Bear's Jimmy Cayne Still Playing His Cards Right: The Ticker

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By William D. Cohan

While other disgraced former top executives of defunct Wall Street firms testify on Capitol Hill (MF Global's Jon Corzine) or try to do deals as if nothing ever happened (Lehman Brothers' Dick Fuld) or keep mercifully out of focus (Citigroup's Chuck Prince, Merrill Lynch's Stanley O'Neal), Jimmy Cayne, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Bear Stearns leading up to the firm's sudden demise in March 2008, continues to do the one thing that arguably got him and his firm into so much trouble in the first place: Playing bridge -- and winning big.

This past weekend, Cayne -- now known as James, at least in the bridge column of the New York Times -- and the other five members of his team won the premier event , the Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams, at the Fall North American Championships in Seattle by a "comfortable" margin of "four boards ahead." This is the second year in a row that Cayne and his team won the event. Cayne's team also snagged a victory in another event in Seattle, the Mitchell Open Board-a-Match Teams.

The 77-year-old Cayne has been playing bridge his whole life, and for a time played professionally in the bridge clubs on the upper East Side of Manhattan; he used his bridge connections to get his first job at Bear Stearns in 1969. For many years he has played with a team of four Italians and an American, Michael Seamon. Cayne is considered the sponsor of his team and has paid the other members as much as $100,000 a year each to join him in major tournaments. There is no prize money for winning, but in the insular world of bridge these victories are much admired.

The week-long tournaments are intense and the players are often cut off from cell phones and e-mail during play, which can go on for much of the day. During the summer of 2007, as two Bear Stearns hedge funds blew up -- an event that became the canary in the coal mine of the looming financial crisis -- it did the company no favors that both Cayne and Warren Spector, then Bear's co-president, were both away at a major bridge tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.

Shortly thereafter, in August 2007, Cayne fired Spector -- in part because Cayne thought Spector should have been at the office in New York dealing with the aftermath of the hedge fund debacle and, many surmise, in part because Spector finished ahead of Cayne in the Nashville tournament. Boys. Boys. Boys.

(William D. Cohan is a Bloomberg View columnist and the author of "House of Cards," a chronicle of the collapse of Bear Stearns.)



-0- Dec/09/2011 17:24 GMT