Nothing at stake in billionaire bridge game

By MARGERY BECK

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. — Two of the world’s wealthiest men sat next to each other at a card table Saturday, both wearing scowls of concentration as they studied the cards held close to their chests.

But this was no high stakes, Las Vegas poker game. In fact, it wasn’t even a real game, just a couple of exhibition hands of bridge with nothing more at stake than the competitive natures of two men who’ve built empires from the ground up.

Microsoft Corp. founder and chairman Bill Gates and his pal, Warren Buffett, founder and chairman of investment company Berkshire Hathaway, faced off with their bridge partners before a crowd of spectators, media and friends before the start of a local bridge tournament.

In June, Forbes magazine ranked Gates the world’s richest man with $60 billion. Buffett ranked fifth with $28 billion.

"It’s my house against his house," Buffett joked on the way into the Omaha Bridge Club. But Gates, whose home and land in the Seattle suburbs are valued at nearly $110 million, wasn’t up for that wager.

"No money, no money," he said smiling, following Buffett into the southwest Omaha club.

Gates came to Omaha to play in the tournament at Buffett’s invitation. Both are self-described bridge junkies, although Gates is a relative newcomer compared to the older Buffett, who has played for years.

The experience their partners bring doesn’t hurt any, either, both noted. Gates’ plays with Bob Hamman of Dallas, the World Bridge Federation’s top-ranked player for 15 years. Buffett’s longtime partner, Sharon Osberg of San Francisco, is a two-time world champion.

The group often plays online on the Internet site, "OK bridge."

Neither man had trouble concentrating on the game Saturday, even as the crowd of over 50 people buzzed around the table and popped a succession of flashbulbs of the two men at play.

"Bridge does that for you," Buffett said. "If I were heading for the electric chair, all I’d ask is to play bridge. In fact, I’ve done that on a doctor’s table, you know, if they’re doing something unpleasant to me. I just pull out a hand and play."

Gates, who arrived in Omaha late Friday and planned to stay at Buffett’s house over the weekend, agreed.

"The only thing that’s intimidating is that your mistakes are being broadcast," Gates said, referring to a number of television cameras capturing the game.

Neither Gates nor Buffett played a perfect hand. Gates and Hamman won the first hand, before Buffett and Osberg rebounded on the second.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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