Like a Marriage, Only More Enduring

Here's how the second-richest man in America introduced himself to Sharon Osberg: He invited her into his office, got her down on hands and knees, and had her play him in a fixed-dice game. At the time, Osberg was an executive at Wells Fargo and a world-champion bridge player. She had briefly met Warren Buffett, an avid amateur, at a game in New York City, and the Berkshire Hathaway CEO had invited her to his Omaha headquarters. 'His theory was, this is how he would break the ice,' Osberg says. 'They were nontransitive dice [a sort of party trick for statistics geeks]. There I was, in my dress, on my hands and knees, rolling dice on Warren Buffett's floor, in a situation where I couldn't win. He thought it was hilarious.' After Buffett finished laughing, the two went out for steak, then played bridge at his local club. The game was 'terrible,' Buffett recalls. 'Humiliating,' says Osberg. 'But we had a really good time.' That was 20 years ago, and the two have been bridge partners and friends ever since. They play together an average of four times a week. It's a long-distance, platonic relationship that was founded on the card game but has evolved. Osberg lives in Marin County, outside of San Francisco, and communicates with Buffett a couple of times a day by phone, and then again via the computer, where the two chat as they play online. 'She's a very good friend now, even though we don't see each other that often,' says Buffett. Osberg agrees. 'He's just my best friend. He's changed my life. I'm the luckiest human being in the world.' Beyond their passion for the game, the pair relate in other ways─like the dry humor they share. Even their differences are complementary. Osberg is a professional technologist who ran Wells Fargo's online banking group, and Buffett famously steers clear of anything with a chip. 'At least two or three times a month, he'll call me and say, 'This is on my screen, what do I do?' ' she says. But serving as a billionaire technophobe's IT director is relatively easy work, Osberg allows: 'Whenever there's any kind of a problem with his computer, he just goes out and buys another one.' In 2005, Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates─who plays bridge with both of them─pledged a million dollars to promote bridge in schools. The nonprofit effort, headed by Osberg, never gained traction and closed shop earlier this year. Buffett concedes that bridge is never going to experience the mainstream success it enjoyed 70 years ago. 'There's too many different things people can do,' he says. Fortunately for him, though, he doesn't lack for willing bridge mates. 