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Banking on bridge

Take that, poker!

Poker may be all the rage with junior high school kids, but the two richest men in the country are betting a million dollars they have a better card game to offer young people: bridge.

That’s contract bridge, the four-player card game whose popularity peaked a half-century ago and is now played largely by senior citizens, country clubbers, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett.

The two billionaires are passionate bridge players who compete in tournaments and online under the names “Chalengr” for Gates and “T-Bone” for Buffett. Now they want to fund a program to teach bridge in schools.

Pastimes of the 1950s are already being revived among kids: Poker is popular, and schools have turned to ballroom dancing to teach teamwork.

Now Gates and Buffett have hired Buffett’s bridge partner, Sharon Osberg, to start a program to teach contract bridge in junior high schools. They’ve anted up $1 million to fund it.

“Bill Gates and I kind of cooked it up together,” says Buffett, who thinks bridge would teach kids math skills, logical thinking and how to work with others. “We hope we could get a school program someplace, where the kids were taught the game and … develop a lot of competition between schools.”


And unlike poker, there’s no money involved. “We play only for glory,” says Linda Granell, marketing director for the bridge league.

What bridge has over chess and poker is that it requires players to learn to work with someone else, Buffett says.

“You have to learn to understand your partner, to be tolerant, sympathetic, encouraging,” he says. “Those are skills that are not bad to have in life.”

If a program gets going, Buffett and Gates have promised to take on the winners of a school tournament.

“We’d go down and play the best team,” Buffett says. “It would be fun for me and Bill to play the champions. And it might spur them on some.”

Two minor quibbles: One, as I understand it Sharon Osberg has also been Bill Gates’ partner in tournaments, and two, while ACBL events are for glory alone, one can certainly play bridge for money. Beyond that, all I can say is that I’d rather play bridge than poker any day. Your mileage may vary, but that’s my game.

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  1. becky says:

    Bridge for me too!

  2. William Hughes says:

    I think contract bridge is to poker as chess is to backgammon. I think the reason why poker will remain the more popular game is that while there is a degree of skill involved, there is enough of an element of chance where anyone can win. In fact, several of the most recent World Series of Poker champions have been amateur card players.

    Bridge requires more skill and the best players need to understand how to play their hand much the same way a chess grandmaster. The bidding systems that are used remind me of the defenses that one might read about in chess strategy books.

    I would certainly be interested in playing bridge more often, however, there is no for beginning players such as myself.

  3. Ryan O. says:

    You mention bridge for money, but I’ve had trouble finding a place to do that. I’m planning a Vegas trip with my SO and her family. Her father plays bridge, and I’ve thought it would be fun to find a place to play for some stakes while we’re in town. Surprisingly enough, I really haven’t been able to find a place where you can find people to play with for money. (I found one online, but it looked a bit sketchy.)

    I had assumed that Vegas would pretty much let you gamble on whatever you wanted, and particularly would be interested in capturing more money from seniors, but I’ve had a heck of a time finding a place to play.