CMU: Are You a Victim of Beginner’s Luck?

By Jani Ziedins | Free CMU

Oct 16

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CMU: Are You a Victim of Beginner’s Luck?

Hang around trading circles and you inevitably hear of a phenomena called beginner’s luck. This is where a new person experiences unusually good fortune. How can a new person be more lucky than the experienced traders around him? Let’s investigate.

Statistics make a compelling argument a beginner has no better odds of success in a game of chance than someone who has been doing it for a while. Let’s simplify it to a game of betting on a coin-flip. If he predicts heads and the coin lands heads, he wins. If the coin lands tails, he loses. Simple enough.

Assuming a fair coin and toss, we would expect the outcome to be totally random for both the novice and the experienced coin-flip guesser. If there is zero ability to predict the outcome, skill has nothing to do with it and the result is down to random luck. Under these rules, a beginner and an experienced coin-flip guesser will have same level of success, on average winning half the time. Despite superstitious beliefs to the contrary, in games of chance a beginner has no more opportunity to be lucky than the experienced coin-flip guesser.

In a game of skill, you would definitely expect a more experienced participant to do better than a novice. An 18-year-old who has been playing football since he was six would most likely enjoy more success in a pickup football game than another 18-year-old foreigner who has never seen a football game.

It doesn’t take a genius to know the more you practice something, the better you get. This makes sense and no doubt applies to trading. But the skill that comes from experience implies the exact opposite of beginner’s luck. In most instances the novice will vastly underperform the experienced professional.

So where does this notion of beginner’s luck come from? Is there a way it can still be true despite these logical and compelling arguments against beginner’s luck?

The one thing we haven’t considered yet is human nature. A person who loses a lot of money in their first handful of trades will most likely quit in disgust. After losing $5k, $10k, or $20k in their first handful of trades, they will most likely come to the conclusion the market is rigged and it cannot be won. They quit and never look back.

But the opposite is true for a person who experienced early success. If a person makes $5k, $10k, or $20k on their first few trades, they think they have a knack for trading and become addicted to the thrill of winning. Without a doubt the people who experience early success are far more likely to stick with it and keep coming back. That early success will even convince traders to stick with it after a period of losses because in their heart they know they are good at this. It is only a matter of time before their cold streak ends and their luck improves.

So while it is true a beginner has no better odds of success in a game of chance, and a worse odds of success in a game of skill, beginner’s luck is still a very real phenomena in trading circles. That is because of survivor’s bias. Early losers quit and only the traders who enjoyed early success stuck around. Tha means in any groups of experienced traders, most of them started with a hot streak.

Unfortunately beginner’s luck is not sustainable and all too often trader’s mistakenly believe their early good fortune was due to skill, not luck. Rather than dig in and learn from more experienced traders, they assume they have this game figured out and don’t need any help. Their early success convinced them they already know everything they need to know. Only after they lose their first stake do they start looking for outside guidance.

If you are reading this, most likely you experienced some early success and that encouraged you to keep at it. But now things have gotten harder and losses are more common than profits. While it hurts, realizing trading is not easy is actually a good thing. And if you figured this out early, count yourself lucky. Traders who experiences too much early success keep upping the size of their trades until inevitable fall goes from emotionally demoralizing, to financially ruinous.

I’m glad you found this blog and my goal is to help other traders learn from my years of struggles and successes. No matter what the late night infomercials claim, trading is hard and it takes work. The first step is educating yourself. The second step is gaining firsthand experience by trading smaller sizes. The goal isn’t to make money, but to learn how to trade. The best way to approach the market in the beginning is viewing your account as the amount you are willing to pay in tuition. If you have $100k, start trading $20k. If you have $10k, start trading $2k. This way when you get wiped out, you have the ability learn from your mistakes and start over. Give yourself enough time to learn from your mistakes and your chances of success go way up.

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About the Author

Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and financial analyst that has successfully traded stocks and options for nearly three decades. He has an undergraduate engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines and two graduate business degrees from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes engineering at Fortune 500 companies, small business consulting, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two children.