Math Whiz Busted in $100M Gambling Ring Now Teaching Kids Chess
EAST VILLAGE — He’s got a checkered past — but he’s still teaching chess to kids.
A former chess prodigy and betting savant who was busted in April 2013 for a role in a $100 million illegal gambling ring with ties to the Russian mob is volunteering his skills at after-school programs near his East Village pad.
For the past year, Noah Siegel, 31, has worked as an instructor four days a week to 5- to 10-year-olds at the 14th Street Y and the Empire Children’s Programs.
Earlier this month, a Manhattan Federal Court judge sentenced him to three months of home detention, 300 hours of community service and two years probation. He also gave up $400,000 and was ordered to pay a $20,000 penalty, records show.
In December Siegel had pleaded guilty to the transmission of wager information between states. Federal prosecutors had accused him of partnering with gallery-owning playboy Helly Nahmad and professional poker player Illya Trincher to run an illegal gambling ring catering to millionaires and billionaires.
Before his sentencing, Siegel submitted a letter to the judge stating he was trying to get back to what made him happy.
“I decided that I had been wasting many hours of my life,” he wrote his letter. “I decided to return to doing something that had always brought me a sense of fulfillment and peace: teaching children through chess.”
Both the 14th Street Y and Empire Children's submitted letters attesting to Siegel’s character to the judge before his sentencing.
“The children ask for him specifically. One of their favorite activities is when he plays them blindfolded at the end of the semester,” said Chloe Markowitz, Siegel's supervisor at the Y.
“The children in our program absolutely love his chess program,” said Lori Jimenez-Estrada, the executive administrative director of Empire Children’s. "He has that rare ability to teach difficult concepts without making them seem difficult and, at the same time, making sure the children have fun."
Siegel, who grew up in Manhattan and attended the Dalton School, learned to play chess from his dad, a classics professor.
When he was 9, Siegel was ranked the No. 1 player in the country for his age group, according to his letter. He continued playing chess through high school and remained the top player in United States for his age, competing in international competitions.
He went on to attend Connecticut College, but dropped out after his junior year when he gained a knack for picking bets based on statistics and finding new ways to analyze games. The gambit paid off, initially.
“I started winning money (while I was still in college) and continued to improve my winning percentage as school continued,” he said in his letter to the judge.
His success got him pegged a “sharp” in the betting world, making it difficult for bookies to take his bets. But in 2006, he hooked up with Nahmad, the son of billionaire art dealer David Nahmad, and Trincher.
Siegel, whom they called the “Oracle,” would use computer algorithms to find weaknesses in bookies’ odds-making while Helly supplied the cash for wagers, according to court records.
Eventually, the group expanded its operation and began accepting bets from millionaires and billionaires, prosecutors say.
Siegel claimed he had a limited knowledge of the bookmaking operation and only received 3 percent cut of the profits.
In his letter to the judge, Siegel said that even before his arrest, he was losing interest in sports betting, preferring to spend his time with his model-actress girlfriend, whom he met while playing chess in Washington Square Park.
“I had moved to Los Angeles with my girlfriend and began spending more time thinking about what I should be doing with my life, meditating and hiking. And then I was arrested,” he wrote.
Since his arrest, he has been living in his $2 million East Village apartment. Aside from the volunteer work, Siegel told the judge that he also hopes to start a nonprofit that brings fitness into educational settings through a “treadmill/standing desk.”
A message left at Siegel’s home was not returned.
Helly Nahmad is scheduled to be sentenced on April 30 after pleading guilty to one count of running an illegal gambling operation. He has asked a judge to spare him prison time and instead let him perform community service by teaching homeless kids about art.