This content is from: Opinion

How FinTwit Pandemic Poker Started — and How It’s Going

Short answer: Mostly (very) well, with one truly 2020-esque snag along the way.

I clutched my mouse in a sweaty palm as I logged into the Zoom on a muggy Friday evening in late July. “I wish I had some chalk dust to improve my grip,” I mused as familiar faces appeared on my screen. Yes, these folks were my friends — but on this night they were also my competitors.

It was FinTwit Poker Night!

Earlier this year, as Covid-19 swept the world and securities prices whipsawed violently, Twitter user @fed_speak had an idea: Create a charity poker tournament for professional investors and everyone else on finance Twitter. People were under lockdown and dealing with extreme market volatility, so why not play some poker and blow off a little steam?

It all started in April with a tweet. After @fed_speak mentioned that he and a few of FinTwit’s most popular members were playing Texas Hold’em poker together, numerous other Twitter users asked to join. “So I floated the idea of running a big charity tournament,” he tells me via a Twitter direct message. “The rest of the guys thought it was worth a try, so I took the leap and put it out there. And #FinTwitPokerNight for charity was born.” 

More than 100 players joined for the first tournament, in early May, with all proceeds going to the ultimate victor’s favorite charity. (Players donated $100 each to the selected organization.) There was just one glitch that night: A hacker had breached the winning charity’s website and proceeded to steal the credit card numbers of every single poker night competitor . . . including mine. (FinTwit proceeded to work with the hacked charity to resolve its cybersecurity issues. We also began running security checks on charity websites before sending money through them.)

Despite this digital speed bump, interest in FinTwit poker only grew as lockdown fatigue worsened. From popular financial professionals like O’Shaughnessy Asset Management founder Jim O’Shaughnessy (@jposhaughnessy) and UBS Asset Management’s Luke Kawa (@LJKawa) to poker legend Annie Duke and economist Stephanie Kelton, the tournaments drew a diverse and engaging group of competitors. The mysterious Ramp Capital (@RampCapitalLLC) also played regularly.

Poker newbies were welcomed, too.

“I’ve only played online poker twice,” notes investment professional (and FinTwit’s resident mixologist) Caitlin Cook (@DeadCaitBounce), who joined two of the poker games because she loves supporting nonprofits. “It was a blast,” she says of her experience.

According to @fed_speak, the connection between finance and poker is multifaceted. “Successful poker players were really attractive to Wall Street as high-speed analytical minds,” he explains. “Then you’ve got the relationship between gambling and trading in general. A lot of overlap between the skill sets and the interests of those types of people.”

Personally, I’ve found that FinTwit poker players are far better than average folks using poker apps. I’ve won multiple tournaments when competing against laypeople, but I finish in the middle of the pack in FinTwit games. Nonetheless, I definitely utilize my financial knowledge no matter the competition. Though I obviously can’t create a discounted cash flow spreadsheet model of a poker hand (I would if I could!), I like to value every hand as an investment opportunity:

  • If the hand is expensive to play and I have poor cards, I’ll fold because I don’t want to overvalue my position.
  • If I believe the situation fairly values my hand, I will check or call, meaning that I’ll neither fold nor raise.
  • If I’m dealt very good cards and the pot is small, my hand is undervalued; I’ll raise in this case.

Experience with investments has also taught me to trust the numbers, to memorize statistics (being dealt a 7 and a 2 of different suits is actually the worst possible Texas Hold’em poker hand), and to not bail out of a promising opportunity too early. A good hand is a good hand, and sometimes you just have to wait for the cards — or the market — to come to you. 

Risk management is also critical across a portfolio of poker hands. You can throw away everything by mistiming a decision to go all in (or by trying to short vol!). Since blinds and antes climb throughout a poker tournament, an options trader might even make an analogy to theta working against you over time. The parallels between finance and poker go on and on.

Although FinTwit’s poker games are extremely competitive and everyone wants to win, the sense of fun rises above all else. Players sometimes place bounties on themselves or others — whoever eliminates a player with a bounty on his or her head wins the associated prize. Bounties have ranged from the humorous (singing a song and tweeting a video of it) to a free round of golf and lunch.

The video chats associated with every tournament best illustrate the strength of the FinTwit community. People cycle in and out of the chats for hours, share a laugh, and generally just have fun. 

“I’ve enjoyed getting to see my Twitter friends that I otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to speak to. Love the feeling of the whole FinTwit community coming together like that,” says Cook. I couldn’t agree more; there’s nothing better than seeing friendly faces in a year that’s been so isolating.

“Poker night was so much fun for the FinTwit community because we started it when everyone was in pretty full quarantine and looking to do some good in the world and connect with other people,” adds @fed_speak.

So after raising more than $130,000 for charity in four online events, is FinTwit finished with poker tournaments?

The short answer is no.

I’ve been told to expect more games this winter as the weather and the pandemic keep people at home. It’s not too late to go all in and support good causes while spending time with fellow financial professionals and investors. If a global pandemic and a credit card scam couldn’t force the FinTwit crew to fold, nothing will.