Judy Kay-Wolff

ALVIN ROTH – A Breed of his Own

No doubt Alvin Roth was one of the most intriguing and creative contributors in the annals of our game.   He was credited for his many contributions to bidding theory including UNUSUAL NO TRUMP, WEAK TWO BIDS, ONE NO TRUMP FORCING and NEGATIVE DOUBLES.  Al was co-inventor of the ROTH STONE SYSTEM, popular at its outset, but rarely seen on a convention card these days.  It has very stringent guidelines requiring super sound opening bids as opposed to today’s style of opening with anything that walks or talks – otherwise known as go-as-you-please.   From observation of results, today the majority believe in getting your jabs in first and making it harder for the enemy to compete – especially with high level opening thrusts.  It is a  two-sided plight.  You can get crucified either way – pass and miss a game or good part score – or bid and go for a number.  Remember how often you’ve been reminded … it’s a bidder’s game!

In the 60s I got to see a lot of Alvin when I married Norman as they teamed up together often with Norman partnering either Sidney Silodor (from 1960 until his death in 1963) or before and after that period across the table from Edgar a combined total of 43 years.   Roth had hitched up with Tobias Stone followed by the likeable Bill Root.  Roth and Stone (both with strong personalities) had a fantastic record together, though they, like Norman and Edgar, for obvious reasons, never won a world championship.   Roth and Stone played together until Roth remarried and moved to Florida. 

Soon afterwards Stone transported himself to Las Vegas where he actively enjoyed the table games and sports book 24/7 until his health started to decline and has become more or less a recluse because of failing vision and difficulty getting around.  However, for 92 his mind and power of recall is amazing – just as sharp as a tack – and Bobby and I visit him at least once a month and bring his favorite repast –‘Subway’‘ footlongs” (w/beverage).  When we arrive we always wonder when the door opens and Stoney lights up — whether it is because of the package Bobby is carrying or because of our countenance.  We have never been sure.   We hope he is happy to see all three of us.

From my standpoint, there were two sides to Alvin Roth.  Once playing with a highly respected expert, he blurted out in a loud voice, “You have the heart of a peanut.” — but probably his most publicized outburst occurred while playing with a young women (out of whom he made a star) when he uttered some insidious sexual insult and was brought before a committee.   Yet, while sitting off a session next to me in the vugraph room in Bal Harbor in the sixties, butter could have melted in his mouth.  After Norman made a rather impossible hand which the panel predicted was down one (and  Norman shocked them by making it), Al leaned over with a straight face and whispered, “Your husband can play a hand for me any time.   Coming from such an egotistical maniac, I never forgot it.   Al was a sensational player (one of the very best) – but thoroughly set in his ways, very vocal and unpredictable.

I’d like to close with an old Roth story which I have told many times before, but it will forever tickle my funny bone.  Al and  his partner were defending a game contract and declarer was already booked   Success of the contract was solely dependent upon a two way guess for the queen of a suit.   After a few moments’ thought, he led the jack from his hand toward dummy (waiting for a glitch or reaction) and sure enough his LHO flinched a second and ducked  — and the jack held the trick.   When declarer claimed, Roth’s befuddled partner lunged across the table and asked why he didn’t take the queen.   “How could I?,” replied Roth.  “You had me convinced you had it.”   Again, truth or fiction?  But, you must admit it makes a good story.`

Al’s record of accomplishments are miles long and was one of the most formidable opponents in the game.   His list of victories and records will dazzle your mind.   Check out our ACBL Encyclopedia for more information.  Al Roth will always live in the memories of his peers and the record books as one of the greatest bridge geniuses of all time!!


reneDecember 4th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Yes, he certainly was a pistol. I always will remember him for “doing things his way” A real legend.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 4th, 2010 at 5:44 pm


I think both Roth and Stone were strong willed, but they certainly ‘clicked’ for many years. I also believe they were an intimidating partnership with both their mannerisms and so many notches in their belts — but alas, they too, with no world championships. Sad.

Al died a few years ago, but Stoney is amazing at 92. He still follows sports in the comfort of his small apartment with his chair up very close to the TV set as his vision is extremely poor — but his mind is incredible and he derives lots of pleasure from watching the games.

Mel RothJune 26th, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Al and Stoney never won a world championship, if you believe Stone, because their Italian opponents were cheating.
They gained some redemption when Stone and my dad challenged the best Italian team to a very large money game(Stone’s money) after yet another loss at Lake Como, Italy.
With a very large crowd watching and I believe, screens covering the players hands(not bridge hands but signalling hands), Roth and Stone won lots of bread.
I was just a kid, but I believe I got a Phil Rizzuto baseball glove as a result.
Mel Roth