To become a Life Master is the dream of all serious bridge players. Some never make it in their lifetime. To become a Life Master, a player must win a specified number of masterpoints at different levels of play, including major bridge tournaments, and accumulate 300 (or 500 depending on when a player joined ACBL) of these masterpoints. A masterpoint is the measure of achievement in bridge competition.
The record for fastest acquisition of the title of Life Master is likely to never be won by a North American player, but three foreign players have accomplished this feat.
The first to set a record was Jeremy Flint of England. In 1966, Flint became a Life Master in a mere 10 weeks. Flint’s first stop was the Richmond VA Regional held Feb. 24-27, 1966. Playing with Peter Pender, Flint won both the Men’s Pairs and Open Teams. By the end of the Mid-South Regional held in New Orleans May 4-8, 1966, Flint had earned his 300th point by placing second in the Masters with Pender and third in the Mixed with his wife, Honor (there were no gold or silver point requirements in those days, but most of Flint’s points were earned at regionals). His entry forms still carried “pending” instead of a player number.
Flint’s record held for nearly a quarter of a century and was broken just a few weeks after his death in 1989 by Sabine Zenkel (now Auken).
Sabine joined the ACBL on Oct. 18, 1989 at the Lake Geneva regional where she won almost 30 red and gold points. Two weeks later she earned 18 more at the Dallas regional. Then she won the Life Masters Women’s Pairs at the Lancaster NABC with Rhoda Walsh and a two session Mixed Pairs with Ron Andersen. Sabine was approaching 200 masterpoints after only four tournament weekends.
She wasn’t sure she could beat Flint’s record as there were only a few tournaments left on the calendar – and by this time to make LM a player had to have silver points (available only at sectionals). She and her coach and partner, Ron Andersen, decided to go for it.
The first stop was the Rockford IL regional on Thanksgiving weekend. Sabine left Rockford with 14.31 silver. She and Ron then entered the rush for California gold by spending a few days at Bridge Week in Pasadena. She left Pasadena with 60 gold points for three days work and headed to the Bloomington IL sectional. After an all-night flight, Sabine and Ron joined up with Janice Seamon (Molson) and Barry Goren to win the Sunday Swiss. The win in Bloomington brought Sabine’s total in silver to 25, but time was running short – only two more sectionals were available. She needed 26.5 points, of which 25 had to be silver. She was scheduled for Madison WI on Dec. 10 and Milwaukee on Dec. 17.
In Madison, with five events available, she had three firsts and a second for 35.48 silver points. She had broken the record. Sabine made Life Master in eight calendar weeks – 53 days of tournament play.
When Iceland native Jakob Kristinsson arrived in Huntsville AL on May 27, 1996, he had in mind taking it easy, playing a little bridge and visiting with his friend Hjordis Eythorsdottir.
Before he knew it, Kristinsson was caught up in a whirlwind tour of seven U.S. cities resulting in the breaking of Sabine’s record. He joined the ACBL on June 4 at the Paducah KY regional and forty-three days on July 17, he went over the top at the Grand Rapids MI regional.
Helped along in his hectic campaign by Eythorsdottir, Curtis Cheek, Brian Gunnell and Julie Bradley, Kristinsson said, “It was so totally unexpected that I would have the opportunity to do it and I love playing bridge.”