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A Heartfelt Tale of Poker, Wall Street – and an Open Wound

edit:casino time:2018-11-01

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In his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. While this statement is widely quoted – or misquoted, according to purists – clearly it does not apply to Jerrold Fine, whose life has had at least three acts. Having begun his career in New York City after graduating in 1964 from Wharton, Fine at age 24 was one of the pioneers of hedge funds on Wall Street. The fund that he and his partners launched in 1967 grew by the 1970s to become the largest in the industry. Fine left the partnership in 1976 to set up his own firm – Charter Oak Partners Management – in Connecticut. That second act continued through 2014, when he converted Charter Oak into a family office to embark on Act Three. At age 72, Fine chose to become a novelist.

His debut novel – titled, Make Me Even and I’ll Never Gamble Again – was published in August, and it packs the power of a Babe Ruth home run. Its multi-layered narrative is at one level a coming-of-age tale of a middle-class kid from Cincinnati named Rogers Stout. His father is a dedicated doctor who cares deeply for patients. After considerable soul-searching, Rogers chooses not to follow his father into medicine but decides to go to business school and pursue a career in finance. The novel paints an affectionate portrait of the Wharton School in the 1970s. At the same time, Make Me Even is the story of life on Wall Street in the turbulent 1970s and early 1980s. At its heart, it is the saga of a brilliant young man’s efforts to cope with an unhealed – and possibly unhealable — wound.

Readers get an early glimpse of that trauma in the opening pages when Stout, the narrator, says: “My mother died when I was a young boy, a tragedy my dad and I shared but rarely talked about. It was an open wound that refused to heal.” Given the intense demands of his father’s practice at the local hospital, Stout is compelled to learn what it means to be alone; he spends a lot of time in the kitchen, yearning for his mother’s presence. Even so, father and son share an enduring closeness, nurtured in part by their shared enthusiasm for poker. For years, on Friday evenings, both bond over so-called gambleathons in which no real money changes hands but still are fiercely competitive. As Stout says, “Gloating was permitted. Poor sportsmanship was discouraged.”

Poker and Profits

Stout’s interest in finance is ignited in his junior year in high school. He lands a summer internship at Prescott & Prescott, a local stock brokerage and investment banking firm whose offices have a “sweeping view of the Ohio river and the neighboring state of Kentucky.” Stout prepares for the job by going to the local library and reading everything he can learn about the firm. In the interview, his supervisor, a finance executive named Andrew Stevens, asks Stout if he really wants to become very rich. “I don’t know what it’s like to be rich,” he replies, “but I do know what it’s like to win.”

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