Trade Like a Professional Gambler

One of the greatest comedic bits ever written is a discourse by George Carlin in which he takes on the hypocrisy of the English language, especially as it relates to war. Carlin notes that in World War I the words for the stress of combat were “Shell Shock”. In WWII the term was changed to “Battle Fatigue”, in the in the Korean war it became “Operational Exhaustion” until finally in Vietnam to was reduced to the clinically sounding “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”.

“Still eight syllables,” notes Carlin,” but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it Shell Shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.”

When it comes to finance we have our euphemisms to hide exactly what we do. My favorite is “risk taking”. That sounds admirable and progressive but in fact I think it is high time we called trading for what it really is -- gambling. Every time we trade we play a game of chance which is in fact a form of gambling.

Contrary to popular belief, gambling is not a pejorative term in my opinion. You can of course bet blindly with no rhyme or reason in which case you are indeed the prototypical loser gambler -- a “sucker” in Vegas parlance. But you can also approach the business as a professional. Professional gamblers differ from amateurs in two distinct ways -- they have a very good idea of the odds facing them each time they bet and they do not get emotional when they are beaten.

Aside from winning one dollar from a slot machine at the Barbary Coast casino I have never gambled in my life. I have no confidence in my ability to read people or count cards and I find the whole process relatively boring. I would much rather try to handicap market psychology as it relates to economic and geo-political events. Nevertheless, I am more than willing to adopt the best practices of successful gamblers to my own trading routine.

Last week I talked about the need to truly understand the inner workings or your set up. Once you have a viable trading strategy -- especially one with fixed targets and stops it is really no different from a game of blackjack. Every trade is just a bet. Just as in 21, sometimes you will get a very nasty run of cards even when the odds are in your favor. In poker, that’s known as a bad beat and it is an ever present fact of life.

Professional gamblers just like professional traders constantly experience draw-downs, but they rarely complain about the “market”. They accept the game as it is. If we choose to view trading from the prism of a professional gambler we will undoubtedly assume a much healthier and more accurate attitude towards trading and hopefully improve our performance in the process.

Boris Schlossberg

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