Inside The Bill Gates Poker Game In Kemmerer

Kemmerer citizens who played Texas hold 'em with Bill Gates on Monday at the Wyoming Fossils store said the billionaire is shrewd card player who called the "bullsh*t" on one of the player's bluffs.

Pat Maio

June 11, 20245 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

KEMMERER — Turns out, billionaire Bill Gates ain’t a slouch when it comes to playing card games. He knows how to bluff.

That’s the takeaway of a tiny group of card players in Kemmerer, Wyoming, who got to sit at the table Monday with one of the world’s richest people.

Since the 1990s, Gates has picked up a thing or two in the trick-taking card game bridge with his billionaire friend Warren Buffett.

When Gates arrived in the mining town on Monday to break ground on a novel Natrium nuclear reactor that he’s betting billions on as a winner along Highway 189 just south of town, Gates was also quietly chomping at the bit to head over to a game of Texas hold ’em, a popular variation of the traditional game of poker.

Shortly after lunch and shaking hands with Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and executives of reactor developer TerraPower LLC and the Buffett-owned PacifiCorp, Gates and his security detail headed over to Wyoming Fossils along Pine Avenue to sit down with five townsfolk for a game of poker.

But before Gates headed to the upstairs loft of the fossil store located just across the street from the first JCPenney retail store in the nation, Gates took a quick tour of the fossil collection of owner Robert Bowen.

When the pair got to the rear of the store, Bowen handed Gates a chisel and a ballpeen hammer that the billionaire used to split a rock open to reveal six or seven fossilized fish.

They weren’t just any fish. There were Knightia Eocaena, an extinct bony fish that is referred to as Wyoming’s state fossil, along with Diplomystus, an extinct fish distantly related to modern-day herrings and sardines.

“He was pretty excited,” said Bowen, who plans to clean up the 24-by-18-inch chunk of rock and send it as a gift to Gates.

The billionaire wants to hang the extinct fish from the nearby Fossil Lake quarry on a wall with other collected fossils at his home in Washington.

“He’s got a spot in mind,” Bowen said.

But then the real business got underway. They headed upstairs to a table already set up to play Texas hold ’em.

Regular People

At the the table were Bowen; Joyce Chadwick, food service director for Lincoln County School District 1 in Diamondville, the tiny coal-mining community located adjacent to Kemmerer; Tony Lindgren, a wholesale fossils business owner; Steve Peternali, a fourth-generation cattle rancher; and Larry Shoemaker, a retired maintenance manager for the Wyoming Department of Transportation in Rock Springs.

They played for 30 minutes and brought their own drinks. They bonded over small talk, like what do you do for a living, and where Gates plans to visit next.

They now refer to Gates on a first-name basis. No politics were discussed.

Gates drank Diet Coke, Shoemaker drank Gold Peak Iced Tea and the others wetted their mouths with a little pre-mixed margarita, water or nothing at all.

The card game got going with everyone tossing into the middle of the table a Benjamin Franklin.

According to accounts of those who were in, Gates played a tough game, though recollections seem a little fuzzy.

Lindgren and Peternali couldn’t be immediately reached for comment to help settle disputes over how the hands turned out with Gates.

The highlight seems to be one game that involved a tense bluffing showdown between Gates and Peternali.

“Bill smelled the bullshit on the cattle rancher,” recalled Bowen, who thought Peternali won.

In the language of Texas hold ’em, Bowen boasted that Gates had “pocket fives” and caught Peternali bluffing when “every card out there would have beat him.”

“He was able to pick up this guy’s bluffing him and just trying to take his chips. He called him all the way down in one hand,” Bowen said. “Bill was able to read this other player (Peternali). He’s very intuitive, very sharp and a very intelligent man.”

Chadwick remembers the hand differently.

“I think Bill folded to him. I think when Steve raised bid, Bill folded and then Steve never showed his hand. We just kind of figured he bluffed,” Chadwick said.

Others at the table had the same read on Gates’ skills.

Robert Bowen, co-owner of Wyoming Fossils in Kemmerer, Wyoming, hosted a card game of Texas hold lem with billionaire Bill Gates on Monday.
Robert Bowen, co-owner of Wyoming Fossils in Kemmerer, Wyoming, hosted a card game of Texas hold lem with billionaire Bill Gates on Monday. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

By The Numbers

“You know, it was absolutely amazing playing with Bill,” Chadwick said. “I felt like he was as normal as he could ever be. He was there to play cards.”

For a man who Forbes magazine estimates is worth about $131 billion, Gates let his hair down — if only for 30 minutes.

“I think he took his hat off, you know, and just relaxed and enjoyed himself for about 30 minutes,” said Chadwick, who sat at the side of Gates during the game. “He was enjoying his time there. OK, you got a ton of money, but you certainly don’t act like it. He was normal just like the rest of us. I was very impressed.”

She won one game against the players, going for a straight hand of five consecutive cards of different suits.

“All I know is I needed an eight and the eight hit,” she recalled. “He was really studying his cards. He was focusing on his cards, and the cards out on the table, and he was really good. He knew what he had.”

Others at the table thought the same.

“He was just as good as everyone else at the table. He had some pretty good hands,” Shoemaker said.

“We didn’t talk much at the table. There’s nothing that really sticks in my mind,” said Shoemaker, who was hoping to win a little money off Gates to help pay for a personal visit to Missouri. “He was really nice and shook everybody’s hand when he left.”

Pat Maio can be reached at

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Pat Maio


Pat Maio is a veteran journalist who covers energy for Cowboy State Daily.