Like many gamblers who got their start in the early 1970s, Blair Hull managed to parlay his gambling efforts into a successful investing and trading career. After literally starting at the bottom, Hull has built up a fortune of more than $500 million dollars.
Blair Hull was born in 1942 in California, in what is now known as Silicon Valley. He wasn’t from a wealthy background and after finishing high school, he took a job in a cannery to help support his family. Around that same time the Vietnam War was heating up, and he ended up serving six years in the United States Army.
When he returned he took a job teaching high school maths and physics, before ultimately going back to study at University. Like many great gamblers, Hull was a gifted mathematician. He completed an MBA as well as the Harvard OPM (Owner / President Management) Program.
Around that time Hull read the book, “Beat the Dealer”, by Edward Thorp. He was fascinated by the edge available in blackjack and start playing and refining his strategy.
At age 29, he took his $120 bankroll and headed to Las Vegas to try out his new blackjack strategy. He took the bus from California and started out playing $1 – $4 stakes, before increasing to $5 – $25.
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That resonated with Hull. He felt that as long as he had an effective strategy and an edge and he was able to stick to it, he was an investor and not a gambler. In blackjack the goal is to only bet at the times when you have an edge over the house. As a shoe is dealt out, a skilled card counter can track the ratio of high to low cards. High cards, Aces and Tens have more value as they have the ability to make blackjack.
Hull played blackjack for five years from 1971, and in 1974 and 1975 he made a big step forward in his gambling career by joining a card counting team. The team was highly professional and all members had to pass an exam to join. When card counters work in teams, the members play different roles.
Often there is a counter who sits at the table and tracks the ratio of high and low cards. When the ratio is in their favour, they call in the ‘big player’. He’s the one who comes in and places the bets. This way teams are able to bet more money and do so more inconspicuously. They also gain a bigger edge as they can scale up their bets faster.
By the end of the team’s run in 1976, all the members had been identified by Las Vegas Casinos and banned from playing. The Big Player was a book that outlined how these teams operated and is famous in gambling circles, although it’s now out of print.
Blair Hull: Gambler turned Investor
Blair Hull’s next step was moving into a field that wasn’t going to ban him from placing bets – the stock market.
Using his blackjack winnings, Hull was able to get a seat on the Pacific Stock Exchange and began trading. He used his mathematical prowess to be one of the first to build quantitative models that were able to profit from mispriced options.
In 1985 he founded his own firm, the Hull Trading Company. He put together a team of people that at the time weren’t the types that you would associate with being on the trading floor: PhDs, mathematicians and computer scientists. The firm developed automated tools and technology to trade options and markets.
Hull was a long way ahead of the game and the results were incredible. In 1999 he sold his company to Goldman Sachs for $531 million.
Since then he’s gone on to found another trading company. He manages his own fund using multifactor models to predict price movements.
It all started with a $120 bankroll!