Wall Street Traders Go All In For Poker

An exploding poker scene has created a whole new subculture in Vegas and in turn helped grow Boutin's other enterprise, managing money. His firm, Securities Services, has around $50 million in assets under advisory on behalf of some high-net worth clients, including several professional card players. Boutin, who employs three other financial reps besides himself, has a value-oriented trading style, leaning toward distressed companies coming out of bankruptcy.

Lately, he's had a lot of those to choose from. Boutin also says that during the worst period of the 2008 financial meltdown he was making money hand over fist shorting financials.

"Both pursuits are about calculating risk," Boutin says. "But playing poker professionally can be exhausting – sometimes you just go and go all night. It takes a toll." (He's known for gulping Red Bull -- hence his moniker).

The skill sets of a trader or portfolio manager match up well with those required to compete in poker – a penchant for risk taking and a dispassionate regard for large sums of money.

A New York City securities industry recruiting firm, The Options Group, recently was asked by an unnamed hedge fund to find candidates proficient at online poker, no financial experience needed. Daytrading titan Steve Schonfeld is also known to consider card playing savvy when evaluating new trading candidates.

In general, money managers have tended to distance what it is they do from gambling, insisting that stock selection is far less a crap shoot than, say, shooting craps. This is particularly so, it is widely believed in the industry, if there's some form of a research-driven edge.

It's recognized even among gamblers that only a small percentage of them can consistently turn a profit. However, poker enthusiasts can be sensitive to perceptions that chance more than skill underpins what they do. And as the M.I.T. students featured in Ben Mezrich's book "Bringing Down the House" showed, there is an edge to be had at some games when a little intellectual firepower is brought to bear.

A Wall Street background can be an edge in the high-stakes poker circles.

Steven Begleiter, a Bear Stearns trader prior to the firm's demise, pulled down $1.6 million earlier this year when he finished in sixth place in the main WSOP event. Hedge fund heavyweight David Einhorn, who famously shorted Lehman Brothers into oblivion last summer, finished 18th in 2006. Aaron Brown, who works as a risk manager at mammoth Greenwich, Connecticut hedge fund AQR, was a former professional poker player.

"If you love trading, if you are good at it, then odds are you also love poker," says one Wall Street trader who enjoys playing in live games. "In the same way, if some young kid proves themselves really adept at playing poker online where it has become so competitive then chances are he might be well suited for becoming a trader."

In New York City, there's an unofficial Wall Street poker circuit, an ongoing series of semi regular games held almost every night of the week attended mainly by bank and hedge fund traders.

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