I am fascinated by the markets and all things related to investing. I have always enjoyed solving puzzles and various brainteasers. I enjoy deep-thinking games and activities that involve a constant change of information. One of my favorite games to play is poker. I love the game for the challenge it presents—playing the cards, playing the people, playing the odds—all while not letting emotions get the best of you.
With each round of betting, new information is learned and a new decision tree is spawned. Each hand delivers a range of potential outcomes and, depending on how you play the hand, you can either end up adding chips to your stack or biding your time for a better opportunity. Poker is a game of skill; however, even the best, most disciplined players will not win every time because there is a level of uncertainty with each hand played. Despite that uncertainty in the short term, over the long term the right strategy combined with a disciplined approach often becomes a winning strategy.
In this way, poker is very similar to investing. Having the right investment strategy and staying disciplined often leads to long-term success. In poker, you combine various cards of different suits and numbers to create the best hand. With investing, your “hand” is a diversified portfolio and it contains a combination of various asset classes (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.). When investing (just like in poker), some combinations are better than others, based on the specific goal. Depending on what type of poker you are playing, sometimes the best hand wins and other times, technically speaking, the worst hand wins (Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw, for instance). Similarly, when it comes to investing, if you do not know the objective or the goal, then it is often difficult to know which “hand” of assets will give you the best chance to achieve the outcome you are seeking.
To have long-term success in poker or investing you must have a disciplined approach. Oftentimes people believe poker to be a game of excitement and thrills; however, those who play poker professionally are affectionately referred to as “grinders” for spending long hours playing through the monotony of poker, hand after hand, in order to make a living. When people think of investing, they conjure images of day traders or getting rich overnight, but, when done correctly, investing is boring. As the renowned investor George Soros once quipped, “If investing is entertaining, if you’re having fun, you’re probably not making any money. Good investing is boring.” Whether playing poker or investing, making educated decisions based on the information available as well as the probabilities related to historical outcomes is necessary to consistently make decisions with confidence.
In the short term, it is difficult, if not impossible, to consistently predict the outcome. For instance, during a single day, the markets will either be positive or negative, and in poker you can do everything right, with the odds in your favor, and still end up losing a hand. If this continually happens, without a plan or a strategy, it can be frustrating and can sometimes lead to poor decisions driven by emotions. In poker, a player making emotional decisions no longer based on strategy is considered to be playing “on tilt,” whereas an investor making emotional decisions is often acting out of fear—fear of losing in a market downturn or fear of missing out (FOMO) during a market rally. Regardless of the activity, poker or investing, emotional decisions typically lead to poor decisions with unpredictable outcomes.
The goal then is to be aware of these emotions so when they appear you can objectively evaluate your decisions to determine whether the correct action is being taken. How do you do this? In poker, you can work with a coach to evaluate your play and review how you played during specific situations to ensure you are always playing with the optimal strategy. In investing, you can work with an advisor to create a financial plan based on your specific goals to determine your appropriate long-term strategy. Either way, having an independent third party can be a valuable resource to keep you on track.
Uncertainty can be challenging, but it can also create opportunities. Remember this the next time you get together for your monthly poker game or are analyzing your investments. In order to capitalize on an opportunity, you must first identify the goal. Then, with the goal in mind, you can create and implement the correct strategy. That will allow you to stay disciplined and consistently take the appropriate actions. And then, when emotions come into play (and they always will), to improve your chances for long-term success, have a system or person in place to help with decisions to counteract those emotions. Do this consistently and over time you will find success at the tables and in your portfolio.