Trading and Poker

FYI: This is an update to an article I had published in November 2006 in The Trader’s Journal: How the Poker craze can Help you Trade

I have been trading my own accounts for a decade now and I continue to learn more with each passing day. However, I never thought that a game, a hobby of mine, would advance my understanding and the importance of expectancy and position sizing as much as playing poker. Trading the markets and playing poker both require strict money management rules, stable emotional balance and a solid game plan. If you don’t consider and employ these tools, you will most likely fail sooner rather than later and lose a lot of money along the way.

So, how could a person learn so much from a game that most people consider luck? And why do some traders continually profit year after year while others lose their shirt while making the same mistakes? I will discus the basics of position sizing and expectancy and show you how both items are extremely important when trading and playing poker for profits. I will also close the gap of how each entity (trading and poker) have helped me become better at both.

Many people consider trading and poker pure luck but this is not an accurate observation. Average traders and average poker players taint the outside world with images of luck, quick riches and pure fantasy of the actual grind that is required to succeed. Many factors run parallel with poker and trading but the average Joe would never understand ‘why’ because he or she just listens to what the “talking heads” of television say. Luck may and will play a small part under certain circumstances but rules, odds, risk and money management are the largest components of the two entities.

It’s a grind; trading for a living and playing poker for a living is a grind – a full time business.

I don’t trade for a living but I do trade/ invest to grow my personal wealth. The savings and income from my main career is put to work through investing.

When investing in the stock market, it is essential to have a sound set of rules or a system that has been tested in real time, (back testing or historical testing is not required but can be used, my opinion of course). Back testing helps but playing sports has taught me that Monday morning quarterbacking is for theorists. Once a system has been tested profitably in real-time, the trader or poker player must follow clearly defined rules in order to preserve capital and cut losses. Both traders and poker players must consider the odds of their stock or hand making a gain or making a loss. Price objectives and targets should be a large part of every investor’s system but it is not the essential ingredient to success. Understanding how much to trade or how much to bet and exactly when to make that bet will be based on the system’s expectancy – and this should be the top priority.

So where does system development start? It starts by properly understanding position sizing techniques and calculated expectancies. Using these tools, the investor will be armed to trade only in situations where the odds are in his/her favor. A system that has been tested will have an approximate expectancy that will tell the trader or poker player how much will be gained or lost during each trade or hand over a period of time. Using this as one part of the equation, the investor or trader will now determine how much risk to undertake by calculating a position sizing algorithm that tells them how much to place on a specific trade or poker hand. The word “algorithm” may scare many people away but I have developed very simple position sizing and expectancy spreadsheets that can be found as a link on my blog. They can be downloaded, studied and tweaked without any advanced mathematical experience. This spreadsheet is strictly for trading, not poker.

Most traders and poker players look for three major factors when developing a system:

  • How much to trade or bet
  • The right odds or positive expectancy
  • Multiple trades or hands to play (opportunity)

How do we Calculate Position Size (stock trading example)?

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The Pareto Principle: 80/20 Rule

As a trend trader, it is likely that 20% of your trades will result in 80% of your profits so focus on riding winners and cutting losers. Learn to implement a proper position sizing methodology to your trading, ensuring that you can withstand a string of consecutive losses without going bust. A lot of people are going bust in many aspects of their lives because they are not focusing on the 20% that matters most. Forget the useless 80%, it’s bringing you down. Less is more, a popular aphorism coined by the famous architect , Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is something I truly believe in.

It’s times like these when trend traders grow impatient and fail to cut losers and then impatiently take profits too soon (most likely shorts in early 2009). It doesn’t matter if you have multiple losing trades over the past several months as long as your overall risk on each trade is less than 2%. The Pareto Principle will even out your results in due time, assuming you have developed a known expectancy on your system and employ risk management (position sizing).

You may have an expectancy of 40% winning trades but I can almost guarantee that 80%-90% of your year-end profits come from 10%-20% of your successful trades. For example, you may have 4 winning trades out of every 10 but only 2 of those trades will supply you with at least 80% of your profits. The other two winners will be minimal or cancelled-out by commissions, slippage and taxes.

On the other hand, it’s probably likely that 90% of your losses will result from 10% of your trades because you ignored sell rules, threw good money after bad or had stops jumped. One or two in ten trades will be the culprit(s) for bringing on the most damage to your portfolio. The other losing trades will be minimal and cut quickly as you realize that they are not working out as expected.

So what is the Pareto Principle?
“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

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10 Steps to Profitable Trading

The secret to winning big in the market is not to be right all the time but to lose the least amount of money possible when you are wrong. As long as you win larger than you lose, you will be a profitable trader at the end of each year. Pride, ego and stubbornness prevents a trader from reaching the levels that very few can master.

