The Intuitive Trader -Quotes from the Book

Having read Kurzban’s Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite, I am convinced that the left brain/right brain split is a gross oversimplification of the brain’s functional organization. Nonetheless, sometimes simplifications work well enough. For today’s post I’m going to share some thoughts from Robert Koppel’s 1996 book The Intuitive Trader: Developing Your Inner Trading Wisdom. It’s an extended argument for and a series of illustrations of using the right hemisphere to expand trading prowess.

The bulk of the book is a series of interviews with traders and those who worked with traders, many of whom predate my active involvement in the markets. Among the cast of characters are Bill Williams, Richard McCall, Charles Faulkner, Edward Allan Toppel, Ellen Williams, Linda Leventhal, Howard Abell, Tom Belsanti, and Peter Mulmat.

Here are a few disconnected excerpts that I thought worth passing along.

“[T]he experience of successful trading is subjective, unself-conscious, and intuitive. This state of mind, it seems to me, has more in common with the spirit of jazz—improvisational, automatic, and responsive to the riff—than with a well-articulated and analyzed process of decision making.” (p. 6)

“Some traders are still of the opinion that we ‘make’ profits and ‘take’ losses. The simple answer is: we make both. Loss has to be assumed in trading as inevitable not accidental.” (p. 19)

On the importance of ritual: The author describes one of the most successful CME floor traders who “after completing his trading card, as he puts it in his pocket, … always says, ‘Yeah.’ … [H]e developed this ritual because he sensed the feeling of letting down after he would have a loser. And he had to figure out some way within himself to be able to go on to the next trade with the same level of energy, resolve, and motivation that he would get from one good trade to the next good trade.” (p. 63)

In response to the question “Have you ever figured out what percentage of your trades are profitable?” Peter Mulmat answered: “No, I haven’t. I just look in terms of monthly performance. That’s kind of the criteria I use to gauge my performance. I find to go any shorter period of time is just frustrating for me.” (p. 188)

Day Traders

If a trader is willing to give a large share of his time and energy to study of the markets and of technical considerations, and if he has the proper ability and proper personal makeup, then it seems quite certain that he will make greater profits on the shorter time frame as opposed to position trading. Certainly the possibility for such profit is much greater in short-term trading.

On the other hand, the individual who is unable or unwilling to give up a good portion of his time and energy to the study of technical considerations, who knows or finds himself erratic in his trading success or unfitted psychologically for short-term trading, will, of course, find greater profit, slower but more certain, by confining his operations to those for the long-swing.

The third and most likely possibility is that most individuals will lose either way. This is the real key:

… a study done by one of the major clearing firms analyzed what percentage of their retail accounts were profitable in the mid-’80s to mid-’90s, and that number came in around eight percent. The most profitable accounts were those with the highest activity levels [ed. pre-tax profits, of course]. But, overall, the floor traders and specialists have always been the most profitable group of traders in history.

It seems the secret to profitable short-term trading is to hold the order book, “proper personal makeup” and “the study of technical considerations” be damned

Trading Errors

Error: Confusing trading with investing. Many traders justify taking trades because they think they have to keep their money working. While this may be true of money with which you invest, it is not at all true concerning money with which you speculate. Unless you own the underlying commodity, for instance, selling short is speculation, and speculation is not investment. Although it is possible, you generally do not invest in futures. A trader does not have to be concerned with making his money work for him. A trader’s concern is making a wise and timely speculation, keeping his losses small by being quick to get out, and maximizing profits by not staying in too long, i.e., to a point where he is giving back more than a small percent of what he has already gained.

Error: Copying other people’s trading strategies. A floor trader I know tells about the time he tried to copy the actions of one of the bigger, more experienced floor traders. While the floor trader won, my friend lost. Trading copycats rarely come out ahead. You may have a different set of goals than the person you are copying. You may not be able to mentally or emotionally tolerate the losses his strategy will encounter. You may not have the depth of trading capital the person you are copying has. This is why following a futures trading (not investing) advisory while at the same time not using your own good judgment seldom works in the long run. Some of the best traders have had advisories, but their subscribers usually fail. Trading futures is so personalized that it is almost impossible for two people to trade the same way.


Error: Ignoring the downside of a trade. Most traders, when entering a trade, look only at the money they think they will make by taking the trade. They rarely consider that the trade may go against them and that they could lose. The reality is that whenever someone buys a futures contract, someone else is selling that same futures contract. The buyer is convinced that the market will go up. The seller is convinced that the market has finished going up. If you look at your trades that way, you will become a more conservative and realistic trader.


