Poker and the Stock Market

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Poker and the Stock Market

To be exact, I was out of town in southern NJ this weekend in Atlantic City. After finishing business at the convention center, I headed back to the newest casino, the Borgata, where I spent the night. I don’t consider myself a gambler and I never liked losing money at the table. When I gamble, my favorite games are always craps and blackjack. Until recently, I had never played at a poker table in a casino setting, but I loved the game and only played it in backyards and basements with old friends. Many people think that the game of poker is pure luck, but this is not an accurate observation. Many factors parallel the game of poker and the game of stock market investing. Luck may play a role, but rules, odds and money management are the biggest components of both entities.

When investing in the stock market, it is imperative to have a well-established set of rules or a system that is tested in real time and does not require backtesting or historical testing. After the system has been tested, investors need to follow the rules to preserve capital and reduce losses. An investor must also consider the odds of making or losing money on his/her stock. Price targets and targets should be an important part of every investor’s system. With proper money management and calculated expectations, an investor should only trade when the odds are in his/her favor. In a strong bull market, it may not be wise to start long stocks; the odds of making big gains with this strategy can be very low. Another major factor that affects investing is psychology and/or human emotion. Stocks are made up of a person’s personality traits, similar to the type of person who owns the stock. Some stocks are risky and volatile, while others are conservative and predictable. Markets repeat cycles and specific chart patterns because humans repeat their behavior and disposition tendencies.

Now, back to the poker table; when I sit down to start a game, my first goal is to familiarize myself with the character traits of the players around me. With 10 players at the table, I have plenty of time to evaluate who I’m playing with without risking a lot of money. After playing a few rounds, I realized that the gentleman to my right would only bet with odd hands and would fold. He was very irritable and nervous, and folded hard when he got angry. The gentleman on the left will also play high odds hands, but I do see him calling bets with some less risky hands. The gentleman across the table was a bravado, always smirking with a pair of dark glasses on his face. I challenged this guy a few times and paid to see his cards because I thought he had nothing. A lot of the time, I was right and still beat him with average. I could go on, but you get my point: All poker players and investors bring their emotions to the table.

I won’t detail the exact rules of playing poker, but I can tell you that only two players need to bet each round, while the other eight players can look at their first two cards without risking a dime. My game of choice is Texas Hold’em, a game that’s popular across the country right now, and it excites me when I’m in that environment. The two players who need to bet represent the big blind and the small blind. If you are the dealer or another player at the table, you can see your first two cards for free without placing a bet. If the hand is weak, you can fold and keep your bet.

This is where it gets interesting; if I have a decent hand, I can decide to call a bigger blind and see the next three cards on the flop, and it’s still a low risk investment. If the flop doesn’t provide the hand I need, I can fold right away and wait for the next play to cut my losses. The same goes for investing. If I realize an immediate loss, I can stop the loss and wait for the next opportunity without risking my farm. If the hand is good and I have a high probability of winning, I can call or raise. The fourth and fifth cards (turn and river) are placed on the table after the flop, and betting continues each round. Likewise, I can decide if I want to call, raise or stop my bet. The connection I’m trying to make with investing in the stock market and playing poker is directly related to reducing losses (breakeven and money management) and my odds of winning the game (in the stock market this could be called anticipation).

In my opinion, the best game to play at the casino is the $1-$2 No Limit game. This means blinds are kept to a minimum and you can see a flop for just a few bucks in many cases. The “infinite” aspect allows your upside potential to be unlimited, and this will carry through through the investment. The upside potential of investing can also be unlimited if you cut your losses and ride your winnings, especially when using options (but that’s another discussion). Last night, I was able to see my first two cards for free, eight out of every ten hands, and fold if they weren’t good. If they’re good, I’ll put money on the table based on what I think. In the real world, in the world of stock investing, you should always put your money behind your best ideas. Subsequent gains or losses will tell you whether you are right. Also, countless times in this article, the most important part of both games is cutting your losses and moving on without incorporating emotion into the decision making.

All investors and poker players bring emotions to the table, some have better control over them while others use better systems and understand the odds at a higher level. The bottom line is to be aware of your surroundings and use a sound system to improve your odds. Never bet on a hand that has little chance of winning, and never take a loss that could multiply overnight. Cut your losses and get out of the game and wait for the next opportunity because they are always around the corner.

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