|Ariel Hsing paddles Bill Gates and Warren Buffet!|
May 7, 2007
Imagine: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, staring you down from across the table.
Intimidation factor - stratospheric.
Not for 11-year-old Ariel Hsing of San Jose. The sixth-grader at Evergreen Elementary School bested the both of them in table tennis Sunday, part of the festivities surrounding the annual shareholders meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's finance company. That's not to say they weren't worthy foes.
Gates and Buffett were "actually pretty good," Ariel said.
She ought to know, because she'd played the bigshots before. Months ago, Buffett, an avid ping-pong player, thought it would be fun if he invited Ariel - America's No.1 under-16 female table-tennis player - to his 75th birthday party in San Francisco for a friendly match against him and Gates, the legendary founder and CEO of Microsoft.
They lost. They also talked about showing Ariel off at the next Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting.
So there she was on a private jet this weekend, on her way to Omaha, Neb.
Indeed, with paddle in hand and dozens of his shareholders craning to watch, Buffett had come ready to play. Ariel also knew that once she'd faced Buffett, Gates would be next. And just as before, both were vanquished.
Buffett lost three points, whipped out his wallet and offered Ariel a dollar in a mock bribe. She refused. Play resumed. Buffett won the point and put down his paddle.
That's when Gates took his turn. Ariel gave up a few points, before she mastered his serves.
Then, in a gesture whose symbolism escapes easy description, both men served to Ariel at the same time. She managed to return each ball, but neither hit the table.
But Ariel's day wasn't over. For the next three hours, shareholders lined up to challenge the young phenom. No one beat her, she said. Although one person came close. He was clearly serious about the game. "He brought his own paddle," she said.
This little exhibition was part of a weekend event that also included a magician, a blindfolded chess champion and expert bridge players. Buffett is also a serious bridge buff.
Ariel, who remains the nation's best young female table-tennis player, hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team someday, perhaps in 2012, in London. She'll be 16 then.
Her opinion of Buffett hasn't changed since their first meeting.
She stayed at the birthday bash for two hours, said her father, Michael, an IBM software engineer. And he noticed that Buffett and Gates "were surprisingly good" table tennis players.
An invitation was made for Ariel to attend the shareholders meeting this year. And for Ariel, the ride to and from Nebraska, in private jets both ways, was "wonderful."
She was impressed with the variety of possible chair movements and how different the size of the seats were, too.
Not, she said, "like the regular ones - squished."