When Maye Jones took up bridge around six years ago, she had no idea it would lead to a meeting with two of the world's wealthiest men at one of the biggest tournaments in the United States.
What started with some simple lessons at the YWCA to learn the game has turned into a true passion for Jones, who plays in a local bridge club and parlayed her hobby into fulfilling one of her greatest dreams.
"I play in our local bridge club and because I'm an investment advisor, it's always been a dream, thinking oh, if I could ever meet (billionaire investor) Warren Buffett," Jones said.
Submitted Photo •
Maye Jones, left, and her bridge partner Vivian Kockler, right, pose with Microsoft founder Bill Gates before their match together at the Nebraska Regional Bridge Tournament in Omaha this past week. Jones and Kockler played against Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett on the tournament’s second day.
Fortunately for Jones, Buffett, who lives in Omaha, Neb., plays in the Nebraska Regional Bridge Tournament every year, which also happens to be held in his hometown. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is also and avid bridge player who plays in the tournament every year with his good friend Buffett.
Jones said Lorna Nordlinder, a Diamond Life Master player in her bridge club who attends numerous national tournaments, asked the club if anyone was going to go with her to the tournament a few weeks before its Aug. 2 start. It was not the first time Nordlinder had asked, and Jones was kicking herself for not acting sooner.
"I thought, 'Doggone it, I missed it again this year ... And then I thought, 'Why don't I?'" Jones said. "I went on the Internet and I saw Warren Buffett is age 80 and I thought, 'Doggone it.'"
Jones called her good friend Vivian Kockler, who is one of the biggest bridgeaholics in the club, to gauge her interest in the trip.
"I called her and I said, 'Vivian, it's only two weeks away, but would you go?'" Jones said. "'When are we going?' she said."
While Jones loves bridge, her main goal in attending the tournament was to simply meet Warren Buffett. She didn't particularly care how well she did as long as she got to meet her idol. Nordlinder, who helped Jones and Kockler find their way around the fast-paced event, cautioned Jones to temper her expectations.
"She said, 'Well now, Maye, you'll never, ever, ever play with them. They're in the A-level and got their pro bridge partners they pay for. You'll never, ever play with them," Jones said. "I said, 'That's fine, I just want to meet them.'"
Buffett plays with Bob Hamman, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, while Gates plays with Dave Smith, also an elite bridge player.
Jones had heard that Buffett and Gates usually attend the middle days of the tournament, which was held Aug. 2-8 this year. Just to be safe, Jones and Kockler signed up for the first few days as well as the middle days.
On the second day, Jones and Kockler teamed with two other people and got their table assignments in a massive convention room with 240 tables, sitting down at table G2.
"Prior to that we had seen Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Bob Hamman and those people in the crowd. So they come walking over, and Bill Gates pulls out his chair next to me," Jones said. "That never happens for C-level people, to get the chance to play against them. So my team played against Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and then Bob Hamman. He's the world champion since I can't remember what year. He is considered the god of bridge."
Needless to say, Nordlinder was more than a little surprised to see who Jones and Kockler were playing against.
"Even Lorna who was there helping mentoring and got me to the table, and she was over by the scoreboard waiting for her assignment, and she saw Bill Gates sitting down and she goes like..." Jones said, mimicking the look of shock and disbelief punctuated by wide eyes and a slack jaw that crossed Nordlinder's face. "Even during the rest of the week I had ladies coming up to me, and even at the last day at the airport."
Jones and Kockler played four full days and part of a fifth before leaving.
Jones said there wasn't much conversation during the match, which she declined to say who won, but she noted that before and after both Gates and Buffett were incredibly down to earth and gladly posed for pictures. When Jones asked Buffett for a second picture to make sure she had at least one that turned out, he dug his wallet out of his pants and told Jones to pretend like she was stealing it while they posed.
"They're wonderful. I've heard for like five, six years, when they show up at Omaha, Nebraska, they're just down to earth, nice people, just they're right in with the crowd," Jones said, noting Gates even stayed at an average hotel in the area that was far below what he could afford.
They didn't finish playing that day until 10:30 p.m., and still weren't able to sleep at all that night.
Not only did Jones get to play bridge against her idol, she also acquitted herself admirably during the rest of the tournament. The highlight, other than playing against Gates and Buffett of course, was qualifying to the very last table in one session and earning her first two gold points.
As Jones tells the story and excitement starts building up in her voice while her motions become more animated, she always comes back to meeting and playing against Buffett and Gates, which is easily the highlight of her bridge-playing career.
"On a scale of zero to 10, if you're a bridge player, you love bridge, you're passionate, it's a 10-plus to have this opportunity and honor," Jones said. "And it's not just playing against Bob Hamman, the world champion, and Dave Smith, you know, it's two people (Gates and Buffett) I really admire for the right reasons. Just gracious, down to earth people."