Sunday, 26 February 2012

Performance Anxiety

I wanted to write a bit about a great article in the FT Magazine by John Carlin entitled The Tragedy of Fernando Torres

Originally discussed on Peter Webb's Bet Angel Blog, the article talks about Fernando Torres's loss of form and how performance anxiety can affect sportsmen and women. A few excerpts which caught my eye:

“What it all shows,”........“is how fragile the mind can be, how subconscious elements can combine to trigger problems where, on past form and experience, they rationally should not exist.”

I think us traders can all relate to that!

“There are times,” Solari said, “when you feel as if you are an unstoppable phenomenon of nature. There’s a happy convergence of the mental and the physical in your game and your confidence just grows and grows. It all seems so natural. But then you have a bad game, and then another one and you start to get anxious, and you feel each time you go out and play as if you’re walking down a step, with one brick, and then another one, weighing you down. Before you know it you’ve walked down so many steps and the bricks have piled up to such a point that you feel as if you were lying buried under a big building.”

Replace the words 'game' and 'play' with 'trade' and it would accurately represent the extremes of trading and how things can so quickly turn from the good to the terrible.

Fernando Torres is an extreme case who has succumbed to “a dynamic in which everything you did before effortlessly becomes impossible, and then you try harder, working double as much, but things only get worse.”

John Murray, who before becoming a sports psychologist was a professional tennis player, also attaches blame to “overthinking” and counsels that for Torres to overcome what he describes as “catastrophic performance anxiety” he must try to play as he did when he was a child, “happily, for fun”.

This describes perfectly the way I was trading almost exactly a year ago, a period where I tried so hard and analysed so much but it all just seemed to make things worse. I realised that it was anxiety that was the reason I couldn't get out of the rut:

Down the Well

This 'performance anxiety' reached a peak at the time, exacerbated by the fact that I 'needed' the money but my bank size was tiny and money management poor. Today, I enjoy trading much more because I have a style of trading that suits me better and this twinned with much better bank management, no complete reliance on the income source and a risk-averse strategy, mean that I am able to trade without anxiety.

I also find that 'over-thinking' is becoming much less of a habit. My experience as a tennis trader now totals around 5000 hours (still 5000 short of the supposed 10,000 quoted by Malcolm Gladwell, required to become an expert!) and I'm now much more trusting of my instinct. As a result, things are starting to become more and more automatic for me and as each week goes by, my confidence is becoming stronger and stronger. I guess you could say, I'm starting to feel possibly how Fernando Torres felt when he was at Liverpool! Let's hope his Chelsea days are not on the horizon..........

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 14, Serbia's Jelena Jankovic:

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Unlucky but Unscathed

This week has been the most unlucky week of tennis trading I've ever experienced. I've lost more money before and I've traded far, far worse before but I've never had such a horrendous run of bad luck. If something could go against me during a match, it has. I've lost count of the number of missed break-points that have cost me good greens. So many times I've seen my exit point in sight, only to be whipped away at the last moment. Even worse, when I've decided not to get involved in a game, it's almost inevitably been a game that would've landed me a massive win. And the players almost seem to be conspiring against me; failing to serve out sets on regular occasions, throwing away huge leads and going off the boil straight after playing a superb game. Of course I understand that these things will happen in tennis but the amount of times it happened this week was simply amazing! I would say that I normally experience a run this bad maybe 3 or 4 times a year. This has been my worst yet. It got to the point where I was ready to blow like Vesuvius but this is where the good news comes in - I held it together.

It's easy to feel a sense of injustice during weeks like this and to lose your cool and start chasing. I'm quite proud that I did none of the above. In fact, I would say that I've come out of this week an even better trader. Mentally, I am definitely stronger. I can guarantee I would've been going nuts last year. Check out this post from exactly a year ago to see the difference!


I would say I've eradicated most of the issues mentioned in that post, although still, a year on, it is the lack of patience which is still the dominating factor that is stunting my progress. Even at the end of that post, you can see that I knew exactly what I needed to be doing but still, another 9 or 10 months later, I was making the same mistakes.

That said, I feel that the sheer weight of bad luck I've had to deal with all week has caused me to really work hard on my temperament, discipline and patience. As a result, I think I may have turned another corner. There were one or two things I was still a little unsure about going into this week but the fact that I've had to fight to keep my reds low consistently, has helped me to iron out a few issues. If I can keep trading to this standard, I should really be able to kick-on now because I'm never going to have a week with as much bad luck as this again. To come out of it relatively unscathed and even more confident, is possibly even better than having a profitable week.

