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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.


Random Update February 8, 2012

Posted by justinlall in Blog, Tournament Report.

I haven’t blogged in a while, just going to update random aspects of my life recently.

Fall Nationals

After winning the first pair game, we had a disaster and failed to qualify for the 2nd day of the BAM. Maybe it’s true that it’s hard to play well after winning the previous event. We did end up making the final day of the Reisinger, but ended up 7th or something. It’s still a good result to make the final 10 teams of that event, but it’s disappointing to do poorly once you get there. I have no doubt that day 3 of the Reisinger is the hardest day of bridge there is.

New York Regional

After the nationals I got to go home for 2 weeks before going to the NY regional. Two weeks at home is beginning to feel like a lot! Despite winning only 50 points or so, my team won the most points at the NY regional. I think NY regionals are small because of the cost of hotels/travel, especially over christmas/new years, and it’s also hard to win points because there aren’t a lot of knockouts. On top of that, they’re tough fields, which contributes to low point totals. I had a blast spending christmas and new years with my friends, and especially meeting Kevin Bathurst’s then 2 month old for the first time. I love the city and always will. It was also nice that my dad was on my team (along with Judy Bianco and Win Allagaert), and I got to see him over the holidays.

Orlando Regional

After a day of recovering from the New Year’s party, I went to Orlando for another regional, this time playing with Kevin and Win and Judy. Though it didn’t feel like a particularly successful week, we did win 100 points. The Florida regionals have become insanely tough, feeling like the Spingold. At one point, our team with 45,000 points was almost in bracket 2, but we became the last team in bracket 1.


I had a week and a half before my next tournament, and went to see my sister in LA. One of my favorite things about living in Vegas is being so close to my sister, it’s a far cry from when I lived in New York. We had an awesome time partying and catching up as always. Then I had to do a bunch of errands in Vegas, ostensibly in preparation for my move (still in Vegas, just on the southwest side) but I didn’t get everything done and had to extend my lease a month. Oops. I was too busy playing poker!


I then went to Australia for the Canberra bridge festival with Joe. I have good memories of Australia, winning my first World Junior Teams there, but I never forgot how friendly the people were, and they didn’t disappoint this time. Joe and I were asked to give the prizes and join a barbecue for a youth congress that happened the week before Canberra, and we were warmly received by everyone. We even played crazy bridge, which could be it’s own blog post. It was really great to see that the ABF supported their juniors so strongly, and how many there were. The rest of the world could learn something from that.

Before the teams was a pair game, and since Joe and I figured we would be sick of each other by the end of the trip we played with different partners; he played with Ashley Bach, one of the top players in that area and also our teammate, and I played with an inexperienced junior from New Zealand who played very well. Out of 204 pairs Joe ended 7th and I ended 25th, and had a great time.

The team game was the main event, first a 160 team swiss that our team (Ish Delmonte, Ashley Bach, Joe Grue, me, George Bilski, Barry Noble) won. Then there was a knockout for the top 8 teams, 64 boards a match, and we lost in the semis. We were down 35ish at half, picked up 60 in the third, and our opponents came back at us with a lot of heart and played great in the 4th to win, and later win the event. I did not know them at the time but they were very good players, and deserved their win.

Overall the tournament was extremely well run, and again everyone was very friendly, and patient of the fact that Joe and I were not completely familiar with the alert rules there. I’m not sure how many times we started to say “transfer” and had to stop ourselves, but it was a lot.


From Australia I flew to Houston to play in the regional. Since Houston is where I grew up, it’s the regional I have played the most, and I feel like I know everyone there. It’s nice to see people who knew my parents before they were even married, and knew me when I was 10. Somehow no one lets me forget what a jerk I was then though! Just kidding, I deserve it. I lost in the finals of the first event with Reese Milner, Pepsi, and Russ Ekeblad. I played with Russ for the first time, and we got along well. We beat a very strong team that included Meckwell and Balicki-Zmudzinski, arguably the best 2 pairs in the world, but lost to a very strong O Rourke team in the finals.

I had a day off and then played with Bob Hamman, Petra Hamman, and Peggy Sutherlin in a knockout. We were breezing through, and in the finals played the same Meckwell team. I could not stop from being humbled playing with Bob against Meckstroth and Rodwell. Between the three of them, they have over 150 national titles. A zillion world championships. Probably over 180,000 masterpoints. I am not a humble guy, but that was amazing to me. And as a fan of bridge, watching Bob declare a tough 3NT, playing for a suicide squeeze, and watching Rodwell decide whether to cash his winners or not, and then watching Meck decide what to pitch was really amazing to me. For all the bad rap regionals get as beating up on easy teams, it doesn’t get much better than that. We lost a hard fought battle, but it was extremely fun for me.

The last day we added my dad for Peggy and got another second in the swiss. That gave me 90 points for the week but no wins. We got out in time to watch the Superbowl in Huntsville, known mainly for having a large jail. I will say that I love these middle-of-nowhere places in Texas, somehow they have the most attractive girls in the world.