'There's a lot of people I could play bridge with, but there would be nobody better to have as a partner than Sharon.' BUFFETT ON OSBERG I liked her. She was very likable, an interesting person, and clearly very smart. She had developed online banking for Wells Fargo very early; she was a pioneer in that. I invited her to play in Omaha and she accepted─we both played terribly that night. Because we were both trying to please the other one and it didn't work worth a damn. She's an extremely good player, but she's a good partner too. Unlike chess, or unlike a lot of games, in bridge if you're a bad partner, it's going to materially affect the result the two of you get based on your skill alone. I've learned a lot from her. When we play, I do a lot of dumb things, and then I also do some extremely dumb things from time to time. But whenever I do something extremely dumb, we usually get a good result. Don't ask me why─she can explain that to you. But that's the only thing she would find extremely irritating about me, is when I make some colossal mistake and it turns out to give us a good score. I never want to quit. It's the opponents who want to quit. Last night we played for only an hour and a half, but I would go on forever. We play up at Bill Gates's house periodically, and those games will start at 2 in the afternoon, break for dinner, then finish at 11 at night. We were playing in Omaha at annual meeting time and Sharon came in with my sister and her husband. We played and much to my chagrin and, I might add, my surprise, my sister and her husband actually beat Sharon and me. So my sister at that point reached to get the score pad, and I ripped it off and ate it. It's a very competitive game. It's about as competitive as you can get. OSBERG ON BUFFETT I wasn't all that familiar with Warren. I sort of knew who he was. I knew he was wealthy. I knew he was an investor. And I knew he was from someplace in the middle of the country. So when I did meet him, he said, 'You've got to come to Omaha.' I said, 'Where's that?' I could have brushed up a bit more on my facts before I met him. We liked each other a lot. Once I got over being terrified, he's such an easy person to be with, and we have a similar sense of humor─it just clicked. I didn't play online at the time─I was playing face-to-face, in serious tournaments─but it seemed to me that this was the way to go. That's why Warren got a computer. It took me a long time, probably six months, to convince him that what he really needed was a computer and then he could play bridge anytime he wanted. Bill Gates had tried to get him a computer─he volunteered to send people from Microsoft out to hook it up, but none of that worked. Finally, he said OK. I was in Chicago or Cleveland or someplace, and he said, 'I'll pick you up,' because he was on his way home from a meeting, 'and I'll take you to Omaha. We'll go to the Furniture Mart and buy a computer and you'll set it up for me.' I think it was an HP. Then there was the time he nearly cost me my world status: We'd never played together in a