Better Late Than Never: My Road to Life Master

By Terri Grant, 
Life Master, 
Unit 351. 

I grew up hearing my parents speak of the fun they’d had playing “Culbertson Bridge”. I recall my mother warning me not to learn bridge until \ I’d finished college.  At 65 years old, my mother enrolled in a “Goren Bridge” class at the local senior center.  She was enthralled and encouraged me to learn it for its social aspects.  I soon did just that, when my first child was less than a year old–taking lessons at the local YMCA in the small California Central valley town of Hanford. My father and my husband never took lessons, but the four of us had great fun playing “marathon rubber bridge” into the wee hours during our occasional visits. We had no ACBL sanctioned clubs in Hanford, but formed several home games, all with 12 people–some duplicate and some “party” bridge.  Over time, I found the duplicate games far more enjoyable.  On 2 occasions over the 30 years that I resided in Hanford, a player in her 90’s invited me to be her partner in an ACBL game in the nearby town, Visalia.  The games were far more formal and somewhat intimidating,  but we did do well together.  


It wasn’t until 1999 (age 56) when I left Hanford and moved about 90 miles north to the Oakhurst area in the Sierra foothills, that I started playing in a sanctioned club only because there weren’t any home games.  I convinced a “party bridge only”  friend (from Hanford, who had also moved to the mountains) to play in the duplicate club which had 17 tables.  It was so  intimidating to play with such advanced players. It did help that the director enforced the “friendly bridge” motto of her Club; also, that someone in the club offered weekly group classes with the aim of recruiting new players (despite his efforts, our club gradually dwindled to 6 or 7 tables by the time I left in 2016).   He taught me Weak 2’s, Jacoby Transfers, and other basic bidding. Since we were stratified into “A” and “B” players, we  began collecting black points (for whatever value they would ever have, I thought). 


In 2003, while working as a Respiratory Therapist, a patient asked me if I knew of any bridge games in the area.  Paula Oliver had a few thousand points and had just been forced to move near her family for health reasons. She began playing in “my” Club and eventually coaxed me into playing in an NABC tournament in Reno (2004). Of course, we couldn’t be partners due to her massive number of ACBL points, but she assured me I’d “pick up” partners. I was beyond scared!  After a turbulent flight and with a queasy stomach, I raced to the hotel, dropped my bags at the hotel front desk and ran to the “I/N” room just in time to be assigned a partner.  We came in first in the entire room.  I was hooked!


Still, I never even considered trying to become a Life Master.  Tournaments were all in distant cities, I had no partners at my ability level who wanted more than to play locally.  We had no STAC games and Sectionals were even a considerable distance.  At about that time, my “Hanford partner” and I agreed to play with other partners, as she had dropped out of our increasingly advanced bridge lessons, while I was seriously wanting to improve my game.  A top player in our Club, Claire Molnar, who was just short of her Life Masters told me that I had “card sense” and invited me to the large Sacramento Regional with 2 other excellent players, for the purpose of playing “Knock Out and Swiss Team games (what were either of these, anyway? would I spoil it for the team?). We did well, and I received some Red and some Gold.  I “had the bug”. After remarrying  in 2007, my new husband started taking the ongoing lessons. We formed our own foursome and did well in the stratified Knockouts at the San Francisco NABC tournament. When 2 years later, we realized that our marriage had been a mistake, it was time to forget about any Life Master, right?


In 2016, after having had bilateral shoulder and knee replacements, the fire risk became too great in the mountains. I began checking out possible places for a move–which, of course had to include good bridge. Palm Springs was one of several possibilities, so I  planned an exploratory trip during a Non-Life Master Regional Tournament, requesting a partner. Louis Block and I cleaned up (after he asked me to learn a few more conventions). We later met in Las Vegas for a Regional in which we both finished our gold points.  I had more than enough Red points, but still lacked 28 Silver.  That proved to be formidable. 


Having completed my bilateral shoulder and knee replacements, I sold my mountain house and headed to Sun City, AZ. I didn’t know a sole there, but I packed up my 4 cats and lab and moved in 118 degree heat. After finding and remodeling a house, bridge was first on the agenda. Talk about feeling intimidated–these players had thousands of points.  My 350 points made me a novice, once again. I soon re-connected with a non-bridge playing friend from 20 years earlier.  After we were married, he, of course, wanted to learn bridge.  We played as partners while he took lessons, as he weathered “being thrown to the lions” in my Sun City club.  All were very considerate of him being a “newbie”. He persisted and progressed.  Then, WHAM!–COVID hit.  By now, I had whittled my Silver point deficit down to about 8 points.  We tentatively explored playing BBO, very slowly learning some of its finer points. We got brave enough to try the “double silver point” tournaments. Soon this endeavor was cut short by my developing considerable pain that led to a spinal fusion last Thanksgiving. In January, we were ready to go at it again, and managed to get my final silver point! 


So that makes a quest (without ever having planned for it to be an attainable goal) of 49 years!  How many of you out there can compete with this snail’s pace?