Win a Seat at Traders' Table

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If you regularly win at online poker, that's a career asset. The widely discussed correlation between poker ability and trading ability has practical value in the job market, because many hiring decision-makers at hedge funds and other trading shops act on their belief.

A recent Bloomberg News story names several prominent hedge funds and other firms that consciously recruit successful poker competitors. They include AQR Capital Management, D.E. Shaw, Two Sigma and Susquehanna International Group. Two large recruiting firms, Options Group and Exemplar Partners, also told Bloomberg they've helped clients scoop up talent from the poker world.

Other mind-sports have aided careers too. Bridge was famously associated with the late Bear Stearns - both its next-to-last CEO James Cayne and his closest deputy Warren Spector ranked among the nation's top players. Even chess, more often associated with prison inmates and park hustlers than with high finance, had its moment in the sun. Circa 1990, Bankers Trust recruited a class of chess masters to fashion into currency traders. (Although successful - posting jobs in chess publications was "our number one best place to get traders," said former CEO Charles Sanford - that experiment was never repeated.)

What Makes Poker Special?

Yet poker seems uniquely matched with trading skills. Managing risk, making quick decisions under pressure, and - perhaps most of all - turning subjective observations about opponents' quirks (or market behavior) into actionable betting strategies, are central to poker but not to other mind-sports. Poker players "know to push when they have the edge and they know how not to bust, and that's a tough combination to find," AQR risk manager and former poker pro Aaron Brown told Bloomberg.

And Options Group's Simon Satanovsky (a former Russian national bridge champion according to Bloomberg) says a recent hedge fund assignment to recruit online poker players with no financial experience has led his firm to question candidates about poker results instead of "GPA or the Math/Physics Olympiad."

The poker connection isn't new. Susquehanna International Group, for instance, has used poker to teach trading skills to new recruits since the firm's inception in 1987.

But the Internet era has added a new wrinkle. Quant-finance recruiter Todd Fahey at Exemplar Partners says large model-driven hedge funds such as Two Sigma and D.E. Shaw are interested in candidates "from the poker software side of the house" - people who can write code either for running poker Web sites or for winning card-playing strategies.

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