During the boom of the Eighties, the last time greed was good and Wall Street ran wild, it was a game called Liar’s Poker that captured the testosterone-fuelled risk-taking of the trading floor for the public’s imagination. This time round, as we pick over the wreckage caused by the latest frenzy of greed, maybe it will be Blindfold Chess.
With more than 100 colleagues gathered round, Boaz Weinstein, a derivatives trading whiz at Deutsche Bank, sat with his back to a chess board and dictated moves in a “blindfold” game against a Russian colleague. Keeping the board in his head, and thinking many moves ahead, it took him two hours to crush his hapless opponent. It was 2005 and Mr Weinstein was already a legend on Wall Street; two years later he would be taking home annual bonuses of about $40m; today, he is out, leaving behind him a $1.8bn (£1.2bn) hole that has wiped out the profits and shredded the reputation of Germany’s most powerful bank.
Mr Weinstein is brilliantly clever. But, it turns out, too clever by half. His rise and his fall follow the arc of Wall Street’s boom and bust, and now the 35-year-old gambler has been unmasked as the latest face of the finance industry’s excess. He used to boast that he was using simple maths to make giant profits. “It’s not rocket surgery,” he would joke to friends, but the dazzling complexity of the bets he was making finally overwhelmed him.
Born to Israeli and Polish émigré parents, Mr Weinstein has always had the instincts of a game player, a gambler and a trader. His parents enrolled him in chess workshops at the age of five, and he was a chess master by 16. He excelled, too, at poker. And at university, he was fascinated by blackjack and used his card-counting abilities to dominate any game. At Deutsche Bank he surrounded himself with similar people, including alumni of MIT’s secret card-counting blackjack team, whose exploits were the basis for the Kevin Spacey film 21 last year. The Deutsche team was called Saba, the Hebrew word meaning grandfatherly wisdom. They would gather after market close on Fridays to play poker, with $100 as the minimum buy-in. Team-bonding trips to Las Vegas were common, where members would often win big.
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