DAN HIRSCHMAN IS A STRAIGHT-A student who hates sports, has few friends his age—and doesn't seem to care. "I don't like the kids in my class and I don't like school," says the 10-year-old, separating the halves of an Oreo cookie. "It's boring." But he's far from bored when sitting cross-legged at a bridge table with playmates five times his age, mulling strategy or invoking the Blackwood Convention in pursuit of a grand slam.
Proving he's no dummy, Hirschman has become the youngest Life Master in the 58-year history of the American Contract Bridge League. In a 15-month, 12-state odyssey, he played 37 weekend tournaments—and enough winning hands—to amass the 300 points needed to qualify. (The average player takes 20 years to reach that rank.) "Dan was bored staying at home last summer," explains his father, Martin, 45, a lawyer and a Diamond Life Master (5,000 points) who is also Hirschman's teacher and main partner. "I said, 'Let's go for it.' "
So they did—taking off on June 27 from Southfield, Mich., in the family's 1987 Chevy Caprice and racking up 13,000 miles and $10,000 in hotel and gas bills and tournament fees. The 300-point threshold was finally crossed in Minneapolis on Nov. 25—at 2 a.m. "To me it didn't even seem possible," says Henry Francis, editor of the league's bulletin. "It's phenomenal."
Hirschman's feat had been in the cards since he took up bridge at age 4—and promptly predicted he would one day trump his brother Sam, who had just become the league's youngest Life Master at age 11. His mother, Marcia Abramson, 46, a newspaper copy editor and Life Master herself, also helped him polish his skills. (The family's only nonplayer is sister Jenne, 14, who loathes all card games.) "People might wonder about letting children compete at such an early age," says his father. "But bridge uses up a lot of energy in a positive way."
It isn't Dan's life, though. "Bridge is too serious sometimes," says the fifth-grader, a math whiz who actually prefers more kid-oriented card games like Jyhad and Illuminati. When he triumphs, he goes straight to Mom for a victory hug. "Dan likes to win," says Sam, a University of Michigan freshman,"but he handles losing very well. I don't think I've ever seen him cry."
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