Paul Britton, chief executive of Capstone Holdings Group LLC, won the fourth annual Take ’Em To School Poker Tournament -- and turned down the prize of a seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event.
“I was lucky, very lucky,” Britton said seconds after his victory last night at Gotham Hall, New York. “I only play poker one night a year -- and it’s this tournament.”
He picked a good one. Among the players were World Series of Poker legend Erik Seidel, who brought his daughter, a teacher in training at Columbia University; Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn and his wife, Cheryl; and Kase Capital’s Whitney Tilson.
The tournament benefited Education Reform Now, a nonprofit that advocates for access to excellence in public schools.
Britton played for five-and-a-half hours, including a late stint seated next to Einhorn who got knocked out by a queen, eight.
“My best hand was a straight flush, that was cool,” Einhorn said afterward. “It doesn’t happen very often.”
Einhorn’s warm-up involved a taste of scotch and a card trick performed by conjurer Joshua Jay, shared by his firm’s Justin LePone and Mitch Golden.
He then settled down for play at a table with professional poker player Andy Frankenberger, a former trader at BNP Paribas.
“He’s a solid, thinking player,” Frankenberger said of Einhorn. “To be in his position, you have to be fiercely competitive, and that shows,”
“I like poker because it’s fun,” Einhorn said.
Other distractions were Blackjack tables, a putting hole, a silent auction offering a Joe Namath football jersey signed by him, models in cocktail dresses, and masseuses, clothed primly in what looked like hospital scrub tops. For food: hamburgers, fries, fajita bar, macaroni and cheese. Also John Allan’s, a salon for men, provided manicures and shoe shines for male guests.
Britton’s loyalty to the event springs from his former employee Michael Sabat, the organizer of the tournament and a vice president of equity derivative sales at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc.
“Half the people here tonight are here because of Mike,” said Jonathan Cohen, a vice president at HSBC, who has known Sabat since college.
Cohen also had the distinction of knocking out Frankenberger.
“He went all in and I called him on it,” Cohen said. “I had queen, king suited, he had ace, jack suited.”
Frankenberger took it in stride.
“This is definitely one of the most well-run and well-attended events out there. I see a lot of familiar Wall Street faces here,” he said.
Firms represented at the event included Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Tiger Global Management LLC, Visium Asset Management and Hutchin Hill Capital LP.
The final table included Ray Waterhouse, director of operations at Magnitude Capital LLC, John Sabat of SAC Capital Advisors LP (Michael Sabat’s brother), David Marquart of First New York Securities LLC, and Raza Mujtaba, a partner at Tricadia Capital Management LLC.
Mujtaba said his best hand was pocket queens, which he made into a full house. “I do love playing, it’s about studying people, the kind of expressions they make, it’s as mentally taxing as chess.”
Oleg Nodelman, founder of EcoR1 Capital LLC, took third place. His hedge fund invests in biotechology.
“In terms of thinking about the risk-reward, we try to find opportunities that have inherently less risk,” Nodelman said. “It’s the same in poker.”
Back at the table, Britton had only one opponent left: Amber Sabat, wife of Michael Sabat.
Britton sprung from his seat and embraced her, the runner-up who’d have her pick of prizes.
“She deserves all the credit, battling in a highly male environment,” Britton said.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)