Sometimes you need to be tested in order to find out your limitations. If you've been through the worst that can possibly be thrown at you and come out the other side, then you really don't have anything left to fear. Saturday and Sunday were arguably the best 2 days of trading I have ever done. Not because I made more than ever before or because I had no losses but because I was 100% confident and fearless with what I was doing. Monday to Friday was a real struggle to keep my sanity in tact but by the weekend (despite the fact I was STILL not getting much luck!) I was trading with much greater clarity. I realised that I had probably got through the worst of it and so wasn't fighting any negative emotion anymore. And when you have that complete lack of fear of the market, you have won half the battle.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 249 (still coming back after long illness lay-off, during which time she flirted with politics!), Anna Chakvetadze of Russia:

Friday, 10 February 2012

You Cannot Be Serious, Man?!

I wanted to write today about the seriousness of trading. Over the past few weeks, I've received a few comments and read a few blog posts and forum discussions that made me construe that there are far too many people who take trading way too seriously. Whilst I believe that you need to be professional in your outlook and to be serious in implementing that, I think it is too easy for people to lose their sense of humour in doing so. I've always maintained that gambling + internet + male ego = anger. You put a bunch of mostly young, male, perennial losers (in the gambling sense) behind the anonymity of a computer screen and you have a recipe for arguments and hate-filled scorn. That's why betting forums can often be quite ill-tempered places.

Even those of us who aren't looking for a virtual scrap, can get sucked into this. Whilst I think analysis is good and can only help you in your progress, I think sometimes we traders can look too deeply into things and get caught up in debates that, whilst interesting, can become very draining. Keyboard Warriors and Trolls are inevitable in this environment and these are the people with the most anger and consequently, the smallest sense of humour. I'm not excluding myself from this at all. I know that I've been angry in the past and perhaps taken this game too seriously but one thing I've never done is take that anger out on someone else in a malicious manner.

There are people out there who are just scouring the net looking for an opportunity to take a dig at someone. In this gambling world, unfortunately, the percentage of these trolls seems high compared to most other online communities and I think it's because people who are losing often hate to see people who are winning. And if there is no one successful to have a go at, they will try and belittle someone who is struggling (the same as they are) - just as in the old school playground.

After several years in this environment, there has come a point now where I just want to have a laugh rather than get involved in too much heated debate. The most important thing in life for me, is laughter. But when I get into the trading bubble, that humour sometimes goes missing, either directly due to my trading or due to what someone else has written. It's not in my nature to be argumentative or negative but sometimes I get dragged down by the whole trading environment. I think I need to find a way of finding the humour within trading, without losing the ethos of this blog, which was always about me being honest about my trading experiences. I think it will actually help me with my trading, to have that healthier balance, so I'm in a better frame of mind when on the ladders.

OK, this post has got a bit depressing now so I'll finish with this:

How many traders does it take to change a light-bulb?

1 to buy it
2 to take it back, saying it was too expensive and had no value
5 to smugly claim they unscrewed the old bulb, miraculously sold it, bought a new one with the profit and are now 'all-green'
10 to give tips on how to fit it properly
20 to call the tipsters mugs
100 to take credit for changing the light-bulb, half an hour after it had been changed

That's the best I can come up with! If you can come up with a better answer, I'll stick it on my next post.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 40, Australia's head-case, Jarmila Gajdosova:

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Sound Familiar?


OK, I've been matched, now just wait and watch the green roll in!


First point goes against me, no worries, long way to go yet.


Only half-way till the game is won, not on my players serve so not a problem.


No point redding-up now, most of the market movement is finished.


OK, lost this game but my player will probably hold serve and I'll be all-square.


Only one point, no need to panic yet.


He'll probably focus more and pull out a couple of big serves here, then I'll red-up.


No point redding-up now, most of the market movement is finished.


FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!! Knew I should have redded-up earlier!! No way I'm going all-red now, that's way too much. Looks like I'm all-in........just need a break here and I'm back in with a chance. COME OOOOOOOONN!!!!




F**** off you ****!!!


Is he tanking this?! Dirty f****** cheat!


OK, here we go, back in the game.


Yes, that's it, just one more point!


YEEEESSS!!! I knew it, this is it, I promise I'll red up if he wins this game!


YOU LITTLE BEAUTY!!! Please God, just one more point and I promise I'll never, ever let a red trade run this long again.


GET IN THERE YOU B******!!!!! I've got the momentum now and it's on serve. No point redding-up now. Just one more game.


Only one point.


If he comes back from here I'm gonna jump around the room, fist pumping and roaring at the top of my voice like a primeval animal and I don't give a toss who hears me.


Ah well, that's it, you've messed it all up again haven't you, you cretin. No chance now, no way in a million years he's coming back from that. I give up trading, can't be doing with this shit.


