Good Vs. Great Trading

Good traders are able to identify opportunities in the market, plan trades, execute trades, and manage trades at a reasonable level. A good trader identifies the opportunity, plans the trade, and executes the trade. He takes his losses with discipline. One might think that great traders are similar to good traders but just better. The reality is that great traders are distinctly different from good traders. The difference is not merely a difference in measure but a difference in kind.

Great trading is actually much closer to gambling. One of the key differences between great trading and good trading is that great traders don’t just play the odds: great traders play the unknown. The market simply isn’t predictable enough – enough of the time — to allow for the type of returns that great traders seek. So, great traders are much more likely to be going out into that unknown space. This seeking out the unknown always involves a cost. The cost for greatness is the potential for loss, even significant loss. A great trader will typically take more risks. The risks could involve taking trades with higher uncertainties (less confirmation), higher risk per trade (giving a trade more room), and in general just a higher level of risk. This increased level of risk taking is balanced by increased trading skill.

The problem with trading just trading well is that the game, the trading game, is really close to a zero sum game, even when played perfectly. The focus on limiting risk tends to ignore the reality that every business has to make a profit to survive. The problem with trying to avoid risks is that it tends to push the game to such a competitive level such that the trader must trade at a near perfect level just to break even and nobody can trade perfectly forever. Eventually mistakes are made and losses occur. Great traders are more creative. They move laterally and find creative solutions. Great traders don’t really compete against others. It is more of a dance. Instead of playing the games against others, they make up their own game. (more…)

Surviving the Trading Game

Trading coach Van Tharp has a trading game he lets his students play. In a class of 20 to 30 people he will pull different color marbles out of a bag to determine whether the classes trades are winners or losers and by what multiple. There are overall more winning marbles than losers marbles in the bag making this hypothetical trading system a robust system. In the long term the traders playing the game should make money. While the class all receives the same win and loss results during the game some players blow up their account to zero very quickly and others end up with great returns during the game. What is going on? What makes the difference? Each individual traders bet size and the amount of capital at risk determines whether they win or lose even though they are all getting the same trading results in wins and losses. The traders that bet too much and lose at the beginning of the game blow up quickly, the ones that bet big and win in the beginning start in the lead but blow up their accounts later. The best risk managers in the game win primarily by simply surviving their first consecutive string of losses while others do not. The winners also are able to grow their bet size during winning streaks as their capital grows. They bet more as they win and less as they lose by defining a percent of their total capital as a risk multiple that they can expose to losses.

So you see in the trading game, after a trader has a robust system it is still the best risk managers that win in the long term. (more…)


dontsign“Don’t think that trading is fun. The trading game should be boring the vast majority of the time, just like the real-life job you have right now.”

Don’t try to get even.
This isn’t a game of catch-up. Every action you make has to stand on its own merits. Take your losses with detachment and make your next trade with absolute discipline.

Don’t ignore the warning signs.
Big losses rarely come without warning. Don’t wait for a lifeboat before you abandon a sinking ship.

Don’t ignore your intuition.
Listen to that calm little voice that tells you what to do and what to avoid. That’s the voice of the winner trying to get into your thick head.

Don’t project your personal life onto your trading.
Trading gives you the perfect opportunity to find out just how messed up your life really is. Get your own house in order before you play the financial markets.

If you don’t learn from your losses who will?

If you don’t try you don’t fail, if you don’t fail you don’t learn, if you don’t learn you don’t grow” – Om Malik

Failure is an inherent part of trading. No trader can get every trade correct. One of the lessons in the new Jack Schwager book, Hedge Fund Market Wizards, is that “Don’t try to be 100% right.” In fact the pursuit of perfection in trading will likely lead to catastrophic results. That is why some perspective on failure and loss is a key to staying in the trading game.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer, has an interesting piece up at the New Yorker which is a transcript of a commencement speech he recently gave at Williams College.* Although he is discussing medicine his perspective on failure is worth contemplating. Here is a quote:

So you will take risks, and you will have failures. But it’s what happens afterward that is defining. A failure often does not have to be a failure at all. However, you have to be ready for it—will you admit when things go wrong? Will you take steps to set them right?—because the difference between triumph and defeat, you’ll find, isn’t about willingness to take risks. It’s about mastery of rescue.

It is a bit of cliche to say that your trading losses represent tuition paid. If you don’t learn from your own failures no one will. Those losses will then be not just a financial loss but a lost opportunity as well.

We want to be right


 Two wrongs don’t make a right in life but in the stock market two wrongs (and plenty more) will help you get on the right road to making money.   The market says the trading game is about making money not about stroking the ego.  The “right” road is the “wrong” road when your on Wall Street.  Hey, if  you doing it to be right, then you’re “doing it wrong!”

Trade Your Plan

“When you see a position that is going against you and the market is dropping, and you are losing money on a trade, but your stop loss hasn’t been hit yet, how do you stay with the position? What is your secret? Do you pullback and look at the big picture or do you simple assume its all noise as long as it doesn’t hit that lower low? This is my biggest problem with tracking your trades and most of the time you are right in holding on.” … Because we thought our answer to his question may be beneficial to other traders as well, we wanted to share our reply to his e-mail, which was…

“The key point you stated is ‘but your stop loss hasn’t been hit yet.’ When we put on a trade, it’s like entering into a contract, so we try to stay the course and simply follow the plan. Over the years, we’ve found it’s best to stick with our original analysis because we usually plan a trade at night, or in the pre-market, without the stress of live trading. During the trading session, in the heat of the moment, there is so much pressure that we have to fight the voice in our heads telling us to sell the position when everything around is crumbling. It basically comes down to planning the trade and trading the plan…easier said than done, right? Sometimes, if you have a feeling things are going bad, and you’re an active trader, you can maybe sell 1/4 or 1/3 of the position to ease your mind. However, you must have the discipline to get back in once the coast is clear. Try to lay out a plan, write it on paper, and stick to it. The one thing every trader must accept, in order to be successful, is a loss. You must be fully prepared to lose what you’re risking. Once you accept losses as part of the trading game, the pressure to be right is not so intense. By the way, we at ASR are no different; we fight the same urges to sell that most traders do. It’s a constant battle, that’s for sure!”

