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The Oracle's Obsession

In Brief:

Warren Buffett is one of the world’s richest men and a financial legend for his ability to outperform other investors. But to his friends on Bridgebase, a site where fanatical players like his friend and other fiscal giant Bill Gates meet to play on-line, Buffett is known is T-Bone. Here’s what the Oracle of Omaha says about why he plays bridge—and why you should too.


The text of this article was culled from an interview with Buffet for Double Dummy, an upcoming feature documentary about the cutthroat world of youth bridge and looming extinction of an international pastime. You can watch the trailer for the film here, and sign up for updates on releases and info on local bridge clubs here.

Bridge is the most interesting game in the world.

It’s true that I could do almost anything. I could have big boats someplace, or go off to faraway islands. There’s nothing I enjoy more than playing bridge.

I’d pay a lot of money, if I had to, to be able to play bridge the rest of my life. I don’t need my fortune. I’m giving away 99% of the money I have. I really have everything money can buy with a tiny percentage of my net worth.

What’s really precious are friends and time. And I’ve got some wonderful friends in the bridge world. I choose to spend a lot of time playing bridge with them because it’s the most enjoyable activity I can find. I like to watch college football, I like to read a lot, but if somebody offers me a bridge game I put away the book or turn off the TV.

I play bridge about twelve hours a week.

I don’t really get out to the bridge clubs much. Frankly, the computer makes it so easy just to sit at home in a sweatsuit eating popcorn and get a game in thirty seconds, almost always with my partner Sharon Osberg in San Francisco. We’re usually playing people we know.

I think [Bill Gates] enjoys playing against me and I enjoy playing against him. I’m almost always playing against him because we have regular partners when we play, so just the nature of it is we’re playing against each other.

One day I came home at about five o’clock and you can go to Bridgebase and play in a computer-type game where you’re playing against other people but your partner is basically a computer and your opponents are two computers and then you compare your scores with other people. And I played in that game, and there was only one person competing with me at about five in the afternoon.

When I got all through I learned that Bill, apparently at three in the afternoon his time, was the other player. We had no knowledge we were the two guys in the whole world who were playing against each other.

It’s not an easy game to learn.

It takes probably some weeks to really get the hang of it, but once you get into it, there’s always another layer to learn. So you’re still learning bridge even at my age of 82. Maybe I’ve got more to learn than most people.

When I was a youngster of about 10 or 11, I would go up to Minnesota with my grandfather and my aunt, his daughter, and she brought along a bridge book one time. I sort of read it while I was in bed and got somewhat interested and then she explained the game to me. I didn’t play it really then, but I had it explained to me at an early age and then I played very intermittently late in high school, just a few times. I played more in college, but still not a lot. And I really did not get to play actively until the computer came along.

I’ll bet in Omaha there’s a few hundred people that practically spend all their waking hours playing bridge and they’re happy to teach younger people. In fact, they’re almost evangelistic about it. It is a tough game to teach, but on the other hand, here in Omaha we’ve taught dozens of dozens of younger people to play bridge and it’s stuck with them. But a lot of them find that it’s more fun to go out and play video games or something too.

Bridge will never go away.

It will appeal to a lot of people, but in the thirties it appealed to practically everybody. People who couldn’t play played. My folks were part of a bridge club, and it was low-cost entertainment at a time when people, that was all they could afford.

It’s fallen off in terms of popularity in the last few decades. It’s got the number of people that swear by it like me, but it tends to be an older crowd because younger people have both more money and less time than they had 30 or 40 years ago.

In a certain way it’s like chess. A lot of people will play it, but it’s lost being a really mass game like it was before. It takes too much effort, it takes too much time, it’s hard to learn, and there’s just too many options for young people.

But it’ll never disappear. It’s too good of a game. There will always be a percentage that will regard it as the greatest game they’ve ever seen and play the rest of their lifetime.

If you’ve got a certain type of mind, it’s the best exercise in the world for a mind over time.

It’s a game of drawing inferences from both what your partner says during the bidding or doesn’t say, from what your opponents say during the bidding or don’t say, from every card that is played or not played at a given time. So there’s no way that you can participate in the game without getting a lot of mental exercise, and I really do think that it’s probably useful for keeping minds active with older people.

And I think it’s good in developing minds for younger people. It’s a challenging game, it’s a partnership game, so it’s very important to behave in ways that cause your partner to play at his or her best. And there’s an enormous difference in how good people are at that. You learn a lot about human behavior in the process of playing bridge.

Every six or seven minutes you’re getting a problem that is unlike any that you’ve seen before. It’s not identical with anything you’ve seen before, but it’s got similarities to what you’ve seen before. You’ll never pick up the same hand twice. I’ve played thousands and thousands and thousands of hands, and every time I pick up one, it’s an adventure.