In the Footsteps of 'Searching for Bobby Fischer'

Joel Litman

The Sohn Conference is one of the biggest days of the year in hedge-fund land... 

Every year, many of Wall Street's brightest hedge fund managers get together for what The Wall Street Journal calls the "Super Bowl of investor conferences." 

The event is known as the Sohn Investment Conference, an annual charity for children's cancer where hedge fund upstarts and veterans pitch their best investment ideas. 

For context, the foundation that sponsors the conference was founded in 1995 to honor the memory of Ira Sohn.

Sohn was a successful Wall Street analyst who passed away from cancer at 29 in the early 1990s.

The charitable organization that his friends and family created in his honor helps support cancer research by creating awareness about childhood cancer and other rare illnesses.

It also raises millions of dollars in donations – a ticket to the prestigious event, which includes an A-list of industry big shots, costs more than $5,000.

Investors, journalists, and other business folk lean in to hear stick pitches and predictions at the conference. It often provides insights into the next big market idea or the newest money management star. 

Past speakers at the event include Bill Ackman of Pershing Square and David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital. The great Seth Klarman of the Baupost Group has even been a judge.

Lessons from a former chess master...   

While the Sohn Investment Conference is always filled with high finance's biggest stars, one of the most interesting interviews I've ever seen from the event was Josh Waitzkin in 2019. 

Waitzkin is a wunderkind chess player who was recognized as a prodigy at age 10. He won the U.S. Junior Chess Championship at 17 and later became an international chess master. 

He was such a phenomenon that a movie was made about his early years called Searching for Bobby Fischer.

But the chess master didn't stop at being the plot behind movies and becoming crowned an International Master of his craft.

Waitzkin eventually gave up his chess career and turned his attention to new challenges and ambitions. 

He became an expert in Tai Chi – the ancient Chinese martial art sometimes called shadowboxing – winning several national medals and even a world championship in 2004.

After that, Waitzkin earned a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under the legendary grappler Marcelo Garcia who I also trained with many years ago.

To document how he could master such diverse fields as chess and martial arts, Joshua Waitzkin wrote The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.

In the book, Waitzkin offers advice on how to become a greater learner. He tells readers that "brilliant creations are born of small errors," which is a better way of saying it's valuable to learn from our mistakes. 

I believe the most important quote from Waitzkin's book, which captures the cusp of what he is trying to say, is: "Don't be afraid to fail."

This idea of failing and learning from mistakes is something we subscribe to here at Altimetry when thinking about the sort of people we want to hire. 

We have lots of very smart thinkers on our team, the sort with great test scores and high GPAs. We are always mindful of finding those who are willing to step out of their comfort zones.

These are the types who dare to take on a new project... even if it's in an area entirely unknown to them, and there's a high chance they might fail.

If there's anything we can take away from one of the great learners in Waitzkin, it's that only by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and having a willingness to lose and fail can we make progress toward our goals.

This is as important in great investing as in having a most fulfilling life.

All the best,

Joel
November 12, 2021 

P.S. I recently shared a thesis on a tiny stock that we think will be a 10-bagger. (It's one of our stock picks in our Microcap Confidential service.) And I included the name and ticker symbol for this upcoming microcap in my recent presentation at our sister company Stansberry Research's annual conference in Las Vegas.

For the next few days, I've "unlocked" the presentation for you to watch – no e-mail address or credit card required. You can view it right here.