Are Great Traders Born or Bred?

In a recent speech to a class at Harvard Business School Mark Sellers, founder of Chicago-based hedge fund Sellers Capital, argues that great traders are born and not bred. He believes that there are seven “structural assets” that cannot be taught, adding, ” They have to do with psychology. You can’t do much about that.”

The traits:

1) The ability to buy when others are panicking, and vice versa

2) An obsession with the trading game

3) A willingness to learn from past mistakes

4) An inherent sense of risk based on common sense

5) A confidence in your convictions and a willingness to stick with them

6) An ability to have “both sides of your brain working” (i.e. to go beyond the math)

7) The ability to live through volatility without changing your investment thought process

I  think that some of the concepts discussed here are spot on (and I spend a great deal of time hammering home the importance of #7) , but I disagree with the overall idea that great traders are born, not made. I believe success in trading is not about a specific style, but rather about understanding your personality traits and then developing a trading style (and which product – i.e. stocks, commodities, fx) that fits you best.

We are who we are. That does not change throughout our life, but we can learn to wait for times when the market is paying our personality type and then generate successful returns when that window of opportunity appears.

"Your Special Unique Trading Strengths and Weaknesses"

Each one of us is born with special unique abilities and we are naturally drawn to them and develop them along the way.  They manifest themselves in all areas of our lives.  There are also things we don’t like to do or that are difficult for us to do.  It simply makes sense to focus on what we like and what comes easily to us and avoid or delegate what we don’t like or find hard and stressful to do.

The same is true with trading. There are parts of your trading that you’re naturally good at.  There are aspects of trading that you love, that excite you, and give you passion.  The more you trade the better you seem to get in these areas. 

What is your special trading or investing capability?  Pause and think about it.  WRITE IT DOWN.  I can’t guide you or even suggest what is uniquely easy and effective in your trading.

The best part of my trading is ______________________________________.

The part of trading I most enjoy is___________________________________.

You can build on these and exponentially improve your trading results and your trading ease and enjoyment.  It also makes sense that your methods and time frames are compatible with these strengths and tendencies.

Now we need to acknowledge the opposite.  Each of us has innate limitations and vulnerabilities that also affect our trading and investing.  There are parts of the trading game that are hard for us, that we don’t like, may even hate.  As much as we try to overcome these areas we frequently relapse into these frail deficiencies.  We say we’ll never do that again, and then, of course we do.


…is rational.  He does not trade for egotistical reasons.
…is skilled in self-mastery thus able to deal with market reality.
…is able to see through the noise in the markets and find low-risk, high reward trade opportunities.
…is hard working and has the discipline to follow through with well thought out plans.
…is committed to his methodology and able to cut losses when called upon to do so.
…is humbled by his need to rely on the support of others.
…is adaptable to market changes.
…is up to the challenge of the trading game.  Enjoys profits and endures losses.
…is able to handle both success and failure without self-destructing. 

31 Precepts for Traders

These precepts are trading and investing guidelines that give a compass heading to trading integrity.

I offer them to you in their raw form. Some may make sense, others not. Please feel free to question, challenge, refine and edit with your responses.

  1. We are who we are and we start from where we start
  2. Each of us brings unique strengths to the markets
  3. Every morning we agree to play as delighted beginners
  4. Reality Pays. The more our minds model the market, the more in synch we get
  5. We build on our strengths and manage everything else.
  6. The outcome we have is the outcome we want
  7. If what you are doing isn’t working over and over again, re-examine your internal models
  8. Our internal process is more important than anything else because it drives everything else
  9. You have the resources to improve your mental trading game. Coaching just helps find them
  10. We begin our trading practice slowly and build it with flow and grace
  11. Lean into fear. Fear is a primary cause of failure
  12. If you are frustrated with the markets, that means they aren’t following the internal model you have projected on them
  13. We increase the level of our awareness rather than the intensity of trading
  14. As we expand our awareness, our interventions will happen sooner and be more creative and effective
  15. We respect ourselves and celebrate our profits no matter how large
  16. If we can experience a new behavior for a moment, we can experience it for a minute, an hour, a week, a year.
  17. Change happens when we experience a new behavior that is aligned with who we are, feels emotionally satisfying in the moment and takes us to where we want to go
  18. Avoidance is buying pain on credit with interest
  19. If self-criticism made us trade better we would all be rich
  20. We allow the markets to breathe through us
  21. The markets are messy, our information is imperfect, our systems will fail and we can still make money
  22. All trading systems are successful in some markets, all trading systems will eventually fail in all markets
  23. The markets don’t care about you or your position
  24. We seek the practice rather than the result
  25. Learn about yourself with the delight of an anthropologist finding a lost tribe
  26. We make internal maps of the market, but our maps are always distorted
  27. Our negative responses are created by our maps, not the market
  28. By changing our map, we change how we respond to the markets
  29. All our trading errors have an ultimate positive purpose or intention
  30. There is no “failure” just feedback
  31. You have all the resources you need, although some may be out of your awareness
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