Great chess player? Hedge funds may want to hire you
Now a Star Hedge Fund Manager Boaz Weinstein’s opening move on Wall Street came as a result of chess. Weinstein was trying to get a summer job at Goldman Sachs in 1991, when he was just 18. After being told there was nothing available, he stopped in a bathroom on the way out and ran into David F. Delucia, then the head of corporate bond trading.
Mr. Delucia, who is ranked as an expert by the United States Chess Federation, had played Mr. Weinstein, ranked as a master by the federation, many times. He arranged for a series of interviews until Mr. Weinstein got an internship on a Goldman trading desk.
Mr. Weinstein is not alone among Wall Streeters who have a chess connection.
Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal who now runs the hedge fund Clarium Capital, is also a chess master, and Douglas Hirsch, the founder of Seneca Capital, while not an expert, has become an ardent chess enthusiast.
Chess helps in trading, Mr. Weinstein said. To become a good chess player, he learned to focus on how he made decisions because he could not calculate the results of all his possible moves. Learning to deal with that uncertainty or risk has been useful. When you make an investment, “you can have an 80 percent chance of being right. And then the 20 percent comes up,” he said. “But really it is the process that you used to make the decision.”
Other games of strategy are prominent in finance. Warren E. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, is an accomplished bridge player; and David Einhorn, president of Greenlight Capital, who bet against Lehman Brothers in 2008, finished 18th in the main event of the 2006 World Series of Poker. More on Poker Hedge Funders Hedge Fund Poker Aces
But being skilled at games is no guarantee of success. James E. Cayne, the former chief executive of Bear Stearns, which collapsed in March 2008, is a world-class bridge player who has won many international bridge tournaments.
Still, the idea that gaming skills may be adaptable to investing spurred a hiring program in the early 1990s at Bankers Trust. At the time, the bank had a successful trader named Norman Weinstein (no relation to Boaz Weinstein), who had earned the title of international master from the World Chess Federation. In an effort to replicate his success, the bank hired a small group of people who had little or no trading experience, but were world-class chess and bridge players.
David Norwood, a World Chess Federation grandmaster (the highest ranking a player can obtain), was one of the recruits. “I was studying history at Oxford,” Mr. Norwood said. “Right out of the blue, I got contacted by Bankers Trust who said, ‘You would really make a good trader.’ I had no idea what trading was.”
Mr. Norwood took the job and was soon put on a trading desk, but it was too sudden. “It was like being stuffed into a world-class chess match without knowing the moves,” Mr. Norwood said. He quit after only a few months.
Despite the setback, Mr. Norwood said the experience “kind of planted a seed in me.” After a year, he found a job at Duncan Lawrie, a British private bank, and began learning trading and investing. In 2008, at the age of 40, he retired a multimillionaire.
Mr. Norwood said that he definitely believed that his skills in chess helped make him a success in business. “So many people in the investment world have bull-market mentalities. They do well when things are going well,” Mr. Norwood said. In chess, he said, you are constantly facing setbacks, and the people who become great players learn to overcome them.
Other companies have followed the Bankers Trust example. The Web site of the hedge fund manager D. E. Shaw Group lists among its employees a life master at bridge, a past “Jeopardy!” champion and Anna Hahn, the 2003 United States women’s chess champion.
Ms. Hahn, who joined the company shortly after winning the championship, is a senior trader, focusing mostly on commodities. Her chess background “definitely got our attention,” said Michelle Toth, who oversees human resources. “We prize analytical rigor here,” she said. “Someone who achieves this level definitely stands out.”
Boaz Weinstein rebounded from a trading loss of more than $1 billion at Deutsche Bankduring the financial crisis to found the $4 billion hedge fund Saba Capital Management, whose flagship fund is up more than 7 percent for the year. He said he often considered chess players when hiring.
At Deutsche Bank, which he left in early 2009, Mr. Weinstein said he helped recruit Elina Groberman, who was the 2000 United States women’s co-champion. He also hired Anatoly Nakum, a master. Mr. Nakum eventually left to head credit trading at Barclays Capital before moving on to UBS, where he was co-head of North American credit trading operations. He left in last year in June and said that he was currently pursuing opportunities in investment management.
In 2005, Mr. Thiel hired Patrick Wolff, a two-time United States champion, as an analyst. Mr. Wolff rose to become one of the managing directors at Clarium. Last year, he set up his own fund, and, in a reference to his chess background, named it Grandmaster Capital. He said the fund had about $50 million under management, much of the money from Mr. Thiel.
Mr. Hirsch, the founder of Seneca Capital, became interested in chess when his children started studying it. Eighteen months ago, he began taking lessons. As his understanding has grown, he has noticed analogies between chess and investing.
For example, he said, memory, pattern recognition and the order in which you play moves are important in chess, and the same is true in investing.
Mr. Hirsch said that when he first started playing chess, he just wanted to enjoy the game. He has improved rapidly, he said, and now his goal is to become a master by raising his official numerical rating through participation in tournaments.
But his new obsession has not come without a cost, at least to one of his other passions. When he is playing golf, Mr. Hirsch said, he often thinks about chess positions. Strangely, he said, the reverse is not true.
At Talpion, the hedge fund started last year by the billionaire investor Henry Swieca, one of the fund’s senior traders, Matthew Herman, is also a senior chess master, a rank above an ordinary master.
“I don’t think chess is usually going to get someone a job in finance,” said Mr. Herman, who worked at Goldman Sachs for six years before joining Talpion. But the ability to play chess at a high level “is perhaps reflective of your approach to everything.”
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