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Youngest ACBL Grand Life Master! March 30, 2012

Posted by justinlall in Blog.
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I won the first event at the Memphis nationals with Bob Hamman, the Platinum Pairs. It is a relatively new event, and has replaced the Blue Ribbons as the toughest and arguably most prestigious national pair game on the calendar, due to having a small field because of tough eligibility requirements to enter the event.

It felt great to start my partnership with Bob with a win. I think motivation/hunger/drive, whatever you want to call it, is really important to doing well in mind games like bridge, and that is why new partnership and teams do well.

Winning the Platinum Pairs also put me over 10,000 masterpoints, making me the youngest grand life master in ACBL history (requiring 10,000 points and a national win). I was ~25 years, 5 months which is about 6 months faster than the previous record holder (one of my best friends and partners, Joe Grue).  I decided to post a breakdown of my points and some random milestones. I rounded the fractions for simplicity.

Points: 10,092

Platinum:  2385
Gold: 4995*
Red: 710**
Silver: 1448
Black: 377
Online: 176
Blue Ribbon Q’s: 149

*- It is worth noting that I was given 250 gold for the USBF trials win.
**- It is worth noting I was given 145 red for the Bermuda Bowl. Roger Lee always jokes that an important ratio to measure skill is gold:red, so this is important !!

First masterpoints won: 6/30/1997. 2.60 black. This is actually because the first couple of times I played, I was not an ACBL member. Back then they gave you slips that you could turn in when you became a member, and be credited with your masterpoints. So 2.6 is really the sum of my first few times playing. The first time I played bridge was a complete fluke. My parents took me to the bridge club with them in Houston to meet their friends, many of whom “knew me since I was born.” They needed a fill in for a supervised 0-5 game. I had no idea how to use bidding boxes, or even what bidding was, but I ended up second, largely because I was supervised on every bid and because I already knew how to take finesses, evaluate hands, etc from playing a lot of spades and hearts on Yahoo. After that, I was hooked.

First red points won: 7/25/1997. .23 red. Nothing special, just a scratch in the charity pairs at the club in Houston, but I was still excited to get my first colored points.

First silver points won: 8/8/1997. .30 silver. Again, nothing special, just a scratch in a pair game at a Houston sectional. It was my first tournament and I played in the open game, and was determined to start doing well from that moment on. Tournaments were really exciting to me at the time…I was not yet 11 years old.

First gold points won: 9/17/1997. 1.0 gold. I will never forget this. I played with my mom in the instant matchpoint game, a special game held once a year at the bridge club. It was the only time you could win gold outside of a regional at the time. You had to be first overall which required a massive score. I had only played for a few months, but my mom and I won it. I remembered it as being one week before our birthday (yes, my mom and I have the same birthday), but it was actually 10 days before. My mom let me play on a school night because she knew I wanted gold points. Thanks mom! I don’t remember our percentage but I think it might have been 70, which was probably a first for me also.

First sectional win: 10/11/1997. 10.50 silver. My first big score. My first tournament win. I played a 2 session pair game with my dad in Galveston, and we won (obviously in flight A since I was playing with my dad). Winning was never more thrilling. I got a taste of everyone congratulating you after a win, and of the thrill of victory. After this, there was no stopping me. There was also no playing in flight C games, I wanted to win in the top flight all the time.

First regional win: 7/02/1999. 12.27 gold. I was not able to play a lot of regionals since they lasted a week and I had school. Generally I got to play on weekends, which was more conducive to sectionals. By this time I was living in the LA area, and won my first regional event on a team with John Jones, Mike Pudlin, and my parents. Mike Pudlin tells great stories of me from this tournament. At one point, I kept bouncing a tennis ball while I played (who knows why, too much energy as a 12 year old probably). This is the final of a bracket 1 KO, and my opponent finally tells Mike to “make that kid stop bouncing that ****ing ball.” In the same event, a few rounds earlier, I decided to show off by claiming against 2 weak players on a double squeeze at trick 5. They rejected, and I insisted it was automatic. The director came, and didn’t understand, but after consulting with some people allowed the claim. Naturally I was lectured about the wisdom of showing off in this manner.

