Gambler's Conceit

Since trading forex involves taking risk, much like gambling, traders would do well to learn from some of the mathematical concepts that underlie the theory of gambling.

That high leverage is dangerous is well-known to most people, but it is not unusual to make spectacular profits with a highly leveraged account, just as it is not unusual to throw three heads in a row during a coin-tossing competition. The sad fact is that even those spectacular profits are highly likely to be wiped out if the trader continues to make bets utilizing high leverage, as we examined in the previous articles on gambling strategies in forex. The inability of the trader to get rid of high leverage after a bout of successful trades is related to a concept called the “gambler’s conceit”. The gambler’s conceit is not caused by high leverage only, but we will limit our discussion of this subject to high leverage since it’s so common among traders.

How Gambler's Conceit Shows up When Trading Forex

Many of us have that genie beside our ears who whispers to us all the time that risking too much is not a problem because we are wise enough to exit a risky bet while still running profits. High leverage may be wrong, undercapitalization may be dangerous, but our trades have so far been profitable, and as soon as the profits diminish or losses are being registered, we will close our positions, and exit the game, be it gambling with cards or gambling with forex.

It's very convincing. After all, why would one want to risk losing the profits of such a risky practice as high leverage? What is the point of continuing to practice a losing strategy even after your profits have been halved by a string of losses?

Many beginning traders who make a lot of money randomly in the forex market in a short period of time are convinced that it is their method, style, attitude that makes those large profits possible. On the other hand, the experience and knowledge possessed by a trader at the start of his career is insufficient for practicing self-control or employing money management methods successfully. Thus, in many cases (but not always), the doubling, or tripling of the account of a new trader is just a chance event, regardless of the rationalizations which the trader uses to explain his situation. What is more, even in the case of a highly successful, highly disciplined trader, the occasional very large profits are not at all a sign of increased efficiency or better understanding: There’s nothing extraordinary about the occasional extremes in a trader’s career. Instead of emphasizing them too much, and thinking about what he did right or wrong to deserve such large profits or losses, the seasoned trader will evaluate them for what they are: statistical anomalies on which neither a career, nor a trading strategy can be based.

The Gambler’s conceit prevents such a rational explanation. Instead of understanding the gains after highly-leveraged bets as random developments, the trader ties these results to his own exceptional luck, skill, or insight in evaluating the market action, or to his superior trading strategy, and convinces himself that he will be able to terminate his trading activity due to his controlling power over his trading results. With such false confidence, when the inevitable large losses occur he will ponder on what went wrong with his trade, which indicator, which scheme he needs to revise and refine, instead of accepting and understanding that gains on highly leveraged bets are illusory, and unlikely to remain with him permanently. When a peer confronts him about the unusually high leverage of his trades, and his irrational expectation that he can keep profiting with such high risks, he will protest by mentioning his past successes.

In fact, gains on a highly leveraged account have the potential to be even more destructive than losses. Losses will teach the trader to be humble, and will lead him to revise his methods. Gains, on the other hand, will addict him to his errors. Sadly, such an addiction can only be broken by the pain of a totally wiped-out account sometimes. Fortunately for you, we’re here to warn you about the dangers associated with this risky practice.

Avoid Gambler's Conceit

The best remedy of the gambler’s conceit is avoidance of the addiction entirely. Instead of consoling yourself that you will give up the practice once the profits are gone, convince yourself to never begin the unhealthy game. Do not aim at exceptional results; aim at consistency. But if you find that you’re already deep into the game of high leverage and risky practices, our advise to you is to cut it off right now, without waiting for the losses to show up. Just close the chapter, quit trading for a while, and a few weeks later, or maybe a month, restart your career by practicing sane and sensible strategies this time. Not only will you find intellectual satisfaction at having overcome a dangerous addiction, you will also have a profitable path before yourself as you improve your skills, recognize your errors.

One well established method for forex traders to avoid falling into the far too tempting trap of Gambler's Conceit is to develop and follow a trading plan strictly. Such a trading plan should be simple to follow and give clear directions on how to scan and analyze the forex market for potentially profitable trades. It should also provide the forex trader with an objective means of deciding when to enter the market, as well as when to exit the market for either a small loss or - hopefully - a larger profit.

A key accompaniment to having such a plan is the successful trading mindset that incorporates the discipline needed to stick to the plan. Having this psychological commitment helps prevent costly losses from accumulating and can also keep any tendency toward Gambler's Conceit well in check. Basically, the degree to which they plan their trading activities typically helps distinguish the forex gambler who is randomly speculating on forex market movements for quick profits from the forex trader who views their trading activities as a business that they wish to earn money from consistently over time.

To repeat, brief periods of enormous profits is never the purpose of a successful trader. Such periods are always temporary, and the false confidence that becomes instilled your psyche is often destructive to your career as a trader: aim at consistent profits, do not aim at very high profits.

Further reading:

Read up on forex money management

Read how to design your forex trading plan.

Read more about leverage and its risks.

Learn how to avoid the Martingale strategy and the gambler's fallacy.

Risk Statement: Trading Foreign Exchange on margin carries a high level of risk and may not be suitable for all investors. The possibility exists that you could lose more than your initial deposit. The high degree of leverage can work against you as well as for you.