Going All-in Against Mrs. Market

Yeah, yeah, I’ve been there.

And it backfired.

Luckily, my stack-size in those days was small. That’s the good part. The shocking bit was, that back then, I had defined my stack-size as my networth. Biggest mistake I’ve made till date in my market-career, and I was very lucky to escape relatively unhurt.

Wait a minute, why is all this poker terminology being used here, to describe action in the world of applied finance?

Well, poker and market action have so much in common. Specifically, No-Limit Hold-’em is deeply related to Mrs. Market. We’re talking about the cash-game, not tournament poker. It’s as if Hold-’em is telling Mrs. Market (with due respect to Madonna):

i’ve got the moves baby
u got the motion
if we got together
we’d be causing a commotion

A no-limit hold-’em hand is like one trade. Playing 20-50 hands a day is excellent market practice. You’ve got thousands of games available to you online, round the clock, and most of these are with play money. Even though the “line” is missing here because of no money on the line, this is a no-cost avenue for trade practice, and it’s entertaining to boot.

Back to stack-size? What is stack-size, exactly?

Well, your stack size is the sum of all your chips on the table. You play the game with your stack, and on the basis of your stack-size. The first thing you need to do before there’s any market action is to define your stack-size.

A healthy stack-size is one that allows you to play your game in a tension-free manner. My definition, you ask? Well, I’d start the game with a stack-size that’s no more than 5% of my networth. Segregate this amount in an account which is separate from the rest of your networth, and trade from this segregated account. That’s the wiser version of me speaking. Don’t be like the stupid version of yours truly by defining your entire networth as your stack-size.

In this 5% scenario, you have 20 opportunities to reload. It’s not going to come to that, because even if a couple of your all-in bets go bust, you will eventually catch some big market moves if your technical research is sound and if you move all-in when chances of winning are high.

Wait patiently for a good hand. Then move. One doesn’t just move all-in upon seeing one’s hole-cards. If these are strong, like pocket aces, or picture pocket pairs, one bets out a decent amount to build up the pot. Similarly, if a promising trade appears, and the underlying scrip breaks past a crucial resistance, pick up a decent portion of the scrip. Next, wait for the flop (further market action) to give you more information. Have you made a set on the flop? Right, then bet more, another decent amount, but not enough to commit you fully to the pot. Then comes the turn. The scrip continues to move in your direction. You’ve made quads, and you’re holding the nuts. Now you can commit yourself fully to the pot and move all-in. Or, you can do so on the river, checking on the turn to disguise your hand and to allow others to catch up with your nuts somewhat, so that they are able to fire some more bets into the pot on the river. Your quads win you a big pot. You fired all-in when the scrip had shown its true colours, when winning percentages were high. You exhibited patience before pot-commitment. You allowed others to fire up the pot (scrip) further, and you deservedly caught a big market move. Just get the exit right, i.e. somewhere around the peak, and you’re looking at an ideal trade strategy already, from entry to trade management to exit.

Fold your weak hands. If something’s not working out, give it up cheaply. Ten small losses against a mega-win is enough to cover you and then some.

Often, a promising trade just doesn’t take off after you enter. The underlying might even start to move below your entry price after having been up substantially. You had great hole cards, but didn’t catch a piece of the flop, and now there are two over-cards staring at you from the flop. Give up your trade. Muck your hand.

At other times, you move all-in and the underlying scrip tanks big against you in a matter of hours. Before you can let your trade go, you’re already down big. You’ve suffered a bad beat, where the percentages to win were in your favour, but the turn-out of events still caused the trade to go against you. Happens. That’s poker.

Welcome to the world of trading. Pick yourself up. Dig out another stack from your networth. Don’t allow the bad beat to affect your future trades. If you are thinking about your bad beat, leave the table till you are fresh and can focus on the current trade at hand.

And then, give the current trade at hand the best you’ve got.

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