It Was a Mistake to Play a Flawless Game

Kathryn Schulz, the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, is interviewing various people on Slate about their mistakes. Her interview with Victor Niederhoffer, a hedge fund manager, a former partner of George Soros, and a five-time U.S. Nationals squash champion, contains a few great nuggets.

On why he should have made more mistakes playing squash:

As a squash player, I was gifted. I had all the right things going for me. I practiced. I was very good with the racket, and I had tremendous anticipation. But I tended to play an errorless game by hitting a slice on my backhand, which took a lot of power off the ball. That wasn't a disaster, but it was definitely a weakness in my game. My opponents always used to say that on a good day they could beat me, because they could hit more spectacular shots than me. But they never did. I went for about 10 years without losing a game, except to [the great Pakistani squash player] Sharif Kahn. He made about six, seven errors a game—but he also made eight or nine winners. I would make about zero errors per game but only one or two winners. He had the edge on me about 10-4, and I regret that I was never willing to accept the risky shots and confrontations, never willing to play a more error-full game.

On making money when everyone else is scared:

When the public is most frightened, only the strong are left, and that's when the market is in the best possible hands. I call it taking out the canes. Whenever disaster strikes, the very sagacious wealthy people take their canes, and they hobble down from their stately mansions on Fifth Avenue, and they buy stocks to the extent of their bank balances, and then a week or two later, the market rises, they deposit the overplus in their accounts, invest it in blue-chip real estate, and retire back to their stately mansions. That's probably the best way of making money, to be a specialist in panics. Whenever there's panic hanging in the air, that's a great time to invest.

On the limits of directness in life:

But regrettably, duplicity is very, very important in life. The direct approach always creates tremendous obstruction and friction from the adversary, so often the indirect approach is necessary.

Here's Kathryn's different interview with Joe Posnanski about sports. Posnanski talks about the myths of "clutch hitters" and "hot hands."

(thanks to Paul Kedrosky for the pointer)

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