tournament before, let alone a world championship. We were huge underdogs to qualify for the finals, but God bless us, we qualified, at which point Warren said, 'I can't do this anymore. It's so stressful. Tell them I have a business emergency. Tell them anything.' So I go and try to tell the officials my partner has a business emergency─they were furious. We were probably the only couple ever to qualify for a world championship and withdraw without one of us dying.
(Edited from Peter Kafka’s interviews with Buffett and Osberg) By Dan Winters沃伦•巴菲特(Warren Buffett),美国的第二大富翁,他是这样向莎朗•奥斯伯格(Sharon Osberg)介绍自己的: 他把奥斯伯格请进自己的办公室,让她趴在地板上,两个人一起来玩“固定骰子”(fixed-dice)的游戏。 当时,奥斯伯格在富国银行(Wells Fargo)任高管,也是世界桥牌冠军。她跟铁杆桥牌迷巴菲特在纽约一个桥牌比赛上短暂见面,随后身为伯克希尔•哈撒韦(Berkshire Hathaway)首席执行长的巴菲特邀请奥斯伯格去奥马哈市(Omaha)的公司总部做客。 奥斯伯格说,按照他的说法,这就是他跟人拉近距离的方法──非递移骰子(一种数位游戏迷的派对玩具)。我穿着正装,趴在巴菲特办公室的地板上,跟他玩掷骰子,在这种情况下,我根本不可能赢,而他觉得这样好玩极了。巴菲特开怀大笑之后,两人去吃牛排,然后在当地的俱乐部打桥牌。巴菲特回忆说,那场桥牌打得糟糕透顶。奥斯伯格说,打得太丢脸,但玩得很开心。 这是二十年前的事情了。从那以后,两人成了牌友和好朋友,平均每周要在一起打四次牌。这是一种相隔两地的、柏拉图式的关系,建立在桥牌的基础上,但又比牌友更进一步。奥斯伯格住在三藩市附近的马林县(Marin County),每天通过电话跟巴菲特沟通好几次,一起打网上桥牌,一边闲聊一边切磋牌技。 巴菲特说,虽然我们不常见面,但她是个很棒的朋友。奥斯伯格也有同感,她说,巴菲特是我的挚友,他改变了我的人生,让我成为全世界最幸运的人。 除了对桥牌的热情外,两人在其他方面也很投合──比如都喜欢讲冷笑话。两人的不同之处也颇有互补性。奥斯伯格是个IT专家,管理富国银行的网上银行团队,而巴菲特对任何带有芯片的东西都避之唯恐不及,这一点是人尽皆知。 奥斯伯格说,每个月他至少会给我打两三次电话,说“我电脑萤幕上出现了这个玩意儿,我该怎么办?”不过她承认,给一个对电脑极度排斥的亿万富翁当IT顾问相对来说比较简单:电脑只要一有问题,他就会出去再买一台新的。 2005年,巴菲特和微软公司(Microsoft)联合创始人比尔•盖茨(Bill Gates) ──盖茨也是两人的牌友──承诺捐款100万美元,用于在学校中推广桥牌运动。这个非盈利专案由奥斯伯格牵头,但一直未能有所进展,并在今年初宣告终止。巴菲特承认,桥牌再也无法重现70年前的那种辉煌。他说,现在人们可玩的东西太多了。对巴菲特来说,有一点很幸运:他从来不愁找不着愿意跟他打桥牌的人。他说,我可以跟很多人打桥牌,但谁也赶不上奥斯伯格这个搭档。 巴菲特谈奥斯伯格 巴菲特:我喜欢她,她很讨人喜欢,很有趣,非常聪明。她很早就为富国银行开发了网上银行业务,是该领域的先锋人物。我请她去奥马哈打桥牌,她同意了,但那天晚上打牌打得一塌糊涂,因为我们俩都想在牌桌上取悦对方,结果适得其反。 她是个极其出色的牌手,但也是个好搭档。桥牌和国际象棋不同,或者说和很多棋牌游戏都不一样,如果你的搭档不好,会极大影响两人的发挥,个人技巧再好也没有用。我从她那里学到了很多东西。 我们打牌的时候,我会出很多臭牌,还不时会打出惊天动地的臭牌,但每次犯大错误的时候,得分通常都不错。别问我原因──让她跟你解释。不过,她会对我大为光火的唯一一种情况,就是我打错牌却得高分的时候。 桥牌我从来都打不够,都是对手先提出离席。昨晚我们才玩了一个半小时,但我想永远这么打下去。我们定期在比尔•盖茨家打牌,一般从下午两点开始,晚餐时间休息一会儿,然后继续打,晚上11点钟结束。 有一次在奥马哈开公司年会的时候,奥斯伯格跟我妹妹和妹夫来了。我们一起打牌,但让我又懊恼又惊讶的是,我妹妹和妹夫居然赢了我和奥斯伯格。当我妹妹去拿计分纸时,我抢过来把它撕碎,咽了下去。那是一场很激烈的比赛,达到了激烈竞争的最高层次。 奥斯伯格谈巴菲特 奥斯伯格:以前我跟巴菲特不熟,大致知道他这个人,知道他很有钱,是个投资家,来自美国中部的什么地方。我们第一次见面时,他对我说,你得来一趟奥马哈。而我的回答却是,那个地方在哪儿?我应该在见他之前多做一点准备功课的。 我们彼此都很喜欢对方。我一开始有点忐忑不安,但过了这个阶段后,发现他真的是一个很好相处的人,而且我们的幽默感很相似──可谓一见面就很投缘。 那时我还没有在网上玩桥牌,只是玩面对面的,正式比赛的那种,但我觉得网上桥牌是个方向。正因为如此,沃伦才买了一台电脑。我花了很长时间,可能有六个月,说服沃伦他真的需要一台电脑,这样就可以随时想玩就玩。比尔•盖茨以前想送他一台电脑,主动提出让微软公司的人过来帮他搞定,但都没用。最后,沃伦终于听了我的意见。 有一次,我在芝加哥或是克里夫兰或是其他什么地方的时候,沃伦正好开完会回家,他给我打电话说,我过来接你,我们去奥马哈,到那里的Furniture Mart买台电脑,然后你帮我装一下。我记得那是一台惠普(HP)电脑。 还有一次,他差点让我失去世界冠军赛的比赛资格。以前我们从没一起参加过正式比赛,更不用说是世界冠军赛了。那次,我们在冠军赛的资格赛上打得一塌糊涂,但上帝保佑,最后还是晋级了。结果这个时候,沃伦说,我不想打下去了,压力太大,跟他们说说,我生意上有急事,随便找个什么理由都行。于是我去找赛事官员,说我搭档生意上有急事,想退出比赛──把那帮官员都气坏了。我们可能是史上第一对打进世界冠军赛,却又在双方都没有生命垂危的情况下决定退出的搭档了。 (编者注:本文编辑自Peter Kafka对巴菲特和奥斯伯格的采访。转自酷悠双语网。)

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