I recently checked in with some of the traders whose stories I shared in The Mental Game of Trading. As it turns out, several of them are currently working on sizing up their trades and it inspired me to focus on this topic, which, of course, also affects poker players as they work to move up in stakes.
Moving to that next level in trading or poker is a common goal that comes with some similar challenges. If you are having trouble making the jump, it becomes another mental game problem to solve. Work the process, use the Mental Hand History, map your pattern, and get to the root so you can continue to excel.
Before I talk about common issues, however, let me first point out a difference in sizing up in trading vs. increasing stakes in poker. In trading, for many of you, you’re taking positions in markets with enough liquidity that increasing size doesn’t change the game. You’re just adding size with the aim of making more money. And while this step is hard for some of you to make, you don’t need to acquire new technical skills.
In poker, on the other hand, you’re often playing against tougher opponents. Of course, you could also play in big private games vs. worse opponents, but most of the time, when you move up you’re not just playing for more money, you also need to adjust to the game and improve your skills to face tougher regulars. So in addition to the info I’ve outlined below, you should also be looking closely at the weak points getting exploited.
Stage in Career
Whether you’re a poker player or trader, you’re increasing size or stakes with the goal of making more money. Not surprisingly this move up the mountain causes problems that can often derail you. Moving up adds pressure, which exposes weaknesses. The issues those exposed weaknesses cause can be very similar across professions but will likely differ in the degree of severity based on the stage of your career. One thing to account for is how big of a jump is this really?
If you’re an established pro, sizing up may be noteworthy but it’s a move higher on an existing mountain that you’ve already climbed to a pretty decent height. For you daily wins/losses are more noteworthy either because you have to acclimate to bigger numbers, the utility of that money is significant, or you’re closer to reaching goals that you’ve long envisioned.
That’s different than for those who are not quite established but extremely close to being a pro or doing this full-time. For you, the money is important, but you’re also trying to prove yourself. If increasing size/stakes is tied to going full time, it is a two-fold event. You feel more pressure as you get closer to making that move because you don’t want to fail this close to the finish line, and that’s even more intense when you’re dissatisfied with your current situation and see poker/trading as a way out.
Lastly, if you’re just starting out, remember that moving up prematurely is a big mistake and often leads to blown accounts and bankrolls. Make sure you are ready.
To dive deeper on problems you might see, below are some examples of common issues that can show up at any stage.
When you are positioning yourself so that there is more money on the line, wins and losses stick out more in your mind. You pay more attention to the actual money and make comparisons to the utility of that money in other areas of your life. Thoughts like “That’s like making/losing a mortgage payment in one day” or “I could buy a car right now with that amount of money” can crop up. You’re thinking about it less from a pure business or performance standpoint. One tip to remember is to always think from a percentage or buy-in standpoint, otherwise you’re enticing your mind to think about the monetary value.
Working hand-in-hand with an increased amount of money is your fear of losing that money. This can cause you to lock up profit prematurely or quit profitable games when you are up a couple of buy-ins. The question is – why are you fearing the loss of money? Is it simply because you are losing more than you did before? Or does it relate to your goals and aspirations, as though losing more would be a step backward? Does it affect your confidence, because for you money equals confidence? Or is it related to your competitiveness and the pain of losing and losing more hurts more so you are trying to avoid more pain? Remember, no matter what, if you are going to correct this fear you must understand what the money represents to you and correct any flaws surrounding it.
You may also become too perfectionistic and put additional pressure on yourself to get it right. Should variance make an appearance and you get unlucky, you may find that anger is quicker to rise. And, last but not least, increasing in size or stakes requires confidence and you may need to boost yours.
The hunger that drives you to work really hard can drive you to want to make a lot of money fast. The play big or go home, the all or nothing style, feels exciting and heroic. But it’s risky. And it rarely allows you to develop the skills that will allow you to thrive long-term. We often hold up the rare few who were able to do it as inspirational figures that tell you it’s possible so then your attempts to replicate it become an unknown gamble.
Impatience is focused purely on the result and not on the skill that underpins those results, something that you can’t shortcut. And given the short-term variance in both trading and poker, if you happen to get lucky, make sure that you consciously step back, so your skills can catch-up.
Truly resolving a problem requires that progress can hold up under the most difficult circumstances that you want to be competing in. And as you are competing in different sets of circumstances, every level has its own challenge, whether it’s external or internal. That added complexity can bring out either different dimensions of an old problem or the same problem at this new level. Again this is why I like the term ‘Mental Game’ – there’s a never ending evolution that you need to account for.
At lower size/stakes, issues with perfectionism, anger, fear, etc., may have been resolved. You felt in command and that naturally led you to aspire to more. But it’s very, very common for there to be a resurgence of issues you had previously considered solved. The added pressure can bring them out so the best thing to do is to be prepared for them so that if they do come back you’re ready and, if they don’t, you’re happy.
The worst situation I see is traders or poker players who are unprepared, inevitably their issues come back, and they get angry, fearful, or lose confidence because they did. This feels like a big set-back, as though all of their prior mental game work was wasted, but that’s not true at all! They were just unprepared for another battle.
There is an element of conditioning to achieving this goal. You literally have to get used to the numbers. Your bet sizing and position sizing will be different than in the past and you will have to get used to the swings that occur in a session. Beyond that, you know what you need to do. Work the process. Get out those Mental Hand Histories. See what comes up for you and then work through the steps to identify and correct the hidden flaws, biases, wishes and illusions.
Lastly, the A to C-Game Analysis is also a great tool to rely on here because it keeps you focused on execution and process. This tool provides you with an objective way of measuring your day-to-day performance in a non-monetary way. The variance in trading and poker can wreak havoc with your mind, when winning and losing aren’t entirely thanks to your decisions. Plus, the A to C-Game Analysis keeps you pushing to maintain A-game performance, regardless of short-term results.
Increasing size/stakes can be an exciting and pivotal moment in your career. I wish you all the best!