To become a profitable trader, you must:

  • 1. Manage Risk: Learn to trade a manageable portion of you portfolio (I recommend to risk less than 2% of you overall portfolio equity on each trade). Always establish a risk/reward ratio before making a trade. Without the ratio, how do you know your risk?
  • 2. Understand Position Sizing: All traders must learn to know “how much” to trade on each position. Do not overtrade or you will runt he risk of ruin. Position sizing is rule number one of managing risk.
  • 3. Cut Losses: Do not allow losses to run wild. You must learn to cut losses and understand that losses are a part of the game, a large part of the game. Check you ego of winning at the door. We are here to make money, not go undefeated. Play sports if you want to keep score with a record rather than your bankroll.
  • 4. Learn when to Sell: You must learn when to sell. Selling is more important than buying as it ties directly to risk management. Use stops if you haven’t yet developed the discipline to get out at your predetermined stop or profit goal.
  • 5. Average up in Price: I will never hesitate to add shares in a stock that is moving higher (see Mastercard) but I always avoid averaging down. Remember, cut losses and never throw good money after bad because we know that’s a quick way to the poorhouse.
  • 6. Have Patience: It takes years to master trading as an advanced skill; even then, you are never done learning or adapting.
  • 7. Buy 52-week Highs, not 52-Week Lows: Don’t be afraid to buy stocks making new highs. The garbage sits at the bottom of the market along with poor earnings, weakness and further downward pressure. Buy strength and the momentum moving higher. Stocks are typically priced at the levels they trade for good reason. This applies to most premium items in life.
  • 8. Ignore the Talking Heads: Do not listen to the stories, gossip and rumors flying around on network television, stock forums or the major financial newspapers. It a surefire route to bad information and clueless advice. Do your own research; you’ll come out much further ahead. This applies to crappy blogs and internet sites as well.
  • 9. Understand Technical Analysis: Fundamental analysis is a solid part of my trading system but technical analysis brings in the dough. You must learn, understand and use technical analysis on a daily basis. Fundamental analysis tells me what and technical analysis tells me when, where and how.
  • 10. Control Emotions: Enough said – You must control your emotions or the game is over! Understand you!

The Holy Grail of Trading

I have been hearing a lot about trading systems failing or not working properly over the past few months and it makes me smirk every time. A recent article in SFO Magazine states that traditional technical analysis no longer applies due to program trading or computer algorithms making the trades. The author claims that computers don’t have emotions, therefore they don’t buy based on patterns or make decisions the way a human would. He specifically states that moving averages are now useless. Really? I guess I am screwed. Maybe this has some merit but I don’t buy in to it completely.

Traders and investors always seem to blame their systems and/ or indicators for poor performance when 99% of the time they should be looking in the mirror. They need to look in-between the ears to locate the problem. As I have explained in the past, the system is not the Holy Grail of Trading. I wrote a post last year that was missed by many since it was written shortly after the fourth of July holiday. Now seems to be the time to discuss this topic, more so than last summer.

  • What do you think?
  • What is your Holy Grail of Trading?
  • Has your system stopped working or have you disconnected with the changing market environment?

The Holy Grail of Trading:
Understanding you and combining that with sound money management rules. Conquer these two entities and you will be successful beyond your wildest dreams!

Original Post:
Do you have a wonderful trading system, one that consistently makes you money? You probably believe that you have found your holy grail but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your system has very little to do with consistent profitability in the markets.

I often here amateur investors talk about that the “best way” or “only way” to invest and argue why their way is better than everyone else’s. The passion and energy exuded by these novice investors is wonderful but they are missing the point completely. No one can say that options are better than stocks, commodities are better than options or forex is better than everything, etc… Each investor develops a system that is suited to their own personal character traits and they use a vehicle (stocks, options, forex, commodities, real estate, etc…) that can help them reach their goals.

Investors also debate systems within a market such as: trend trading, swing trading, scalping, shorting, day trading, buy and hold, fundamental trading, technical trading, Elliot wave theory, moving average crossovers, etc… They all work if the “person” understands the holy grail of trading. And that is being able to understand YOU and how your mind works.

However, it is not the system that makes one successful. It is YOU that makes the system work properly. What do I mean? Each individual must master their own personal psychological impacts on their trading results. You must work on YOU to become consistently successful! I recommend reading The Disciplined Trader by Mark Douglas if you would like to understand the psychological trader in you.

To say that one system or vehicle is the “way to go” is ignorant.

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Start Here: Top 20 Posts

I went back and tried to pick out the best 20 posts that new readers can start with when coming to this website. I will be permanently placing them at the top right sidebar.

Top 20 chrisperruna.com Posts

Let me know if I am missed an article that you believe should be on this list.