I recently took up the game of bridge after several years of procrastination. I will admit that one of the main reasons that I developed an interest in the game is because Warren Buffett is well known for being addicted to bridge. I figured that any pastime that could separate Mr. Buffett from reading annual reports or newspapers is one that I should investigate. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal sparked my interest and on a recent weekend, I decided to give it a try.
My first discovery was that bridge is not a game that you can decide to take up on a Saturday afternoon and play competently by that evening. The number of rules involved in bidding, the first phase of the game, is mind boggling for a beginner in terms of complexity and nuances. Furthermore, since bridge is a game where two sets of partners play against each other, communication is very important.
Bridge is a game that has many parallels with business. A player must either enter into the best possible contract with his or her partner based on the cards that are dealt or choose to defend against the opposing team’s contract. The language of bidding requires excellent communication skills if the partnership is to succeed in winning the hand. Significant mental agility is required to determine which strategy has the best probability of success based on known facts and skillful inferences regarding the opposing team. The game requires intense concentration when playing the cards. There is also an element of sheer luck involved regardless of how skillful the players are.
While playing bridge is not going to make anyone into an intelligent investor, it is interesting to note how many aspects of the game are similar to investing. It is easy to see how individuals who enjoy dealing with business problems on a day to day basis might choose to play bridge as a pastime. I have been playing bridge on Bridge Base Online under the handle “ravi2009”. I can’t say that I enjoy the game as much as Mr. Buffett based on this quote from the Wall Street Journal article, but the game is growing on me!
As for Mr. Buffett, he plays online most nights. “I just picked [my handle] out of thin air,” says Tbone. He once famously said that if he were playing bridge, a naked woman could walk by and he wouldn’t notice. Mr. Buffett adds now, “I’m 79, but when I’m playing bridge I feel 20.”
I am finding the books displayed below to be particularly useful to get up to speed with the game:
The first book provides detailed instructions on bidding. The second book is actually more of a “cheat sheet” that can be used as a quick reference during the bidding process.