Life Master: 9/04/1999. Early on I had all of my necessary colored points, I just needed points. I was in a quasi-race with Meredith Beck. It was really just a race in my head, but she beat me a few weeks prior to the Dallas regional and became the youngest female LM ever. Naturally, I didn’t like this, and I won back to back regional pair games in Dallas to make LM. The first one with my father, the second one with Nancy Passell. Nothing like jealousy to motivate you right? I remember one hand in the event I won with Nancy where a declarer backwards finessed something with no information to go on. We were puzzled how he figured this out, so we asked my dad and Mike Passell. They both laughed and told me to hold my hand up. At this point I had a really hard time holding my hand up and playing since my hands were so small (and to this day I have small hands for my height). Oh well, at least we still won!

First Platinum Points 11/23/1999. 18.33 for making day 3 of the Blue Ribbon Pairs with my dad, followed by 41.74 for a high placing in the 3 day Swiss. Naturally, flushed with this success, I assumed I was ready for the big time. I wanted to play all the nationals. I wanted to be a bridge pro. I assumed having high finishes at age 13, by age 15 I would win my first national easily, and by age 20 I would be a world champion. Little did I know how much I had to learn about the game. I remember what a learning experience day 3 of the Blues was. I was very aggressive in the bidding, balancing and doing crazy things all the time. This made me successful against weaker opposition, and was great for day 1 and day 2, but I got absolutely slaughtered in day 3. People were doubling me and defending well. It was an eye opener that the high level game was still very far beyond me, and that discipline was important to do well in it.

I look back very fondly at these memories, because they don’t really tell the whole story. It is not being melodramatic to say that bridge saved my life. My first suicide attempt was the spring before I won my first masterpoints. During this 2 or 3 year time period of learning bridge and being driven to improve at it, I was also getting expelled from multiple private schools, getting in with “bad” crowds. My parents got divorced and I had a lot of turmoil in my life. I was dealing with very adult things, being hospitalized, and the only thing that kept me remotely grounded or sane was bridge. I would be in mental hospitals bidding hands with myself, writing down problem hands in journals. My parents were criticized for letting me go to bridge tournaments when I was doing so poorly at school, but I think they realized it was my escape, the one thing I cared about. It let me be around older, mature, wise people. Most kids who are like me at that age end up in jail or dead, and I think that would have been me too if I didn’t have bridge. A common thing to say is that smart people who become bridge pros really wasted their intelligence and talent not getting into something more productive to society, but in my case I think it prevented me from being completely destructive to myself and society.


1. Lak - March 30, 2012


I’m not sure how “public knowledge” that last paragraph is … I didn’t know any of it. Are you sure you want it out there?

2. Dad - March 30, 2012

One day, throwing up my hands in despair, I said “OK if you are going to be a bridge pro, be the best!” I think you are on your way, Justin. Good luck and congrats!

3. Carmela - March 31, 2012

Hi Justin,

Congratulations on being the Youngest Bridge Grandmaster….this is truly historic & good for the Bridge World.

I’m new to bridge…so it will be awhile before I see you at your level of play.

But be the Best Bridge Player and Be the Best Pro out there. You have a great Bridge support system…continue to learn from them….maybe also work with Mr. Buffett to get more youths into Bridge.

Good Luck!

4. justinlall - April 3, 2012

Lak, presumably if I didn’t want it out there I wouldn’t put it out there!

Haha, but seriously, I am not ashamed of my past or where I’ve come from. It is totally fine with me if someone can google my name and find that if they choose. Maybe some kid who is really depressed will read it and get some hope.


5. Georgiana Gates - April 14, 2012

I’m one of the friends from Houston who “knew me since I was born” – congratulations on well you’ve turned out!

6. joe grue - April 16, 2012

joe grue here,
i should have dumped the team trials and world championships, but i think you still would have beaten my record! CONGRATS BRO! We are taking over the bridge world one event at a time!

jo boo

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