ACBL Bridge Beat #66: Youngest Life Masters

The first person to be recognized in the Official Encyclopedia of Bridge as the youngest Life Master was John R. Crawford. He earned the title in 1939 when he was 23 years old and held the honored position for nearly 13 years. Crawford went on to become one of the most famous bridge stars, winning many titles and championships during his career.

In 1952 Richard Freeman, a former “Quiz Kid” of radio fame, became a Life Master at the age of 18. He once challenged and defeated a computer in a race to score a bridge event. Freeman was unquestionably “The Fastest Pencil” in the days of manual tournament scorekeeping.

The first female to achieve the distinction of being the youngest Life Master was Dianne Barton-Paine in 1961, just 12 days after her 18th birthday. The same year she became one of ACBL’s youngest tournament directors, and she was still working in 2011.

Barton-Paine held the title of youngest female Life Master for 12 years, until Connie McGinley became a Life Master in 1973 at the age of 17 years, 5 months.

As more and more young players became seriously involved with the game of bridge, the age limit was quickly lowered. For example, the first female Life Master under the age of 17 was Regina Barnes. At 14 years and 11 months, she broke the record for both sexes in 1976. Six years later she was still the youngest female Life Master when her record was broken in 1982 by Adair Gellman and Tricia Thomas. Gellman was 14 years, 6 months and 4 days old. She held the title for 12 days until Thomas topped it at age 14 years, and 26 days old. Thomas, who was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the achievement, held the record until 1999 when Meredith Beck earned her gold card at age 13 years, six months and 11 days.

In 1965, Kyle Larsen became the first 15-year-old to become a Life Master. He was 15 years, 11 months. In 1968, he won the Reisinger Team trophy, thus becoming at 18 the youngest player ever to win a major NABC team title. In the years that followed he won half a dozen major championships.

Another 15-year-old, Bobby Levin, became the youngest Life Master in 1973. When he graduated from high school two years later he was named the King of Bridge by ACBL and the International Palace of Sports. In 1979, he won the Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams, the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs and the Lou Herman Trophy (now the Goren Trophy) for winning the most masterpoints at a Fall NABC. In 1980, he won the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams. In 1981, he was a key member of the winning Bermuda Bowl team – the youngest player ever to capture that championship.

The players who became youngest Life Master in the Eighties have yet to make a substantial mark on the national and international scene – but they are younger than ever – with two pre-teens completing the prestigious list of a dozen Youngest Life Masters.

In 1980, Billy Hsieh became a Life Master at the age of 13 years, 7 months old. Then in 1981, Andrew Kaufman broke the record when he was 13 years, 4 months and 15 days old.

In 1981, Doug Hsieh astounded the bridge world by becoming a Life Master at the age of 11 years, 10 months and 4 days. Doug, younger brother of Billy Hsieh, is a member of a well-known bridge playing family of four ACBL Life Masters. When his achievement was announced by the ACBL, one writer predicted that his record “is likely to stand well into the next century.”

Doug held the title for almost seven years until Sam Hirschman came along in 1988. (Incidentally, Sam’s father, Martin, became a Life Master when he was 26.) Sam was 11 years, 9 months and 5 days old. His achievement received national recognition and was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

It was felt that the record set by Sam Hirschman would never be broken, but on the final day of the 1990 Fall NABC in San Francisco, Joel Wooldridge of the Buffalo NY area assumed Hirschman’s spot in the annals of bridge.

Wooldridge became a Life Master at the age of 11 years, 4 months and 13 days, breaking Hirschman’s record by nearly five months. Wooldridge’s accomplishment culminated a remarkable run for the precocious youngster. He had not seriously contemplated going for the Youngest Life Master crown until he and his mother, Jill, won the Mixed Pairs at the Toronto regional April 10, 1990.

Going from there and playing mostly with his mother, Joel earned his gold card in a breeze. Along the way, he was encouraged to go for the record by Martin Hirschman, Sam’s father.

Wooldridge’s record seemed virtually impregnable, but only four years later his mark was surpassed by more than a year. Dan Hirschman, brother of Sam, won enough points in the Midnight Knockouts at the 1994 Fall NABC in Minneapolis to go over the top at the age of 10 years, 2 months and 20 days. He collected all his gold (more than 100), red, silver and black points in only 15 events. As was the case with his older brother Sam, his mentor and frequent partner was his father, Marty.

Marty introduced Dan to bridge when Dan was 4, but Dan wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until he was 9 that he decided to try duplicate. On his way to his gold card, Dan won two major regional events. And just as the Hirschmans helped Wooldridge to become the youngest LM, the Wooldridges in turn helped Dan beat Wooldridge’s record by joining the Hirschmans in a team game. In speaking of Dan’s game, his father said he felt that defense was his strongest point.

In 2006 Adam Kaplan just edged Hirschman by earning Life Master rank at 10 years and 43 days. His record held until 2009, when it was broken by Richard Jeng of Johns Creek GA.

Jeng had read the article about Kaplan’s achievement and enlisted his older brother Andrew’s help to surpass it. Jeng made Life Master at the Alpharetta DBC on Sept. 12, 2009 at age 9 years, 6 months, and 12 days.

But even Jeng couldn’t keep the title for long. Zach Garrison of Spring TX had read about Jeng’s achievement and decided he was going to become the youngest Life Master. On Feb. 1, 2012 at the Lone Star regional in Houston TX, Garrison earned his 300th masterpoint playing in a knockout event at age 9 years, 2 months and 7 days.

1939 John Crawford 23 yrs.
1952 Richard Freeman 18 yrs. 10 mos. 7 days
1961 Dianne Barton-Paine 18 yrs. 12 days
1965 Kyle Larsen 15 yrs. 11 mos.
1968 Joseph Livezey 15 yrs. 5 mos.
1973 Robert Levin 15 yrs. 4 mos.
1975 Michael Freed 15 yrs. 20 days
1976 Regina Barnes 14 yrs. 11 mos.
1977 Steve Cochran 14 yrs. 5 mos. 20 days
1980 Billy Hsieh 13 yrs. 7 mos. 15 days
1981 Andrew Kaufman 13 yrs. 4 mos. 15 days (June)
1981 Doug Hsieh 11 yrs. 10 mos. 4 days (Sept.)
1988 Sam Hirschman 11 yrs. 9 mos. 5 days
1990 Joel Wooldridge 11 yrs. 4 mos. 13 days
1994 Dan Hirschman 10 yrs. 2 mos. 20 days
2006 Adam Kaplan 10 yrs. 43 days
2009 Richard Jeng 9 yrs. 6 mos. 12 days
2012 Zach Garrison 9 yrs. 2 mos. 7 days
Richard Freeman

Richard Freeman

Kyle Larsen

Kyle Larsen

Billy Hsieh

Dan Hirschman

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