Gambler's View: A Trader Champions His Place in History

A colorful read on one man's Wall Street career.
Author:
Publish date:

Martin "Buzzy" Schwartz, with Dave Morine and Paul Flint

Pit Bull: Lessons from Wall Street's Champion Trader

HarperBusiness, 1998. 304 pages.

I'm of two views after reading Martin Schwartz's 300-page valentine to himself. One: Even for an options trader, the author has a hefty ego. Two: No options trader I know (I worked on the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange

during the go-go '80s and know plenty of them) seem to recall Wall Street's "Champion Trader." Go figure.

That said, Schwartz's book offers a revealing glimpse inside the mind and stomach of a Wall Street trader, truly one of nature's coarser species. Schwartz performed well during his years on the

American Stock Exchange

, trading options, futures and anything else that came down the pike. He made millions, launched his own mutual fund and bought a mansion in East Hampton, Long Island, back when a million dollars was real money.

Schwartz's take on trading is that it's better to show up in the trading pits with nerves of steel and a killer instinct than with a diploma from

Harvard Business School

. That was probably true in the bare-fisted '80s, but it is less so today, as the quantitative analysis guys from

Wharton Business School

have demonstrated.

The author is honest and candid in his assessment of himself as a glorified gambler, who shucked a comfy security analyst gig at

E.F. Hutton

at age 37 to make it on his own on the AMEX. His love of horse racing, Vegas and sports gambling leaps right off the pages at you.

In one memorable passage, Schwartz spends an entire night on a New Hampshire skiing trip in his car, frantically spinning the radio dial in a vain effort to locate the score on the Louisville-Memphis State basketball game that could either even things with his bookie or leave him $12,000 in the hole. Anyone who's ever bet on a horse or a ball game can feel the pulse-pounding action in their nerve endings.

In the pits, Schwartz was a self-described counter puncher in a business where timing is everything. Eyes locked in on the glowing numbers above the market maker's head, Scwhartz would spot an opening, hit it and jump out again in a matter of minutes. "In and out, in and out," he writes. "Bob and weave, a point here and a point there. I didn't take wild swings because I never wanted to do anything that would jeopardize my family's security. I outpointed the market by trying to win every round, and if I could help it, I never put myself into a position where I could be knocked out." For 200 days a year, Schwartz would tread water and wait for his chance to strike. On those 50 or so trading days, Schwartz would clean house to the tune of $5 million a year, every year.

The best parts of the book are when the author is recalling his early days on the trading floor in the late 1970s, trading

Mesa International

puts or South African gold stocks. The instructional passages -- and there are many -- are standard trader drivel about knowing when to walk away from a bad trade or keeping your priorities straight. There is a great riff on Schwartz' experience at a snooty painting auction -- and I wished there was more of the author's obviously colorful attitudes about having too much money.

If you can get past the eye-rolling platitudes on what it takes to be a great trader, with the author metaphorically clearing his throat and pointing to himself as such an example, the book is a colorful read on the life of a Wall Street trader. Make that a "champion" trader.

Brian O'Connell is a Framingham, Mass.-based freelance writer who has contributed to the Boston Herald, Worth, Communications Week and many other publications. He was senior editor at DEC Professional magazine and contributing writer at LAN Computing magazine from 1989 to 1994. Previously, he worked at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange in the 1980s and as a bond trader on the fixed-income trading desk of Delaware Funds. TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon purchases by customers directed there from TheStreet.com.