, Root shifted to the K. Wow! Declarer obviously could duck this and enjoy four diamond tricks, but he thought Root was short in diamonds (wouldnt you?) and grabbed the ace. No doubt he was also upset with his dubious holdup at trick one. The contract was now doomed, and declarer continued his poor strokes to finish down two.
Our teammates played 1 NT and made 1, +90.
You lead the J against 6 . Trick 1 is shown. Partners signal is standard count.
Your next lead: Q 2 5 10 4 J
After the J held, Root promptly shifted to clubs; down one. This might look easy, but many defenders would outsmart themselves, reading the diamond layout accurately and shifting to trumps (declarer can then succeed on a double squeeze). Root, however, remembered the Blackwood bid and no follow-up with 5 NT, hence an ace in my hand was likely. At the time, I regretted not doubling 4 , but that might have stopped them from bidding six. Note that declarers duck at trick one was the only real hope to succeed.
Our teammates played 4 and made 5, +650.
You lead the K against 4 . Tricks 1-4 are shown. Partners club signal is standard count.
Your next lead: 5 10 7 5 Q J
Root did not cash his club but switched smartly to the 5 (any diamond is fine). With any other defense declarer could succeed, but Root was now able to lead diamonds twice to foil the endplay against me. Is that a good partner or what?
Our teammates played 4 and made 4, +420. West led the A then the K, after which there was no defense to stop Norman Kay from bringing home 10 tricks.
Partner leads the 6 (third from even, low from odd) against 4 . Tricks 1-2 are shown.
Your next lead: A 8 A 8 K 3
Root shifted to the 8 (ace and another is fine too). Leading spades was crucial, since the ruff was the only way to beat the contract. Note that declarer has the communication and timing to succeed against taps, trump leads or any other defense. Its a great feeling when partner saves you from not finding the best opening lead.
Could declarer have succeeded by leading trumps first? No, Root would duck the first trump. If declarer next leads the K, Root would duck that as well. Declarer now must lead a second trump to stop the spade ruff, then two rounds of clubs establishes a club trick before the A is knocked out. Other variations also fail with proper defense.
Our teammates played 3 and made 3, +140.
Partner leads the K against 2 doubled. Tricks 1-2 are shown.
Partner next leads the J then the Q, ruffed with the 10. Your two plays:
7-Q 7 3 7 Q 3-4 3 7 3 Q
When I led the good J at trick three, Root pitched a diamond. I continued with the Q, ruffed with the 10, Root pitched his last diamond, and declarer had to go down one. The deal seemed innocuous at the time after all, how could we not beat 2 when partner had K-Q sixth in trumps. It wasnt until later that I realized how thoughtful his defense was. Had he pitched a club or overruffed, declarer could have succeeded. Ill leave it to you as a declarer-play exercise.
Our teammates defended 3 , down 2, +200.
Partner leads the 3 (fourth best) against 3 NT. Tricks 1-4 are shown.
Your next lead: J 6 6 3 9 2
At the critical juncture, Root accurately shifted to the 2 (any club is okay). A beautiful play, as I was about to be crunched in three suits. With any other defense, declarer can give up another spade and squeeze me repeatedly. Declarer could have succeeded, of course, by winning the Q at trick two and establishing clubs (perhaps superior, though hardly clear).
Our teammates played 3 NT and made 3, +400.
I hope you enjoyed the quiz as much as I enjoyed putting it together. If you struck out, so be it instead of the mighty Root, you can enjoy being the mighty Casey but whats important in life is to cherish the memory.
© 2002 Richard Pavlicek