Book review: Veteran traders telling their fascinating war stories

“Hedge Fund Market Wizards: How Winning Traders Win” by Jack D. Schwager

It’s been a while since the last time I read New Market Wizards, when I was in university. And since then a lot of developments have occurred in the financial markets, including the rapid evolution of hedge funds. This 4th sequel of market wizards shows how far the industry has evolved. The wizards interviewed in the book are more technical, discussing more complex methods of trading, in an environment very different than the previous interviews.

Like the previous Market Wizards books, and indeed just like in the market, the trading methods or philosophy applied by the wizards could not be more different from one another. Some even directly contradict one another, with surprisingly good results for each of them. This, of course, remains the underlying message of the Market Wizards books: bottom line, we need to figure out who we are and what kind of strategies could work with our temperament and world view.

One interesting remark made by Jack Schwager when people were asking him to introduce them to one of the wizards, to work under their apprenticeship and learn about their methods/system that bring success, in which he answers that it will be useless because the main point is to develop our own trading system that cater to our character. Just like Colm O’shea said “If I try to teach you what I do, you will fail because you are not me. If you hang around me, you will observe what I do, and you may pick up some good habits. But there are a lot of things you will want to do differently.”

Nevertheless, as different as these Wizards can be, they all share some similar traits that become the foundation of their trading approach.

First and foremost, they’re all very dilligent about risk management, minimizing risk is almost the most sacred part of each one of these traders. They also trade only the size they’re comfortable with. To them the market is always right, Steve Clark commented that the market is not about facts but people’s opinion and positions that reflects their opinions, and they aren’t afraid to cut losses when they’re wrong. In a similar tone, Scott Ramsey said that there is one principle that you cannot violate: know what you can lose.

Meanwhile, as one wizards believe that price is not actually important (instead the size of your position is more crucial, to determine whether or not you can get out quickly), Edward Thorp complement this view by saying don’t bet more than you are comfortable with (and just take your time until you’re ready). Moreover, Jamie Mai highlighted that finding answers is much easier when you know in advance what the questions are, and another wizard gives the simplest wisdom of all when he said do what you do best, and so less of what you do badly.

Furthermore, as different as they may be, almost all of them point out the fact that profit is nice but it wont teach us anything, and one of the most important parts of trading is to make as much mistakes as we can, learn from them, and create our own system to avoid those mistakes.

And the interviews in this book provide us with exactly that, the raw and honest stories about their hopes, fears, and doubts, and their struggle and journey from nothing to become one of the best in the world. It is also, perhaps more importantly, about the long road on how they come to acquire/develop the skills or tools or principles that they eventually use to make them very successful (like Ray Dalio’s principles, which he then expanded into a very good book). And it’s all very human, and the lessons are also very applicable in any walks of life other than trading.

Just like the format in Dale Carnegie’s books, by the end of each chapter Jack Schwager provides a concluding paragraph to sum up the interviews, which is very helpful. But the real gem of the book is definitely the conclusion chapter, where everything are summarized so neatly, in which Schwager lists the ultimate 40 Market Wizards lessons, which, of course, I won’t spoil in this review.

This would definitely be the 1st book I recommend on anyone asking about trading/investing. An absolutely useful real-life manual for the battle on the financial market ground.

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