"In terms of the game of bridge itself, computers can't play at any reasonable level," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said Monday during a break in play at the World Bridge Championships. "Even I can probably beat the best bridge software that exists today."
Gates was competing in his first world championships, where he failed to advance to the final round.
A self-described bridge addict, Gates said he plays about half his games online.
Computers provide incredible instruction and foster a sense of community among players, he said. But they don't match the ability of programs for other games like chess.
"There's no imminent prospect of bridge software being able to play at human levels," he told reporters.
Since taking up the game four years ago, Gates has surrounded himself with world champions and some of the card game's best players, including a pair of Canadians who won an Olympic exhibition last winter before the Salt Lake City Games.
He said bridge requires logic and offers mental challenges similar to his day job as head of the Redmond, Wash.- based software giant.
"That kind of mental acuity is handy for anything you want to do with excellence," he said. "Bridge keeps your mind very, very active."
But in the battle of the billionaires, Gates admits he hasn't yet mastered his friend Warren Buffett, chairman of the investment firm Berkshire Hathaway.
Having people with such name recognition taking up the game can only help to lure more players, said Bob Hamman of Dallas, the highest-ranking player in the world.
"He's a talented amateur," the 64-year-old master said of Gates' play. "I wouldn't give him much chance of winning world championships but you never know, maybe he'll prove me wrong."
"When we get to the bridge table, we're all just bridge players," said Judith Gartaganis of Calgary, who split a pair of games Sunday with Gates and his playing partner, Sharon Osberg of San Francisco.