If you follow the careers of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, you know that one of their favorite meeting points is at the bridge table.
Buffett and Gates are both passionate students of the game, and as it turns out, they share the same bridge teacher.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Sharon Osberg, the pair’s American instructor who is also a two-time international bridge champion, revealed that the billionaires take different approaches to developing as players.
“There’s a big difference between Bill’s and Warren’s approach to learning the game,” Osberg said. “Bill is very scientific. He reads and studies on his own. Warren enjoys playing. Warren has good instincts.”
While Gates is more methodical and Buffett seems to learn more by doing, their interest in bridge, which involves two sets of partners competing for the best hand, is about the same, Osberg said.
“When I first met Warren, his game was ragged around the edges,” she said. “We would play in the evening, and I would go through teaching points. He absorbed it like a sponge. Bill is the same way. Pretty big brain capacity.”
Perhaps most interesting of all is both of these enormously successful men are so enamored with bridge, and that the card game has remarkably widespread appeal in the investing world. As Thomas Heath of The Washington Post notes, activist investor David Einhorn is an avid player. Before Bear Stearns crashed in 2008, it was known as “the bridge firm” because so many partners played the game.
“You know, if I’m playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don’t ever see her,” Buffett joked to CBS News back in 2008. “Don’t test me on that!” he quickly added.
There’s a reason investors seem naturally drawn to bridge. Ben Graham, a godfather of investing and one of Buffett’s mentors, has said bridge, like investing, involves sticking to a well-thought-out strategy. Occasional losses are inevitable, but success eventually comes to those with discipline and a smart plan.
“Sometimes, playing a hand the right way leads to failure; sometimes picking a stock for the right reasons results in a loss.” That’s how Canadian Globe and Mail explained Graham’s philosophy about bridge’s correlations to investing.
“The approach and strategies are very similar in that you gather all the information you can and then keep adding to that base of information as things develop,” Buffett has said of bridge and investing. There are also lessons bridge can teach in terms of teamwork and running a business: “In bridge, you behave in a way that gets the best from your partner. And in business, you behave in the way that gets the best from your managers and your employees.”
Osberg herself has a banking background, having served as an executive at Wells Fargo for 18 years (she started before she met Buffett). She now plays weekly online games with Buffett, and is able to meet up with the pair at tournaments.
“Once or twice a year, I get to sit back and just listen to Bill and Warren. They talk about companies. They talk about trends. Artificial intelligence. Nuclear proliferation. What the future might hold and the political implications in the business world,” Osberg told the Washington Post.
“I don’t know how I got that lucky.”
Even though Osberg clearly enjoys playing with her famous, and famously wealthy, students, she admits they have a lot to learn, even after a couple decades of playing bridge.
“They are not in the upper echelon of national or world players,” she said. “They are very solid, everyday players.”