Chess and Trade (2)

If both chess and trade are games, why we keep playing these games?

Obviously, playing in this level of chess tournament cannot be justified by the financial reward. Even the champion, an National Master, spend 2 days played 6 games to won the cash award of $1800. There was not much left if taking lodging and transportation cost into account. Retail investors spend a great deal of time conducting market research and monitoring their portfolio. Even they might make decent profit, but after deducting commissions to brokers and tax to Uncle Sam, the yield will shrink substantially.

It is believed that to achieve genius level ability takes about 10,000 hours of practice or 10 years. Grand masters take about ten years of training and practice, only Bobby Fischer did it faster in nine years. It is a disappointing fact that most of us won’t be able to become a master or a professional trader, no matter how hard we try. That seems to be a typical high cost, long term, but low probability investment, which should be avoided outright.

We mentioned in the previous post, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, predicted a gloomy prospect for retail investors. However, Warren Buffet said:

“To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights or inside information. What’s needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework.”

Here Warren Buffet’s emphasis is on the importance of high EQ (Emotional Intelligence). On personality development, chess games and investments offer excellent opportunities to improve observation skills, analytic skills, execution skills and ability and summarization skills. A high level chess players with high EQ is also very easy to excel in other areas. The founder of Grandmaster Capital Management, Patrick Wolff, is a grand master who won two US championships. He obtained Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University in Philosophy degree.

Let compare EQ requirements for a trade and a chess game:

(1) observation skills:
a chess: eg: That is straight forward. Which file is open? Which pieces are on the same line, a file, a rank or a diagonal?
b Investment: Does an event will influence our investment decision making? Such as: In Valley Fair Mall, Apple Store and the Microsoft Store are just across the corridor, we can clearly observe difference in traffic.

(2) analytic skills:
a chess: such as: How is the situation? Am I ahead or behind? Is my king safe? Are my other pieces safe? What is the most advantageous order if I have multiple ways of attack?
b Investment: eg: Is that event just a coincidence or becomes a confirmed trend? What was the market reaction? If I can take advantage of this opportunity, which stock I should choose as the vehicle? Are both fundamental and technical indicators cooperative? How long is the time frame?

(3) Execution skills:
a chess: Choose the safest way when you are advantageous. Be patient when you are behind. Always consider sacrifice, sometime even major pieces, to smash opponent’s defense.
b Investment: Take disciplined actions decisively, cut lose when necessary, do not dream a miracle will happen.

(4) Summerization skills:
Each trade should be recorded in the trade journal, analyze and review regularily. Avoid “step on the same rake twice”. Remember Dalai’s wisdom “When you lose, do not lose the lesson”!

Not everyone is suitable for trading, trading is a life long training of your mindset. Just treat every trade as an opportunity to exercise, so that we won’t make the same mistakes when managing more money in the future.

Chess and Trade (1)

A few weeks ago, I took my son to People’s Tournament held at Santa Clara Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. There were about 190 chess players from California and neighboring states, including 13 National Masters (NM), International Masters (IM) and Grand Masters (GM). Not too far away, Levis Stadium, the home of San Francisco 49ers will be open in a few weeks. I suddenly realized there are too many analogies between games and investments. New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), NASDAQ, American Stock Exchange (AMEX) are the playground like Santa Clara Convention Center and Levis Stadium, brokerage firms like Fidelity, eTrade, Interactive Brokers are organizers of the games, like National Football League and organizer of People’s tournament, they packet a profit no matter who wins the game. Institutions and Market Makers are masters or professionals who have an edge, sometimes dominantly, over retail investors, amateurs and neophyte players.

Trading stock is similar to playing games. Traders should take serious consideration of the following factors when opening a position:

  (1) Players: Stock market and chess are zero-sum games with winners and losers. The sum of winners’ gain of utility is about the sames as the losses of the losers, the other participants. A seemingly negligible portion is taken as commission or registration fee. The player should understand who is your opponent to choose the right strategy.

(2) Payoffs:For each opened position, we need to understand Max Return, Max Loss and Probability of all situations, such as break-even and exit. For the chess tournament, all registration fees ($100 apiece) will be pooled as award for winners. The champion of the open section will grab a cash reward of $1800, a ROI of 1,800%. However, it is very very unlikely an armature player to prevail in that section: although he may win a game by pure luck, the chance of winning a row of masters is simply too low! That is exactly the same as hoping a windfall in stock market.

  (3)Strategies:In a chess game, we can have Sicilian Defense, or Ruy Lopez /Spanish Defense and etc as openings. In stock market, We can open covered calls or naked puts, or more complicated as butterfly spreads and iron condors.

  (4) Orders:After opening, we will adjust our strategies based on the opponent’s response. We can use Marshall Attack, Karpov Variation and etc in Spanish defense. In option trade, we can utilize spreads to rollover our positions.

A game plan is required to ensure a high probability of success.

If both trading and chess are sorts of games, then Efficient market theory seems won’t be able to applied to stock trade. Efficient market theory can be summarized as followings:

  (1)Every player in the market is rational. They are closely monitoring all assets in the financial market, conduct fundamental analysis, evaluate the share price of each company and allocate asset accordingly prudently.

  (2) The share price reflect the balance of supply and demand. That is, the number of players who think the shares is overpriced is approximately the same as the number of players who think it is under-priced.

  (3) Stock price can fully reflect all available information of the assets, that is, “informationally efficient”, when changes in the information, the stock price will surely follow changes. When a good news or bad news just came out, the stock price began fluctuate, when it has become obvious, the price of the stock has gone up or down to the right price.

“Efficient market theory” actually means everyone in the rational case, no one can beat the market in the long run. However, (1), (2), (3) does not seem to be true, especially in the player’s level. Masters (USCF National Masters need to achieve a rating of 2200) and Market Maker generally have after a long hard training, proficient at dealing with complex situations, rarely make a blunder. Most financial products do not have enough liquidity, and prices tend to be manipulated. Secondly, if you have the opportunity to compete for the World Masters champion, behind the coaching team will help master data collected opponent, a comprehensive analysis of the merits of their opponents, to develop corresponding strategies. Investment banking institutions tend to have a large team of analysts, focused analysis of each sector, a variety of asset, governments trends, including members of Congress to inquire into the attitude of the bill. Most retail investors won’t have the resource to match the professional players and are likely to be slaughtered in unfair games.

Louis Dembitz Brandeis, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court once wrote:

“For a small investor to make an intelligent selection from these many corporate securities — indeed, to pass an intelligent judgment upon a single one — is ordinarily impossible. He lacks the ability, the facilities, the training and the time essential to a proper investigation.”

I am not saying there is no chance for an amateur to win a master. A master may make a blunder occasionally, but it is more likely he can survive and thrive after setbacks. Unlike stock market, game organizers like to divide players in different sections based on their levels/rankings. There are some asset categories. often associated with low liquidity and high risk, such as options and junk stocks, lack institution investors, but are Eden of retail investors. Please do not forget when you make huge profit, there is another retail investor might just lost his pants. The next one who lost his pant may be you and me.

The question now becomes whether it is necessary to spend myriad of time and energy to become a master. Or whether I can become a master even I spend myriad of time and energy.