Error: Expecting each trade to be the one that will make you rich. When we tell people that trading is speculative, they argue that they must trade because the next trade they take may be the one that will make them a ton of money. What people forget is that to be a winner, you can’t wait for the big trade that comes along every now and then to make you rich. Even when it does come along, there is no guarantee that you will be in that particular trade. You will earn more and be able to keep more if you trade with objectives and are satisfied with regular small to medium size wins. A trader makes his money by getting his share of the day-to-day price action of the markets. That doesn’t mean you have to trade every day. It means that when you do trade, be quick to get out if the trade doesn’t go your way within a period of time that you set beforehand. If the trade does go your way, protect it with a stop and hang on for the ride.

Error: Taking a trade because it seems like the right thing to do now. Some of the saddest calls we get come from traders who do not know how to manage a trade. By the time they call, they are deep in trouble. They have entered a trade because, in their opinion or someone else’s opinion, it was the right thing to do. They thought that following the dictates of opinion was shrewd. They haven’t planned the trade, and worse, they haven’t planned their actions in the event the trade went against them. Just because a market is hot and making a major move is no reason for you to enter a trade. Sometimes, when you don’t fully understand what is happening, the wisest choice is to do nothing at all. There will always be another trading opportunity. You do NOT have to trade.

Error: Taking too much risk. With all the warnings about risk contained in the forms with which you open your account, and with all the required warnings in books, magazines, and many other forms of literature you receive as a trader, why is it so hard to believe that trading carries with it a tremendous amount of risk? It’s as though you know on an intellectual basis that trading futures is risky, but you don’t really take it to heart and live it until you find yourself caught up in the sheer terror of a major losing trade. Greed drives traders to accept too much risk. They get into too many trades. They put their stop too far away. They trade with too little capital. We’re not advising you to avoid trading futures. What we’re saying is that you should embark on a sound, disciplined trading plan based on knowledge of the futures markets in which you trade, coupled with good common sense.


Principles of Peak Performance

peak-performanceThe first principle of peak performance is to put fun and passion first. Get the performance pressures out of your head. Forget about statistics, percentage returns, win/loss ratios, etc. Floor-traders scratch dozens of trades during the course of a day, but all that matters is whether they’re up at the end of the month.

Don’t think about TRYING to win the game – that goes for any sport or performance-oriented discipline. Stay involved in the process, the technique, the moment, the proverbial here and now.! A trader must concentrate on the present price action of the market. A good analogy is a professional tennis player who focuses only on the point at hand. He’ll probably lose half the points he plays, but he doesn’t allow himself to worry about whether or not he’s down a set. He must have confidence that by concentrating on the techniques he’s worked on in practice, the strengths in his game will prevail and he will be able to outlast his opponent.

The second principle of peak performance is confidence. in yourself, your methodology, and your ability to succeed. Some people are naturally born confident. Other people are able to translate success from another area in their life. Perhaps they were good in sports, music, or academics growing up. There’s also the old-fashioned “hard work” way of getting confidence. Begin by researching and developing different systems or methodologies. Put in the hours of backtesting. Tweak and modify the systems so as to make them your own. Study the charts until you’ve memorized every significant swing high or low. Self-confidence comes from developing a methodology that YOU believe in. (more…)


You must see this movie.

People lament the decline of the print news media, the victim of computer culture. The trading floors of the exchanges have also had a sharp decline in the number of floor traders who populate the floor, as the trading business is being increasingly facilitated by computers. In 1992, there were 10,000 traders on the floors in Chicago, today there are only a few hundred and 95% of the volume is electronic. James Smith, the producer of “Floored,” the movie, examines the life of past and present traders both off and on the floor. He discusses the culture, environment, wins, losses, personalities and future of traders, past and present. He pays close attention to the struggles the ex floor guys are having without the edge that the pit gave. He examines the character of the players involved, and lets them reminisce about their floor days. He compares and contrasts the differences between local traders and computer traders. He interviews ex floor traders trying to make it on the screen. He pays particular attention to the off floor lives of traders and gives them a free reign in telling their stories. The stories are great as everyone that was successful in the pit has a great story, and ego to boost. The movie has many great shots of the action in the pits a few years ago and today. Many of the floor traders don’t realize that they’re subjects of the forces of natural selection, just like any other creature in nature. One of the interviewees said that a big difference between watching the pit and watching a screen would be equivalent to watching an entire football game on TV or just watching the scoreboard. This, and many other observations bring clarity, and numerous trading lessons that might be useful to anyone interested in trading. Also interesting to note is the obvious lesson in humility that is learned by ex-denizens of the trading pits. “Floored” is 87 minutes long, and can be found in its entirety in 8 segments, here.

