A lot has been written about the endearing friendship that has developed over the last several decades between two of the richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Their mutual admiration, dedication to philanthropy and shared love of bridge have been well documented. Not many people know however that bridge was not the first game over which these two titans of industry bonded.
Gates & Buffett first met at a the 1996 “Kubbing to Kick Cancer” charity tournament in Kasson, MN when their teams met in the seeding rounds. Tournament director Dee Dee Halvorson recalls that the pair seemed to hit it off immediately – chatting at length between rounds about investment strategies, baton rotation, management styles and trading a shocking number of Fireball shots. After that fateful tourney, the two were inseparable on the kubb pitch.
The new friends immediately started practicing every chance they had. They got together to practice in person as often as possible, but more often they worked remotely using a very early virtual kubbing solution that Gates had the Microsoft advanced R & D lab develop specifically so he and Buffett could work on their game each night while apart. It was during these late night virtual kubb practices that the pair established their roles on the team: Gates the driller and sniper and Buffett the surprisingly powerful blaster.
Starting in the 1997 season, the two played every tournament they could fit into their busy schedules. From coast to coast, their team – Kubb-Alt-Delete – slowly but surely began improving their game and by the end of the year, they took home their first trophy, winning the Dallas, WI Oktoberfest kubb tournament and cementing their reputation as serious kubbers!
Kubb had become such an obsession that in the spring of 1998, shortly after winning the West Coast Championship in South Pasadena, CA, Gates shocked the business community when he announced he was relinquishing his role as President of Microsoft in order to focus on this new passion.
For the better part of a decade, the worlds two wealthiest men were also the world’s most successful kubbers. They were unbeatable on the pitch – racking up countless titles and raising millions for good causes at charity events and exhibition matches around the world. But the life of a touring athlete is exhausting and the heavy drinking and partying for which they were known eventually began to take their toll. Kubb-Alt-Delete’s amazing run came to a screeching halt in the summer of 2005 when they were kicked out of the US National Kubb Championship in Eau Claire, WI after an embarrassing incident involving a profanity-laden verbal assault on a referee, some ecstasy-spiked Gatorade and two public urination charges which were later dropped. The pair were given an 18-month suspension from competition by USA Kubb.
It was only at this stage that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett decided to try playing bridge.
The two never joined forces to play competitive kubb after that but in recent years, having made amends with the kubb community, Buffet has gotten involved in the local kubb scene in his hometown. When he’s not managing Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett spends much of his spare time these days working as the commissioner of the Omaha Kubb League. He no longer drinks or takes drugs during league play, focusing instead on embracing what he describes as the natural adrenaline rush he gets from “crushing field kubbs.”
Gates, busy running his charitable foundation with wife Melinda, claims he doesn’t get to play much kubb these days, though from time to time he and Buffett will have a backyard friendly when time allows. Pictured above is one such friendly where we can see the former champions playing in 2015 with friend and Microsoft co-founder, the late Paul Allen in Gates’ Medina, WA back yard.