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The Quants

Cover of The Quants

The Quants

How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It
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In March 2006, the world's richest men sipped champagne in an opulent New York hotel. They were preparing to compete in a poker tournament with ­million-dollar stakes. At the card table that night was Peter Muller, who managed a fabulously successful hedge fund called PDT. With him was Ken Griffin, who was the tough-as-nails head of Citadel Investment Group. There, too, were Cliff Asness, the sharp-tongued, mercurial founder of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management, and Boaz Weinstein, chess "life master" and king of the credit-default swap.

Muller, Griffin, Asness, and Weinstein were among the best and brightest of a new breed, the quants. Over the past twenty years, this species of math whiz had usurped the testosterone-fueled, kill-or-be-killed risk takers who'd long been the alpha males of the world's largest casino. The quants believed that a cocktail of differential calculus, quantum physics, and advanced geometry held the key to reaping riches from the financial markets. And they helped create a digitized money-trading machine that could shift ­billions around the globe with the click of a mouse. Few realized that night, though, that in creating this extraordinary system, men like Muller, Griffin, Asness, and Weinstein had sown the seeds for history's greatest financial disaster.
From the Compact Disc edition.
In March 2006, the world's richest men sipped champagne in an opulent New York hotel. They were preparing to compete in a poker tournament with ­million-dollar stakes. At the card table that night was Peter Muller, who managed a fabulously successful hedge fund called PDT. With him was Ken Griffin, who was the tough-as-nails head of Citadel Investment Group. There, too, were Cliff Asness, the sharp-tongued, mercurial founder of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management, and Boaz Weinstein, chess "life master" and king of the credit-default swap.

Muller, Griffin, Asness, and Weinstein were among the best and brightest of a new breed, the quants. Over the past twenty years, this species of math whiz had usurped the testosterone-fueled, kill-or-be-killed risk takers who'd long been the alpha males of the world's largest casino. The quants believed that a cocktail of differential calculus, quantum physics, and advanced geometry held the key to reaping riches from the financial markets. And they helped create a digitized money-trading machine that could shift ­billions around the globe with the click of a mouse. Few realized that night, though, that in creating this extraordinary system, men like Muller, Griffin, Asness, and Weinstein had sown the seeds for history's greatest financial disaster.
From the Compact Disc edition.
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    1: All in One

    Peter Muller stepped into the posh Versailles Room of the century old St. Regis Hotel in midtown Manhattan and took in the glittering scene in a glance.

    It wasn't the trio of cut-glass chandeliers hung from a gilt-laden ceiling that caught his attention, nor the pair of antique floor-to-ceiling mirrors to his left, nor the guests' svelte Armani suits and gemstudded dresses. Something else in the air made him smile: the smell of money. And the sweet perfume of something he loved even more: pure, unbridled testosterone-fueled competition. It was intoxicating, and it was all around him, from the rich fizz of a fresh bottle of champagne popping open to the knowing nods and winks of his friends as he moved into a room that was a virtual murderer's row of topflight bankers and hedge fund managers, the richest in the world. His people.

    It was March 8, 2006, and the Wall Street Poker Night Tournament was about to begin. More than a hundred well- heeled players milled about the room, elite traders and buttoned-down dealmakers by day, gambling enthusiasts by night. The small, private affair was a gathering of a select group of wealthy and brilliant individuals who had, through
    sheer brainpower and a healthy dose of daring, become the new tycoons of Wall Street. This high-finance haut monde--perhaps Muller most of all--was so secretive that few people outside the room had ever heard their names. And yet, behind the scenes, their decisions controlled the ebb and flow of billions of dollars coursing through the
    global financial system every day.

    Mixed in with the crowd were professional poker players such as T. J. Cloutier, winner of sixty major tournaments, and Clonie Gowen, a blond Texan bombshell with the face of a fashion model and the body of a Playboy pinup. More important to the gathering crowd, Gowen was one of the most successful female poker players in the country.

    Muller, tan, fit, and at forty-two looking a decade younger than his age, a wiry Pat Boone in his prime, radiated the relaxed cool of a man accustomed to victory. He waved across the room to Jim Simons, billionaire math genius and founder of the most successful hedge fund on the planet, Renaissance Technologies. Simons, a balding, whitebearded
    wizard of quantitative investing, winked back as he continued chatting with the circle of admirers hovering around him.

    The previous year, Simons had pocketed $1.5 billion in hedge fund fees, at the time the biggest one-year paycheck ever earned by a hedge fund manager. His elite team of traders, hidden away in a small enclave on Long Island, marshaled the most mind-bending advances in science and mathematics, from quantum physics to artificial intelligence to voice recognition technology, to wring billions in profits from the market. Simons was the rare investor who could make Muller feel jaw-clenchingly jealous.

    The two had known each other since the early 1990s, when Muller briefly considered joining Renaissance before starting his own quantitative hedge fund inside Morgan Stanley, the giant New York investment bank. Muller's elite trading group, which he called Process Driven Trading, was so secretive that even most employees at Morgan weren't aware of its existence. Yet over the previous decade the group, composed of only about fifty people, had racked up a track record that could go toe-to-toe with the best investment outfits on Wall Street, cranking out $6 billion in gains for Morgan.

    Muller and Simons were giants among an unusual breed of investors known as "quants." They used brain-twisting math and superpowered computers to pluck billions in fleeting dollars out of the market. By...

About the Author-
  • Scott Patterson is a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, covering the latest technological advances on Wall Street. This is his first book.
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The Quants
The Quants
How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It
Scott Patterson
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