How Yogi Berra Taught Me to Win 95% of the Time

In my day trading room we try to hit 95% of our trades. We do this because I am firm believer in the insurance model of day trading (lots of small wins with a few large losses) rather than the lottery model of day trading (a few large wins and many small losses). Lotteries are for suckers while insurance companies are some of the best businesses in the world. I have discussed this subject many times in prior columns, but today I can across another reason why my model is working our chat room.

I was reading a summary of Brett Steenbarger book on Trading Psychology on Ivanhoff’s Capital webpage when I came across this tidbit

“A small win is a small mirror. It reflects a winning image to us. Accumulate enough small wins and that winning image starts to become familiar. We internalize that which we experience repeatedly. That’s one of the reasons positive emotional experience is important….People I’ve known who are particularly adaptive have made small wins a habit pattern. They undertake many new challenges and regularly define meaningful, doable goals. They set themselves up for success. Positivity becomes a habit, a lifestyle, making the whole issue of discipline moot.”

Without really appreciating its power, I hadn’t realized just how valuable the idea of frequent wins is to overall success of the trader. I have seen with my own eyes as more and more traders in my room start to put together profitable runs of days, weeks and even months. In the world of retail trading this an exceedingly rare occurrence and I don’t think it’s due only to efficacy of my strategy but rather to the fact that positive experience creates good habits that leads to better performance.

Which brings me to Yogi Berra. He died this week and it is true testament to the kind of man he was that his death managed to stand toe to toe in headlines with Pope Francis’s visit President Xi’s White House arrival. Berra was not just a great athlete but a great philosopher. His sometimes unintended witticisms are far more quotable than anything uttered by Jean Paul Sartre (and I would argue more insightful as well).

Berra is famous for saying, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Which is a lesson that I live by every day. Whenever people ask me why I don’t back test my strategies I always think about that Yogi Berra quote and laugh. Markets like any man made social constructs are fluid and ever changing. Back testing data is like trying to figure out social habits of Millennials by studying the Victorians. It’s why every perfectly backtested system, whether it be done on your MT4 package or by Andrew Lo of MIT, always fails. Its why if want to succeed in day trading you watch what is happening now. As Mr. Berra used to say, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

Upon his death many analysts have re-examined Berra astounding athletic achievements. And as fivethirtyeight has pointed out what’s absolutely remarkable about Berra is that no one with his slugging percentage has struck out less. Berra only struck out 5% of the time and he was notorious for being a bad ball hitter. That means that instead of waiting for a perfect pitch he took what the pitchers threw and tried to make contact. And any time you make contact in baseball you have a chance to score.

This is perhaps Berra greatest legacy and his most valuable lesson to us as traders. Instead of looking for the perfect set up or the absolute best execution, we should try to figure out how to turn every trade into whatever win, scratch or small loss that we can. Berra collected 10 World Series titles by never trying to be perfect but by winning by any means necessary.

Boris Schlossberg

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