Bridge Program Takes On the World
By: Fred Langan
Originally Published in The Christian Science Monitor,
January 7, 1997
Build a better bridge program, and Warren Buffett and Bill Gates will
beat a path to your door.
That's what happened to Fred Gitelman, a top-ranked bridge player from
Toronto who is also a software developer. He put together a program called
Bridge Master to challenge and educate players of the card game, along
with a company called Bridge Base Inc.
Result: sales of $300,000 a year, a letter of endorsement from billionaire
investor and bridge enthusiast Mr. Buffett, and a development contract
from software giant Microsoft, run by Mr. Gates, another billionaire bridge
"Warren Buffett was an early customer, and he called for refills,"
says Mr. Gitelman, who explains that the program comes with 180 hands for
$60; a disk with new problem hands costs $15. "When I sent him his
package I also asked for an endorsement of our product and some business
advice." Gitelman got both.
"He told us to link up with someone of integrity, business smarts,
software knowledge, and bridge enthusiasm," says Gitelman. "He
said we could do away with the bridge enthusiasm but not the integrity.
I found that interesting."
Bridge is a card game divided into two parts: First comes the bidding,
when the four players say how many "tricks" they will take; second,
players try to make good on their bids, playing with a partner.
"Our program is not a game," Gitelman says, adding that earlier
bridge programs were too easy. His hands are pre-set, not randomly picked
by the computer. "Our aim is to educate. We don't allow you to make
a mistake. You have to pick the best line of play every time," he
There are said to be 17 million bridge players in the United States
and Canada. The game is more popular in Europe, and that is where Bridge
Base Inc. has been making its biggest sales. One bridge afficionado translated
the game into Dutch, and the company sold 4,000 copies in the Netherlands
last year, compared with 3,500 English-language programs in the rest of
the world. Sales of the bridge program were up 300 percent in 1996, helped
by other endorsements, such as one from the bridge critic in The New York
His connection with Buffett paid off in other ways as well: "He
plays bridge with Bill Gates Sr., who mentioned it to his son," the
Microsoft chief, says Gitelman. "Now I'm working for Microsoft on
developing an on-line bridge program."