The stock market should clearly be taking the summer off; you're planning on heading to the beach, visiting relatives or relaxing by a pool.
So the focus now has to move from the competitive thrill of trading in the markets to the only thing that's important in the summer -- making sure you trounce every other family member and friend at all the critical games, notably Scrabble, poker and chess.
While all three games are relatively difficult to master, to be able to defeat the casual player requires only two things: your store of trading knowledge and a few simple tips, which you can absorb in a matter of minutes.
You want to dominate at this game so fiercely that people will think you've memorized the dictionary. Here's a few essentials.
First, know all of the legal two-letter words:
AA AD AE AH AI AM AN AR AS AT AW AX AY BA BE BI BO BY DA DE DO EF EH EL EM EN ER ES ET EX FA GO HA HE HI HO ID IF IN IS IT JO KA LA LI LO MA MI MU MY NA NO NU OD OE OF OH OM ON OP OR OS OW OX OY PA PE PI RE SH SI SO TA TI TO UN UP US UT WE WO XI XU YA YE
Note: these are the legal two-letter words in the
Official Scrabble Dictionary
, version 3. If your cousin happens to have version 4, which was just released, then you'll also need to know FE OI QI KI ZA. And be prepared to scoff and say, "Didn't you know that 'za' is slang for pizza in California?"
You will often be questioned on the definitions of many of these, even though it's not technically part of the game.
Be ready to quickly state, "Of course I know what 'xu' means -- it's a form of Vietnamese currency," or "You didn't know that 'ai' is a three-toed sloth?"
And, for the icing on the cake, to guarantee that you will win every game, don't forget that QAT, QANAT, QAID, and QOPH are all legal scrabble words.
In other words, most Scrabble players think their vocabulary is great -- like most casual investors think they are good stock pickers, most drivers think they are above average and most poker players think they are great bluffers -- so doing a little basic homework is enough to gain a significant edge.
Simply knowing the two-letter words is enough to win every game against the casual player, but if you add in the Q-without-U words, you'll be unstoppable.
Everyone wants to play Texas Hold 'Em these days, thanks to the popularity of poker on TV. But while your friends and relatives are trying to imitate the greats they observe on the screen, you'll be taking their money.
The trick? Don't ever bluff.
Everyone wants to have fun. And poker is not a fun game when played properly. With correct play, only two to four hands an hour are usually playable.
But if you have only a single evening to play with your friends, most people want to play many hands, and that involves bluffing. Therein lies the death of their game.
So only play great hands that you believe are the best, bet your fullest, and then watch as your bluffing friends bet till the end and lose all their chips. If you have a pair of nines and the other players raise, save your money and just fold.
This is similar in the stock market to not putting all of your hopes on an earnings call or one court ruling or one customer remaining loyal. Rather, a safer strategy is to look for companies with great balance sheets, strong cash flows and potential for growth, instead of those stocks that can live or die on one FDA trial.
This is a harder one to advise on, because I spent many wasted years in my youth trying to master this game.
But the one simple trick I can offer if you're playing a casual game is that for every move, make sure all of your pieces are protected by at least two other pieces.
This was basically the ultradefensive technique of 1960s world champion Tigran Petrosian, who was famous for rarely losing a game. This is similar to investing, where you would seek out stocks that have a backdoor in case your initial investment thesis didn't work out. For example, if you were buying a stock based on a merger-arb deal, you'd make sure that if the deal falls through the company has enough asset value to still support its current stock price or higher.
Of course, there are countless other games to consider, from cards (gin rummy, hearts, crazy eights) to classic board games like go, checkers, Chinese checkers and even Connect Four.
Card games all have their particular tricks, so I will leave those alone for now.
But for all of the board games -- and this works equally well for each of the games listed above -- a good rule of thumb is to always move toward the center and leave the wings to the opponent.
With Chinese Checkers, only move to the center and build a ladder from your triangle to your opponents. Leave the sides alone.
Even in Connect Four, stick to the center -- avoid the side columns at all costs, unless you have to block a four-in-a-row -- and have as many three-in-a-rows as possible.
At the end of the game, you will find that you are the lucky one who can put four-in-a-row in many different places.
And when you're basking in the glow of victory, you can always remind the other stunned players of the old chess saying: Only the good players are lucky.
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James Altucher is a managing partner at Formula Capital, an alternative asset management firm that runs several quantitative-based hedge funds as well as a fund of hedge funds. He is also the author of
Trade Like a Hedge Fund
Trade Like Warren Buffett
. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Altucher appreciates your feedback;
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