2011 was a great year for me. I survived a year in Vegas, made some great friendships, had one of my best poker years, and obviously my best bridge year. I won the trials, 2nd in the Bermuda Bowl, won a national pair game, and did something in all 4 of the major team games. I won 1550 points, (~1200 counting for the Mckinney, the trials and bermuda bowl points did not), was 33rd in the Barry Crane race and 54th in player of the year. Unfortunately I could not win the junior race, I still have one more shot, but Kevin Dwyer is tough to beat! Most importantly I was happy and enjoyed life. I got to see Portugal and the Netherlands, and hope to do more world travelling next year.

New Partner

Most people have heard that starting in the summer of 2012 I will be playing with Bob Hamman. Our team will be Johnny Hurd, Joel Wooldridge, Shane Blanchard, and Bob Blanchard. For starters, I am really excited about this team, and I think it can be great. Joel and Johnny are extremely hot right now, Joel winning player of the year, and we have incredible chemistry which I believe matters a lot. Bob Blanchard has been a great player forever, and Shane is constantly improving, already having won an open national title.

Of course, I am most excited about having the opportunity to play with Bob. He is the most successful player in history, and has always been my idol. I believe I will learn a lot about the intangibles of the game by playing with him, I am going to learn how to be a winner from the greatest ever. And of course, I will learn a lot about the game itself, technique and judgement.

Some people have questioned whether I will still play *my* game or if I will be intimidated playing with Bob. It’s a reasonable question, but I posted in a blog post long ago that you have to be true to your game, even if you are on a big stage playing for big stakes, your game is what got you there. The reason someone great asks you to play is because they are impressed by your game. That is not the time to try and change completely. So while I think I will grow and evolve as a player with Bob, I definitely know that it’s my game that got me here and I will continue to play it and not be scared. I have played with Bob several times before, and this was never a factor.

The other common question is what system will we be playing. We are still undecided, though it will definitely be five card major based. We are going to practice in the Platinum Pairs in Memphis so presumably we’ll have it decided by then.

The most important thing to remember is I’m not just viewing this as a learning opportunity, I am ready to win now and I think our team is good enough to do it. I am really optimistic that we can put up some big results.

Youngest Grand Life Master

I’m about 220 points away from Grand Life Master. I have to make it in about 8 months to become the youngest one ever. I am excited about it because I think it is a cool achievement to tell non bridge players that they will understand, and because Joe was the former holder of this record and I cannot let him have any records! I will probably make it in Memphis.

New Living Situation

I am going to be moving into a 3 bedroom house with Josh Donn (aka Jdonn). I honestly thought I would never not live alone again, especially in a housing market as cheap as Vegas, but if there is one person I would live with it’s Josh. He is completely laid back and cool with non stop partying when I’m in town. I enjoy his company a lot and since he has a real job I don’t get to see him that often so I am excited about this. Overall I love living in Vegas, I have never lived anywhere more than three years in my life, but I’m pretty sure Vegas is where I’ll end up. I’ve only been here a year though, so I’ll give it some more time before buying a place rather than renting.

Josh has been joking that with the amount of travelling I’ve been doing, he’ll basically be living alone but paying half the rent! Such is the life of a bridge pro.

National Pairs Champ! November 27, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Tournament Report.

Feels great to win a national pair game! My partner, Ish, played double dummy the second final session.

The End October 29, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.

Super drunk right now, but we picked up 31 to lose by 45 in the last set. The Dutch played better than us and deserved the win.

Finals Set 7 October 29, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.

We lost 22 more this set so we’re down 76. Doesn’t look great, but I’ve seen bigger comebacks. Hopefully we play well and get lucky!

Last Day October 29, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.
1 comment so far

2 sets left, we are stuck 54. We have all come back from more than that in 32 boards in important matches. It’s all about playing well on every board and not giving them anything. Let’s do this.

Finals Set 5 October 28, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.

We think we lost 2 for the set, but the vugraph has us losing 5. So we are down 65 or 62. I made a horrible bid to miss a slam, and the Dutch had a good system to find a fit that we had no chance to find. Still 48 boards, not desperate yet.

Finals Set 4 October 28, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.

We lost 38 more, down 60 now. It sounds like a lot, but there’s 64 boards left, so it’s not that much. It’s important for us to remain calm and play solid bridge and grind it back.

Finals Set 3 October 27, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.

Our team played horribly in the third set, unfortunately the Dutch played very well and we are now down 22.

There are still 80 boards left, so despite this setback we are still only down 22 in a very long match. Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m confident we will rise to the occasion and return to form.

Honestly, we have been down with 5 sets to go every match anyways, this is not a big deal, as long as we get our act together. Tomorrow should be fun!

Finals Set 2 October 27, 2011

Posted by justinlall in Bermuda Bowl.
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I think we picked up 12 or something, and are up 24. Was pretty bad bridge, by myself especially.

Edit: It seems I never clicked publish on this one, but I wrote it after the second set.