The best bridge player in America is a former options trader.The second best is a former commodities trader.
The third best is an investment advisor.
Note the pattern? America’s highest-rated bridge players are overwhelmingly composed of Wall Street guys. Bridge is a complex card game that fits the analytic side of finance, as poker appeals to instincts.
It is most popular among options traders. Like bridge, “[options] trading is a game in which the player must study patterns and make accurate decisions quickly,” says NYT bridge columnist Alan Truscott.
Other famous bridge players include Warren Buffett, David Einhorn and Jimmy Cayne — who famously played a tournament while Bear Stearns collapsed — and half a dozen other execs at Bear. We’ve identified 18 of the best and most famous.
UPDATE FROM A READER: Besides the players on this list, almost the entire team that won the world championship last fall were options guys. John Diamond was a Dell trader in Philly (now trades out of Florida), Brian Platnick is on the CME I think, Eric Greco you listed, and Brad Moss was at the Amex for a long time. The two Canadians on the team, Geoff Hampson and Fred Gitelman, were the exceptions, with Geoff always a full-time player as far as I know and Fred a programmer, which was a fairly common occupation for bridge experts in the 70s before the options markets exploded. When I was at the Amex (1998 – 2003) there were close to 100 bridge players out of about 400-500 active options market makers.
American Contract Bridge League's No. 1 highest-rated player of the decade.
In 1973, 16-year-old Levin became the then-youngest Life Master in the history of American bridge.
In the Eighties he worked as a options trader in Chicago. After the 1987 crash, however, he moved to Orlando to sell real estate. He continued to win tournaments left and right, often playing with fellow former trader Steve Weinstein.
ACBL's No. 2 highest-rated player of the decade.
Stansby was a full-time commodities trader when he won the World Open Pairs Championships in 1982.
Nowadays he plays bridge full-time while living in Dublin, Calif. with wife and fellow champion JoAnna. He has a famously good memory for bridge hands played years ago.
ACBL's No. 3 highest-rated player of the decade.
In 1976 Fleisher, 17, became the youngest player to reach the North American Team Bridge Championship.
After decades of legal practice, he opened an investment advisor firm in 2007.
ACBL's No. 4 highest-rated player of the decade.
Boy genius Greco won the North American Non-Life Master Pairs with his father at the age of 16. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Finance and Accounting and now works as an options trader in Philadelphia.
ACBL's No. 6 highest-rated player of the decade.
Steve Weinstein was the head of derivatives and a partner at a major firm before quitting in 2002 to play cards full-time.
He's been a master bridge player since a young age, winning the North American Bridge Championships when he was 17.
And if anything he is better known as a professional poker player.
ACBL's No. 21 highest-rated player of the decade.
Stories of Cayne allegedly getting stoned and playing bridge while Bear Stearns collapsed are legendary.
The beginning of his career also involved bridge. William Cohen's House of Cards gives an amazing account of Cayne's interview with CEO Greenberg:
When Cayne told Greenberg he played bridge, 'you could see the electric light bulb,' Cayne recalled. 'He says, 'how well do you play?' I said, 'I play well.' He said, 'Like how well?' I said I play quite well.' He says, 'You don't understand.' I said, 'Yeah, I do. I understand. Mr. Greenberg, if you study bridge the rest of your life, if you play with the best partners and you achieve your potential, you will never play bridge like I play bridge.'' Enough said. On the spot, Greenberg guaranteed Cayne $70,000 a year if he joined Bear Stearns.
ACBL's No. 27 highest-rated player of the decade.
In 1999 when Welland was an options trader and client of Bear Stearns, he had a shocking encounter with Bear CEO Jimmy Cayne at a Boston bridge tournament. Kate Kelley's Street Fighter tells the story:
On the night Welland and his family arrived at the hotel, their room hadn't been ready, so they were put in a bedroom in the presidential suite, whose occupants had not yet arrived.
The following morning, Welland's two-year-old twin boys were still asleep when the hotel management called to say that the presidential suite's expected guests had arrived and that the family would have to clear out. But Welland's reserved room still wasn't ready, and after a long evening of travel, he didn't want to wake the sleeping boys. Still, the hotel was insistent, and security was soon banging on the door, asking the family to leave.
While Welland was arguing with the hotel staff, he and his wife noticed a funny smell seeping under the door of his room: pot smoke. Outraged by the hotel's harassment and the fact that his neighbours were using illegal drugs so obviously that his toddlers might notice it, Welland says he called the Boston police, who sent an officer over to interview them. Afterward, when the Wellands finally left their room to move into the one they had reserved, they saw Cayne's bridge partner standing in the hall in his underwear, surrounded by a cloud of pot smoke, and heard the unmistakable voices of Jimmy and Patricia Cayne coming from within the room.
ACBL's No. 43 highest-rated player of the decade.
A MIT-maths wiz, Bramley was the best of many bridge-playing options trader in the 90s. The NYT said as much in a 1998 article:
If one could arrange a team championship in which squads were organised by occupation, it is likely that the options traders would win: trading is a game in which the player must study patterns and make accurate decisions quickly. Subdivide the traders according to the exchanges in which they operate, and Chicago would probably prevail against New York, relying considerably on the talent of Bart Bramley.
ACBL's No. 50 highest-rated player of the decade.
Another boy genius, Joe Grue started playing tournament bridge at the age of 13. He became an options trader in New York at the age of 20. However, he quit Wall Street after a couple of years to play bridge full time.
ACBL's No. 165 highest-rated player of the decade.
Weik discussed the similarity between bridge and investing in a recent article:
'In bridge, there are various safety plays that one can take to protect against adversities in a suit or entire hand. Safety, to me, is an extremely important concept in investing and in bridge and has been a major contributor to any success I have had. You decide I'm going to change my line of play here. The difference in bridge is that you can actually plan the play of a hand from start to finish.'
Buffett practices his favourite past time for at least 12 hours a week. He plays with fellow amateur Bill Gates and bridge master Sharon Osberg.