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Hedge Fund Verition Group Smokes The (Ping Pong) Competition

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Bloomberg Brief reports that Verition Group's Ken Lin and Jeffrey Zhou won the inaugural "Class of the Hedge Fund Titans" ping pong tournament (which benefited the Robin Hood foundation), held at SPiN April 13, besting players from a field that included Louis Capital Management, Eton Park, Candlewood Investment Group, Greenlight Capital, LuxEn Capital, Whitebox Advisors, Samlyn Capital, Bharat Capital LLC, Dymaxion Capital, Tiger Global, York Capital and SAC. Which brings to a little story about heart.

When one is employed by a certain hedge fund in Stamford, Connecticut, one is aware that losing is not tolerated. When it comes to anything. Losing is not tolerated when it comes to money. Losing is not tolerated when it comes to thumb wrestling. Losing is not tolerated when it comes to Iron Chef competitions. And losing is certainly not tolerated when it comes to the trio of sports this hedge fund takes most seriously, which are badminton, hand ball and ping pong.

As any pageant mom worth her salt knows, practice makes perfect. With the pong season just getting under way in February, early mornings and late nights at this hedge fund were being devoted, for the past several months, to skills and conditioning. The opportunity to take part in a small tournament came up, and it was of course jumped on. Despite the competition not exactly being formidable, the event was to be taken seriously. From a field of 100 players, the top 2 were selected and told they'd be representing the firm, and from there the real work took place.

I'm sure a lot of you here think you know what it's like to train hard for an athletic event- you have no idea. By 4AM every day, Player Lawrence and Player Larry were expected to be dressed and on their morning jog from 72 Cummings Point Road to Coach Steve's favorite coffee cart on Madison, where they'd pick up his order and head back to Connecticut (still on foot). Every second they showed up late and every degree of heat lost from the cups meant 5 minutes of wall squats. Weekday skills sessions involved being double and triple teamed by members of the US Olympic squad, while Saturday morning practices at Casa de Coach provided much needed respite from the grueling prior five days. After protein shakes and raw eggs, they were given skates and told to head out back to the rink.

Once there, the table Lawrence and Larry were to volley on was tied to the back of a Zamboni, on which Coach sat atop. "Begin," he would tell them, starting off slow. Then, progressively the table would start to move faster. Lawrence and Larry would get a good rhythm going and it'd jerk left. Then right. Breaks would be slammed, figure-eights traced. Later in the locker room, if coach wasn't pleased with what he'd seen out there- and he never was- he'd yell, "You think this is tough you no talent shits? I'll show you tough," and then project childhood home videos of him taking 3rd place in the 8 and under 25m butterfly.

April 10. Three days before the tournament. Lawrence and Larry had spent the day doing an agility and footwork exercise (getting shot at while box-stepping) and were being fitted for their uniforms. Coach walked into the room. "Get out," he told the tailor.

Coach held up a paddle with Lawrence and Larry stood there in their half-sewn shorts, not sure what was going to happen next.

"You see this," Coach asked, an eery calm to his voice. "You see this? You two aren't good enough to have this thing shoved up your asses, handle side out."

"But Coach," Larry stuttered.

"Are you coming off to me?" Coach bellowed, as he lunged for the projection machine he wheeled behind him at all times during the season.

"No Papa!" Lawrence and Larry cried in unison. "Not the swim tapes!"

"You're idiots, go home" Coach yelled. "I am doing what I should have done months ago and bringing in some ringers from our Asian desk."

Lawrence and Larry knew being taken out of the game would be a death sentence for them at the firm. "Please don't," they whimpered. "We want to do this, we know we can make you proud."

And against his better judgement, coach believed them.

April 13. The night of the tournament at Susan Sarandon's clubhouse, SPiN. Lawrence and Larry handely won the first two rounds of play. Round three: you don't even want to know. They get blown out, bad, each point getting worse than the next. Coach can't even call a time out, as he's seeing red. Everything is moving in slow motion and then finally it's over.

The buzzer goes off and the winning team's family rushes over to their side of the table. Lawrence and Larry see coach approaching and get that terrible sinking feeling in their stomachs, so are more than a little shocked to be greeted bya a simple "Let's head home."

The trio walk out to the parking lot in silence, which was much more pleasant than what Lawrence and Larry had anticipated just moments earlier. In fact, Coach even carried their paddles for them. And so, figuring everything was cool, Larry asked, "Hey, can we stop at Baskin Robbin's on the way home?" He knew Coach loved 31 flavors and since he seemed to be in okay spirits, assumed he'd get a yes. What he did not expect, was the response.

Flipping both paddles into either hand, Coach approached Larry's car. Thanks to cameras in the parking lot, we know that this is what happened next.

Selection for 2012 delegates begins Saturday, 15 minutes before sunrise.