College Friends Remember Gates’ Genius, Poker Playing

Associated Press

Bill Gates `77 is internationally recognized as a brilliant entrepreneur who created the world’s most powerful technology company and amassed a monumental personal fortune.

Many also think of him as one of the greatest living philanthropists, who has endowed the largest private foundation since Andrew Carnegie.

But only his college friends know him as a mediocre poker player.


Putting the Worth in Wigglesworth

“At first, the size of Harvard was very intimidating,” writes Gates, reached briefly for comment via e-mail. “I came out of a relatively small high school where I was pretty good at quite a lot of things.”

But friends say he made the adjustment well.

“[Since the first day] he was always a very intense, focused individual,” says Samuel Znaimer ’77, Gates’ first-year roommate in Wiggleswroth A-11. “From the very beggining he had a certain high-energy attitude and style. He’d work for 48 hours in a row. Then he’d crash for 18 hours, and when he woke up, he’d go straight back in.”

As a first-year, Gates enrolled in Math 55, the most advanced introductory mathematics course Harvard had to offer.

College friend James H. Sethna ’77, now a professor of physics at Cornell, remembers how he used to study with Gates until two or three in the morning, consuming pizza and taking breaks to play foosball or video games.

“The only all-nighter I ever pulled at Harvard was with Bill,” Sethna fondly recalls. “We played pong and computer chess all night at the computer facility on one of the older computers that had been put aside for just that purpose.”

In the spring semester of his sophomore year, Gates took Math 250, which Sethna and many of his friends had completed that fall.

“We had all found it challenging, and [Bill] said he found it very easy,” Sethna says. “He told us he had finally figured out what math was all about. It was just a system and he had figured out the system.”

It sometimes seemed that Gates did not confine his math to waking hours. Znaimer remembers that he woke up one night to hear Gates talking in his sleep.