(I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in trading, futures, trading floors, etc. It’s a 150 year old way of life that’s sadly disappearing very quickly.)

Incidentally, for what it’s worth, there’s still some floor action in the cattle and hog markets, which have resisted the encroachment of electronic trading to some degree. Also, many options are still primarily traded by open outcry.

True False Questions

True or False

  1. The big money in trading is made when one can get long at lows after a big downtrend.
  2. It’s good to average down when buying.
  3. After a long trend, the market requires more consolidation before another trend starts.
  4. It’s important to know what to do if trading in commodities doesn’t succeed.
  5. It is not helpful to watch every quote in the markets one trades.
  6. It is a good idea to put on or take off a position all at once.
  7. Diversification is better than always being in 1 or 2 markets.
  8. If a day’s profit or loss makes a significant difference to your net worth, you are overtrading.
  9. A trader learns more from his losses than his profits.
  10. Except for commission and brokerage fees, execution costs for entering orders are minimal over the course of a year.
  11. It’s easier to trade well than to trade poorly.
  12. It’s important to know what success in trading will do for you later in life.
  13. Uptrends end when everyone gets bearish.
  14. The more bullish news you hear the less likely a market is to break out on the upside.
  15. For an off-floor trader, a long-term trade ought to last 3 or 4 weeks or less.
  16. Other’s opinions of the market are good to follow.
  17. Volume and open interest are as important as price action.
  18. Daily strength and weakness is a good guide for liquidating long term positions with big profits.
  19. Off-floor traders should spread different markets of different market groups.
  20. The more people are going long the less likely an uptrend is to continue in the beginning of a trend.
  21. Off-floor traders should not spread different delivery months of the same commodity.
  22. Buying dips and selling rallies is a good strategy.
  23. It’s important to take a profit most of the time.
  24. Of 3 types of orders (market, stop, and resting), market orders cost the least skid.
  25. The more bullish news you hear and the more people are going long the less likely the uptrend is to continue after a substantial uptrend.
  26. The majority of traders are always wrong.
  27. Trading bigger is an overall handicap to one’s trading performance.
  28. Larger traders can muscle markets to their advantage.
  29. Vacations are important for traders to keep the proper perspective.
  30. Undertrading is almost never a problem.
  31. Ideally, average profits should be about 3 or 4 times average losses.
  32. A trader should be willing to let profits turn into losses.
  33. A very high percentage of trades should be profits.
  34. A trader should like to take losses.
  35. It is especially relevant when the market is higher than it’s been in 4 and 13 weeks.
  36. Needing and wanting money are good motivators to good trading.
  37. One’s natural inclinations are good guides to decision making in trading.
  38. Luck is an ingredient in successful trading over the long run.
  39. When you’re long, limit up is a good place to take a profit.
  40. It takes money to make money.
  41. It’s good to follow hunches in trading.
  42. There are players in each market one should not trade against.
  43. All speculators die broke
  44. The market can be understood better through social psychology than through economics.
  45. Taking a loss should be a difficult decision for traders.
  46. After a big profit, the next trend following trade is more likely to be a loss.
  47. Trends are not likely to persist.
  48. Almost all information about a market is at least a little useful in helping make decisions.
  49. It’s better to be an expert in 1-2 markets rather than try to trade 10 or more markets.
  50. In a winning streak, total risk should rise dramatically.
  51. Trading stocks is similar to trading commodities.
  52. It’s a good idea to know how much you are ahead or behind during a trading session.
  53. A losing month is an indication of doing something wrong.
  54. A losing week is an indication of doing something wrong.
  55. One should favor being long or being short – whichever one is comfortable with.
  56. On initiation one should know precisely at what price to liquidate if a profit occurs.
  57. One should trade the same number of contracts in all markets.
  58. If one has $10000 to risk, one ought to risk $2500 on every trade.
  59. On initiation one should know precisely where to liquidate if a loss occurs.
  60. You can never go broke taking profits.
  61. It helps to have the fundamentals in your favor before you initiate.
  62. A gap up is a good place to initiate if an uptrend has started.
  63. If you anticipate buy stops in the market, wait until they are finished and buy a little higher than that.
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