On a wall opposite Victor Niederhoffer's desk is a large painting of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that sank in the South Pacific in 1820, after being attacked by a giant sperm whale, and that later served as the inspiration for "Moby-Dick." The Essex's captain, George Pollard, Jr., survived, and persuaded his financial backers to give him another ship, but he sailed it for little more than a year before it foundered on a coral reef. Pollard was ruined, and he ended his days as a night watchman. The painting, which Niederhoffer, a sixty-three-year-old hedge-fund manager, acquired after losing all his clients' moneyand a good deal of his ownin the Thai stock market crash of 1997, serves as an admonition against the incaution to which he, a notorious risktaker, is prone, and as a reminder of the precariousness of his success.
Niederhoffer has been a professional investor for nearly three decades, during which he has made and lost several fortunestypically by relying on methods that other traders consider reckless or unorthodox or both. In the nineteen-seventies, he wrote one of the first software programs to identify profitable trades. In the early eighties, he went into business with George Soros, then arguably the world's most successful investor. A few years later, when prominent money managers were based almost exclusively in Manhattan, Niederhoffer moved his home and his trading room to Connecticut, to a twenty-thousand-square-foot neo-Tudor mansion crammed with books, manuscripts, silver jewelry, art work, and a collection of seashells. The walls of his vast living room, which has a ceiling about thirty feet high, are covered with more than two dozen paintings, many depicting industrial landscapes or Western shoot-'em-ups, and the floor is occupied by, among other objects, a large painted pony, a black-spotted wooden hound carrying three quail on its back, a seated pig, and two miniature black bears. Niederhoffer's home is also frequently occupied by various of his children. (He has six daughters and an infant son, from two marriages and an extramarital relationship.)