No, forget it, it's too late now you muppet. Why wait until now before bothering to try? Hopeless.


Come on mate, you can do it, this is much better, don't give up now!! Oh God please, just one more point!!


AH YOU MOTHERF******** PEICE OF **** B****** C****** W******!!!!! Thanks for getting my hopes up at the end there, you lazy git!

Why oh why didn't you just red-up at the start you idiot!?


I'll soon get it back on this next game............

**Just for those of you with no sense of humour, the above does not represent me and my trading. It's merely a parody of a scenario most tennis traders will have gone through at some point. I thought I'd be a little light-hearted today, as some people take trading far, far too seriously.........

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 15, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia:


Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Continuing from yesterday's post about 'rotating lessons' and the 7 trading lessons that appear to constantly rotate in our learning. Before I go on, I just want to re-iterate that this list is not a serious, defining set of trading laws. It was a list done off the top of my head in 5 minutes, so please, don't look too deeply into it! Here is that list of lessons again:

1. Don't chase losses
2. Don't get greedy
3. Don't trade with amounts you can't afford to lose
4. Don't over-expose your bank on one trade
5. Don't cut winning trades short or let losing trades run
6. Don't get involved unless there's value
7. Don't trade when in the wrong frame of mind

All the others except for number 3 and 4, have come into play at some point this year. I was going to say I don't think I have chased losses but I actually think I may be guilty because there are two distinct ways in which we do this. The first is simply when we go 'on tilt', or the 'red mist' descends. We lose control of our emotions and it can last for days, weeks, even months. This is what I call 'overt chasing' - cos it's pretty bloody obvious we are chasing and we know that at the time, even if we won't admit it. We'll place straight bets, go 'all-in', try to win back specific amounts, over-stake, get involved in sports or markets we don't know much about etc.

But I think there's a second, more subtle variety of chasing. We often probably don't even know we are doing it. I call it 'subconscious chasing'. This is when you probably feel quite calm and think you've got things under control but underneath, you are still seething at an error. You won't do anything massively rash or risky and the bank will never be in danger but what you'll probably do is something like take on a price that is border-line value, which you'd normally ignore. Or you'll maybe stay in a trade a few minutes longer than usual, just to 'top-up' that green in line with what you may have lost. Or you'll find yourself wanting to trade for a bit longer than usual, despite the fact you may be tired or in a bad frame of mind.

It won't be anything major, nothing heart-stopping but nonetheless, it will be a slight stray from your usual strategy and if it goes wrong, can leave your mental state even worse. However, when you win, it will possibly just go down as a good trade or at least, you will tell yourself that and let it slide. Which is why subconscious trading can be almost as dangerous as overt chasing. With overt chasing, you KNOW what you did was wrong and no matter how much you might try, you can never truly convince yourself otherwise that even a win wasn't lucky (though many will sit in denial). But with subconscious chasing, the state of your trading won't necessarily come under firm scrutiny because you might not be noting this down as an error. This in itself, is a big mistake.

One of the hardest things for any trader to do, is to admit when their wins were lucky, or achieved through poor trading. But I think it's vital that you are able to be honest with yourself, otherwise, how are you ever going to improve? That's why whenever I make notes on my matches, I always jot down whether the green I got was achieved through the correct processes. If it wasn't, it often is because I've been subconsciously chasing. I haven't overtly chased for months now but I've definitely subconsciously chased on a few occasions. I know a lot of traders will say that 'green is green', which is a phrase I've seen a lot and don't like because it suggests that any green is OK, doesn't matter how you get it. This is incorrect - not all green is good! If you achieved it through doing the wrong things, especially by chasing, then green most definitely is not (good) green. And if you convince yourself that it is, it is highly likely you'll continue to trade that way until you finally, inevitably, become a cropper.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 10, Andrea Petkovic of Germany:

Monday, 6 February 2012

Rotating Lessons

I mentioned recently how I've been reading through Mark Iverson's blog from the beginning and this particular extract from almost 4 years ago, caught my eye:

I think I need to slow myself down, take the small wins when they present themselves and not get greedy. A situation I've been in many times before but it seems I'm still learning the same lessons. In fact, the more I think about it the more I realise that there's probably only a handful of trading lessons in total, only they rotate just as the last one gets forgotten.

