My history of trying – with almost, but not quite complete success – to keep my distance from the world of “quants” goes back almost 40 years, to my first job in the investment world.

But it might go back almost 50 years. As a 16-year-old freshman at MIT, I engaged frenetically in all manner of games of skill for money, letting off the steam generated by the highly stimulating process of learning physics, chemistry, literature, philosophy and even religion at that extraordinary institution.

We not only played hours upon hours of fiercely competitive bridge and poker, always for money, but also juiced-up cribbage – with 12 cards in a hand instead of six – and Monopoly, in which we discovered that by forming a conspiracy, two players can force out another, then go head-to-head for the jackpot.

This was merely an outlet, though, and a time-waster. You had to be careful to rein in the urge to do it or you would neglect your studies and flunk out.

If someone had told me I could keep on doing this and wind up in a respectable profession, it would probably have cut my world view out from under me.

In fact, that has happened.

The quants of Wall Street Journal writer Scott Patterson’s book, “The Quants”, are exactly those fiercely competitive poker and bridge players, of which I was one at age 16, gone on to make an unthinkably luxurious living at it, in a highly respectable (at least until just recently) profession.

The contrast between my studies in my courses at MIT and our games for money in the basement was stark. One activity was filled with meaning, every day an adventure in finding out things about the world – the derivation of the laws of general relativity one day, the next a demonstration in two small beakers in a gigantic lecture hall filled with 300 students of a chemical reaction so endothermic that everyone in the room suddenly felt chilled, and the next a revelation of the poems of Emily Dickinson, and of “Waiting for Godot.”

The other activity was utterly meaningless. It was rumored that a couple of the more close-vested poker players actually made their tuition each semester that way, but of course, the whole purpose was to attend school.