Update from the SALT conference earlier this month, it seems that at least one hedge fund manager had a profitable and productive trip.
In light of this, I may or may not be inclined to work with Messer Geismar's funds, but I would love to co-invest with him at the Blackjack tables.
Hedge Fund Manager’s $710,000 Vegas Score
By Juliet Chung
Most attendees of a three-day hedge-fund conference in Las Vegas earlier this month left with a canvas tote bag, some free pens and a stack of business cards. One left with $710,000 in blackjack winnings.
Michael Geismar, who co-founded $4.6 billion managed futures firm Quantitative Investment Management, turned $300 and a $10,000 line of credit at the Bellagio into $470,000 in a six-hour stretch that began on a Tuesday night, the trade publication Magazine reported last week.
After a few losing sessions over the next two days, Mr. Geismar turned in another winning performance Thursday night, before the SkyBridge Alternatives conference ended. Betting on other players’ hands and his own, with bets as big as $10,000, he racked up enough to bring his jackpot to $710,000. And that’s after doling out tens of thousands of dollars in tips.
“I was definitely planning on playing; I certainly was not planning on winning anything near that much,” the 41-year-old hedge fund manager said by phone Friday from a firm retreat at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, adding that the sum was his biggest jackpot “by far.” The payday extends his winning streak at SALT; he took home smaller winnings last year, he said.
Mr. Geismar said he plays blackjack at casinos perhaps twice a year, and that he follows a simple strategy: follow the instructions on a blackjack strategy card he lays out on the table. “The only thing I do is I vary my bet sizes based on how well I’m doing,” he said. Each time he wins, he increases the size of his wager; similarly, he decreases the size of his wager each time he loses. “The concept is, if I lose 10 hands in a row, I’m going to lose my minimum bet at least nine of those times…but if I win 10 hands in a row by pressing my bet every time—not doubling it, just making it bigger—I’m going to win a lot more than when I lose 10 hands in a row,” he said.
Mr. Geismar joins a star-studded list of money managers who’ve won at the card tables, but poker appears to be the game of choice.’s Ken Griffin and ’s David Einhorn, who famously shorted Lehman Brothers, have competed at the World Series of Poker. Fellow hedge-fund managers James Simons (now retired), Marc Lasry, Cliff Asness and Boaz Weinstein are also known to favor the game.
The Virginia native said he prefers blackjack because it’s a more social game, with players playing against the house rather than each other. Plus, he said, “Poker’s more of a grind,” he said. “You can make money playing poker but you can’t make the money you can make on blackjack when you go on big runs.”
The Charlottesville, Va.-based Quantitative Investment Management, which Mr. Geismar and Jaffrey Woodriff founded in 2000, runs a $3.9 billion managed futures fund that trades mostly stock index futures, interest rates and currencies. After topping its high-water mark in 2011, it has posted annualized returns of about 13% and is up about 6% this year. The firm also has a $700 million long-short equity fund.
Mr. Geismar said he used his Vegas winnings to buy gifts for his and his wife’s four children and fund a weekend trip to New York where his wife, Ellen, shopped. He’s invested the rest of the winnings via his firm and other investments, he said.
He looked to extend his winning streak over Memorial Day weekend at the Greenbrier’s casino—but what happened in Vegas appears to have stayed in Vegas. “I lost a little bit,” he said, “but it wasn’t significant.”
Update: Quantitative Investment Management has posted annualized returns of about 13% and is up about 6% this year.
To his credit, Michael is donating all his winnings this time to charity.