(Bloomberg) -- The up-and-comers of Wall Street gathered not around an open bar, but tables with chess boards.

Traders and quants from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Jane Street and Bank of Montreal were among those congregating at the headquarters of IEX Group Inc. to compete in a bi-annual chess tournament. ClearBridge Investments and WorldQuant were represented, too.

But it was BlackRock Inc.’s Rusa Goletiani — and her 10-person entourage — who stole the show.

Goletiani, an FX trader, is also a chess International Master and Woman Grandmaster. She won the Soviet junior championship for girls under 12 in 1990 when she was 9, and has brought that pedigree to the world’s largest asset manager. The chess club she founded at BlackRock meets every Tuesday.

Her tutelage paid off: The top three teams at the tournament had at least one player from BlackRock. Alice Dong, who’s part of Goletiani’s club, won it all, along with Hao Li of BMO, Xun Liu of Goldman Sachs, and Terrell Anderson of ClearBridge.

“The skills that it takes to play chess, concentration, calculation, is appealing to quants and traders,” Goletiani said. “It takes a lot of time to get into chess, to get into a zone.”

IEX, owner of the stock exchange made famous by the Michael Lewis book “Flash Boys,” started the tournament in April 2023. At this week’s event, the third such competition, about 70 players from nearly 20 firms participated. 

The evening was broken down into four five-minute rounds, with players in teams of four competing for first prize — a wooden chess set. The winners’ names are engraved on a trophy that sits at the IEX office. 


“There’s this group among our clients who aren’t really the beer-and-chitchat types, but they’re all about our chess tournament,” IEX co-founder and president Ronan Ryan said. “That’s what gives our event that special edge.” 

Chess — and other games requiring analysis, strategy and calculation — are popular in the financial world. Saba Capital Management’s Boaz Weinstein is a known chess and poker aficionado. At the Sohn conference in 2015, hundreds of finance professionals including Bill Ackman paid $5,000 to watch Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian grandmaster, play simultaneously against three people, blindfolded.

Goletiani and her BlackRock colleague Dong likened the game to trading. 

“You have to decide which move to make, and often there is no clear way of seeing the outcome. You have to rely on your intuition,” Goletiani said. “You have to do the same taking risk in the market,” she said. 

And as good as computers may be, “there’s no clear solution to the game of chess,” Dong said. 

“Just like trading, there is an element of unknown, and a time crunch, having to make decisions fast,” she said. 

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