You wouldn’t expect to see many 70-year-olds in the final of one of the toughest events on the ACBL calendar. Yet in the spring of 1995, the final of the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams was where you could find 71-year-old Bill Root – part of a four-man team.
After his squad had won the championships in a walk after more than a week of play and 448 deals, Root was ready for more. “I never got tired,” he said.
That spirit, plus lots of talent and hard work, put Root among the top players of his time – and an elected member of the Bridge Hall of Fame.
Bridge play was but one aspect of Root’s illustrious career, which included 13 North American championships and second-place finishes in the 1967 Bermuda Bowl and 1968 World Team Olympiad.
Root was perhaps the best known bridge teacher in the world – and has probably taught the game to more people than anyone in history. A former resident of Boca Raton FL, Root at one time conducted classes in Florida and New York.
For decades, cruises featuring Root as the lecturer were guaranteed sellouts.
When he was not busy playing, teaching or hosting cruises, Root was writing best-selling bridge books. His Commonsense Bidding and Modern Bridge Conventions (co-authored with regular bridge partner Richard Pavlicek) are considered classics.
In recent years, he outdid himself with How to Play a Bridge Hand and How to Defend a Bridge Hand.
Root was born in New York City and was reared in Miami. Before he was introduced to bridge in 1947, Root’s main hobby was bowling. In fact, he probably would have become a professional bowler if there had been a pro tour at the time.
After being introduced to bridge by a bowling friend, Root discovered duplicate. He won in the first duplicate game he played and dropped bowling overnight. It wasn’t long before he realized that he could make money as a bridge player.
Soon after quitting his regular job, Root began moving in the elite bridge circles with players such as Charles Goren, Helen Sobel-Smith, Sam Stayman and Howard Schenken.
Root traveled overseas to foreign tournaments and his performances further enhanced his reputation.
His teaching grew out of a desire to have a more stable home life after he married in 1958.
Root was one of the first bridge teachers to break with the four-card majors tradition and give lessons on five-card majors. His position was vindicated when five-card majors became the standard in North America.
Root broke into the cruise business in 1956 when Goren asked him to fill in on a 98-day worldwide cruise.
Much of Root’s writing was inspired by his experiences as a teacher. In fact, Commonsense Bidding came about as a result of notes he took when students asked questions.
“It’s the best book I ever wrote or ever will write,” Root said.
Root met Pavlicek on one of his trips to Florida and the two formed a partnership that lasted for more than 20 years. “Richard is my all-time favorite partner,” said Root.
After they won the Vanderbilt in 1995, Pavlicek said: “Bill may be 71, but you have to wait a long time for him to touch a wrong card.”