How to Challenge Your Mind Through Events

by Guest Contributor

22 June, 2018

Interview James Vogl

You recently launched Cerebral Gym - can you tell us about your mission and the types of events you're hosting in the upcoming months?

We are working towards having multiple live full-time permanent Cerebral Gyms where people can come and work-out their minds, for an hour or two in the same way that they go to workout their bodies in traditional gyms. World class trainers will lead classes in subjects as diverse as learning to play bridge in an hour to opera appreciation. The content will then be integrated online and via our app to reach a larger audience too. In the coming months, we have individual pop-up sessions at Mortimer House, on improving your backgammon, a parenting workshop, studying the actual text of the Quran, a seminar on Risk and a fiction book club. On the 13th May, we have our launch day at The House of St Barnabas which will showcase all of what Cerebral Gym will have to offer when we open next year: ten speakers, multiple classes, debates, games tournaments, food and drink and a live after-dinner show.

How has your background as a former professional poker play turned hedge fund manager inspired you to start the business?

I always enjoyed playing games and was clearly drawn and driven to backgammon, poker and trading for the financial rewards. But when I look back now at the twenty years I devoted to these areas, it was the process of learning and the amazing people I met and went through that journey with that was special. It doesn’t matter what you are learning if you enjoy it and are passionate and are often all-consumed. I think given the right environment everyone can take something more out of their leisure time especially when they mix with other inspiring people.

How do you think we, as adults, challenge our minds after formal education? Why should we push ourselves to learn something new?

People do this in different ways: traditionally you would have to read widely or in a more focused way on a specialised subject. Today you can watch a TED talk or listen to multiple podcasts etc.. The last thing in the world the majority want to do is go to a night school after a long day of work. Nothing currently exists where you can walk into a luxurious, buzzing environment full of young people hanging out, debating, eating and drinking and listening to music. There is not much more rewarding than expanding your mind and meeting new people on this journey but it doesn’t have to feel like work. If we can create an environment where you don’t realise you are learning but are just having a great time and come away having learned something new or having been challenged I think we will have succeeded.

What is so valuable about physical events? Can't we find out everything we need to know online?

Someone once told me to never ask them a question you could Google. But this leads to a pretty sad and lonely world. Perhaps I am bias… Eight years ago I recognised a girl I had seen around for about a decade but didn’t ever know her name. We were sat by chance next to each other at a Jewish Book Week lecture. I can’t remember even what the lecture was about but I have been married to Nikki for seven years now!

You're hosting a large-scale event in May. Which speakers are you most excited about hosting?

I am excited about all of them but I am especially excited to hear Dominic O’Brien eight times world memory champion as well as Emma Sinclair talking about setting up tech innovation labs in refugee camps for UNICEF.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

In 2004 I was a 23 year-old professional poker player and was undecided whether to go to Vegas for the World Series of Poker that year. A friend of mine who wasn’t a poker player and even thought it wasn’t the right way of life for me said to me “if you are going to be a poker player, you better do it properly and you need to be in Vegas”. I won the first event there for $400,000 and it changed my life.

James Vogl

James Vogl, 37, is a former professional backgammon and poker player. He won a World Series of Poker bracelet at the age of 23 in 2004.

He went on to trade equities and credit at Goldman Sachs, before becoming a proprietary trader at Manro-Haydan commodities, then joining Moore Capital as a macro portfolio manager. He became a partner of Graham Capital LLP in May 2012 where he had sole responsibility for running a portfolio of over $1 billion.

In September 2017 he left to set-up Cerebral Gym full-time, an idea he first conceived of six years ago when he challenged his gym personal trainer to become conversational in Mandarin, rather than complete an Ironman the following year. James was delighted to lose the bet.

For tickets to Cerebral Gym’s upcoming events, visit