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Spellcaster: The Fall of Sam Bankman-Fried

Earn to Give

Mon Jun 05 2023
Caroline EllisonSam Bankman-FreeEffective AltruismEpsilon ThetaJane Street CapitalCrypto Trading


The episode follows the journey of Caroline Ellison and Sam Bankman-Free, who both had a background in mathematics and a shared interest in effective altruism. They met at MIT's Epsilon Theta fraternity and played games together, including their own invention called Ghost House. Sam transitioned from utilitarianism to exploring effective altruism and met William, who introduced him to the concept of earning to give. Sam joined Jane Street Capital, where he felt constrained and eventually resigned to pursue non-profit work. However, he got interested in cryptocurrency trading instead and started his own firm called Alameda Research.


Effective Altruism and Earning to Give

Sam's exploration of effective altruism and the concept of earning to give highlights the importance of making a maximum impact on the world through lucrative careers and significant donations.

The Transition to Crypto Trading

Sam's decision to leave Jane Street Capital and start his own crypto trading firm showcases his desire for more freedom and willingness to take risks in pursuit of his goals.

The Role of Epsilon Theta

Epsilon Theta played a significant role in Sam's journey, fostering intense conversations, deep thinking, and providing a supportive community for exploring ideas related to ethics, moral philosophy, and effective altruism.


  1. Caroline Ellison and Sam Bankman's Background
  2. Exploring Effective Altruism
  3. Sam's Journey at Jane Street Capital
  4. Sam's Transition to Crypto Trading

Caroline Ellison and Sam Bankman's Background

00:00 - 07:39

  • Caroline Ellison, a math major at Stanford, joined Jane Street Capital in 2016.
  • Sam Bankman-Free grew up in a household focused on ethics and moral philosophy.
  • He attended MIT to study physics and met Chewy Shaw, who became his friend.
  • They both joined Epsilon Theta, a nerd fraternity at MIT.
  • The fraternity house had communal living arrangements and they spent their time playing games.
  • One game they invented was called Ghost House.

Exploring Effective Altruism

07:22 - 15:35

  • At Epsilon Theta, Sam and his housemates played various games, including a self-invented game called Ghost House and the strategy board game Diplomacy.
  • Diplomacy is a game of global conquest that requires negotiation with other players.
  • Sam's signature tactic in Diplomacy was to gain an ally's trust and then betray them.
  • The Epsilon Theta House fostered intense conversations and deep thinking among its members.
  • Sam transitioned from believing in utilitarianism to exploring effective altruism.
  • Sam met William, who advocated for earning to give as a way to make a maximum impact on the world.
  • Earning to give involved pursuing lucrative careers and donating a significant portion of income to impactful charities.
  • Sam considered working for an animal rights charity but was convinced by Will's argument for earning to give.
  • Sam interviewed at Jane Street Capital, where he found like-minded individuals interested in effective altruism and enjoyed the challenging environment.
  • He saw Jane Street as a place where he could achieve more opportunities.

Sam's Journey at Jane Street Capital

15:06 - 22:37

  • Sam was a student in the OCaml Bootcamp program at Jane Street Capital.
  • He stood out for being vegan and having french fries for lunch every day.
  • Sam had a social life at Jane Street and mentored new employees.
  • He gave half of his $300,000 salary to charity.
  • Jane Street's trading approach focused on small trades and risk management.
  • Sam felt constrained by the job and wanted more room to take risks.
  • He made a list of other impactful jobs, including working at the Center for Effective Altruism.
  • Sam resigned from Jane Street to pursue non-profit work but got interested in cryptocurrency instead.
  • He moved back to the Bay Area and started getting into shitcoins.

Sam's Transition to Crypto Trading

22:17 - 26:06

  • Sam Bankman Fried got into trading shitcoins, which were volatile assets with little regulation.
  • He teamed up with the CEO of the Center for Effective Altruism and recruited people from EA to join his new trading company.
  • Sam quickly set up his new trading firm, surprising others who thought he would work for a nonprofit.
  • His time at the Center for Effective Altruism was a cover for starting a crypto trading empire.
  • Sam named his firm Alameda Research to appear more reputable.
  • Venture capitalists are attracted to unique individuals like Sam who want to conquer the world.