It all started with Warren Buffett, the famous financial guru. One day (in 1994), Fred got a phone call from someone who said, “I really like your software. What do you recommend?” This was when Fred was only creating and selling educational software through his first company, Bridge Base, Inc. Fred went into sales pitch mode, and took down the caller's order. When asked his name and shipping details, the caller said, “My name is Warren Buffett.”
Fred has heard of Warren Buffett. He decided to try to follow up on his stroke of luck, and so asked if Buffett would give him some business advice. Buffett's reply was, “You must find partners to work with. The most important thing to look for is integrity. There has to be trust.” Buffett told his friends about Fred, and one of those friends was Bill Gates. He also gave Fred something invaluable - the Omaha thumbs up! He said, “I think your software is fantastic. Please feel free to use my endorsement as you see fit.”
Three years later (in 1997), Fred received another life changing phone call. “This is Bill Gates' estate manager calling.” His first thought was that someone was playing a joke on him. Turned out that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were about to take a vacation on a private train. They were planning on playing bridge during one leg of the trip (from Bozeman, Montana, to Denver, Colorado), and wanted to know if Fred was available to be the fourth in their game. Warren already knew Fred because he enjoyed using some of the bridge software that Fred had created. Sharon Osberg, the other player in the party, knew Fred through bridge as she is a top-level player. The next day Fred received an airline ticket to Bozeman (first class!), got on the train, and played bridge day and night for the next couple of days. Bill, Warren, and Sharon found Fred to be a suitable fourth, and this became the first of many Bridge sessions for the group. Years later, Bill and Sharon would become Fred's business partners. All are co-owners of BBO.
Uday Ivatury came on board shortly after BBO was launched. Fred needed help with improving the BBO software, and Uday volunteered. He worked night and day for six months and never asked for a cent. Fred and Sheri liked Uday so much and were so impressed by his work that they made him a partner. Fred: "He’s the best computer programmer I’ve ever met."
As of October 1st, 2007, Bridge Base is owned by Fred Gitelman, Uday Ivatury, Bill Gates, Sharon Osberg and David Smith.
BBO's success can be attributed to many other factors. A large part must be credited to the active community of friends and supporters who have dedicated their time and expertise, often gratis, to help fellow Bridge players in BBO. The helpful "yellows" tasked with showing newbies the ropes, the translators who make it possible for non-English speakers to have fun, the experts who comment at Vugraphs or host lessons. And then there is the group of staff who work steadily behind the scenes to ensure an enjoyable experience for all. Luck? Luck probably has a role too. Fred and Uday like to (very modestly), disclaim business acumen, and have often mentioned the success of the games on BBO are more by coincidence than by design.
BBO had such an impact on the bridge world that Fred Gitelman was chosen the 6th most influential personality in the history of ACBL. Click here to read more about Fred making it to Top 52 Most Influential Bridge Personalities.
Bridge Base has changed over the years of existence. Undoubtedly, it will continue to evolve with new technology and challenges in the next years. However, the core mission - to create a quality, free, online bridge site where players from all over the world are welcome to play, watch, socialize, and learn - has, and always will remain constant.