This really struck a chord with me because I have thought this many times over the past 6 months or so. So what are these key trading lessons or rules? This is what I came up with:

1. Don't chase losses
2. Don't get greedy
3. Don't trade with amounts you can't afford to lose
4. Don't over-expose your bank on one trade
5. Don't cut winning trades short or let losing trades run
6. Don't get involved unless there's value
7. Don't trade when in the wrong frame of mind

I honestly cannot think of any aspect of trading that will not fit into these 7 categories (let me know if you think of any more!). Whenever we make mistakes, it's always down to one of these 7 issues (some of which over-lap a little e.g. chasing losses can lead to over-exposing your bank) and as Mark points out, you can often feel as though you've combated one of them but a few weeks or months later, it rears its ugly head again. It can feel like an endless cycle of trying not to slip back into bad old habits but in my opinion, there is only one way out of that cycle - work harder.

What I've found is, the more effort I put into analysing the root cause of each error and then finding new techniques to work on each cause, the more success I have at preventing those errors. The more I practiced and experienced each situation, the more I got better at dealing with these trading lessons. I'm not for one minute saying I've eradicated these problems but that in itself, is one trading lesson I've come to learn and accept above all else - you will NEVER eradicate all of those errors. I think the very best traders simply catch those errors earlier, deal with them more calmly and experience them much less.

I would hazard a guess that number 3 and 4 would probably be the only ones that a top trader will completely cease from doing. All the others I reckon almost everyone will continue to slip up on every now and then. The difference being, whilst it may have happened regularly at the beginning, it will maybe only be an issue a couple times a month or even a few times a year.

Currently, I would say number 5 has been the issue I've been struggling with most, especially getting those greens to run for longer. This eventually led directly to another of the trading lessons - number 2, greed. The previous week, I decided to go for more money, larger greens, by letting all my entry trades run through to conclusion. As you may remember, I wrote that this destroyed my excellent January with 14 straight reds! Had I not been greedy and traded as normal, I would have almost certainly achieved my best ever month of tennis trading. Law of the Sod.

More on this subject tomorrow.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 9, Na Li / Li Na of China:

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Happy Birthday!

As of today, Centre Court Trading is officially 1 year old. This was my first ever post from February 4th last year:


Reading back over that post really makes me cringe. I was feeling exuberant at the time, as though I'd discovered what the big secret was to trading and that it had been staring me in the face all-along. My talk of moving from 'boom and bust to profitability' and how the past year 'had been one of the most difficult challenges of my life', in particular make me feel rather foolish. The following period saw the exact same 'boom and bust' repeated for another 7 months and if I thought 2010 was difficult, it had nothing on 2011! As for 'the penny finally dropping', it may well have done as far as trading psychology was concerned (the theory if not the actual practice!) but that same penny still needed to be set in motion for just about every other aspect of trading - bank management, value spotting, discipline, professionalism etc.

I would say now, 12 months on, I am truly at the stage that this very first post describes. 'Boom and bust' has been gone for a few months now, replaced at first by a break-even period and I am now actually making small profit (over a relatively short period). The penny has definitely dropped in all major aspects of trading. And my first year of blogging can accurately be described as tumultuous, to say the least! But I am now ready to move to the next stage, which I hope will be the final stage - consistent profitability. Perhaps the biggest change over my year of blogging is that I no longer feel the pressure that I was under back then. Both financially and in terms of trying to look good on the blog, the pressure to do well really affected me at times and gave me way too much stress and anxiety.

February and March turned into absolute disasters in 2011. Believe it or not, my stakes were 5 times larger than what I use now! Astonishing when you think about it, though I do know of a lot of traders who went too big, too early and lowered stakes after a rough patch. It's no wonder I was so stressed and angry most of the time, having to manage those huge red figures. I'm a completely different trader now - much more realistic with my ambition and much calmer and more patient. Still not as patient as I could be though! It's going to be very interesting comparing where I was on the blog a year ago, each week. This was one of the reasons I began blogging, although I never would have guessed my progress would have been so slow - I thought I'd be another Mark Iverson by now!

I also never would have guessed I'd have almost 60,000 hits, which isn't too shabby for a first year in operation I guess! I just hope I'm still around in another year, only this time, with some decent profit to show for my troubles. Hope you'll keep following my journey - I've got a good feeling about year 2............

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 21 Germany's Gorgeous Goerges:

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Grand Slam Come-down

The week after a Grand Slam event is always a strange one. After the epic marathon of an Australian Open final, it's even stranger than usual this week. Back come the 250 events, with their eerily quiet morning sessions, polite, sparse applause, blurry internet coverage (where you can't see the ball half the time) and frequently incorrect scoreboards. Zagreb is a far cry from the excitement and pulsating atmosphere of Melbourne. Ricardo Mello v Diego Junquiera is hardly gonna wet the appetite after Djokovic v Nadal. But for me, I don't mind at all. These are the bread and butter weeks and I quite like the contrast. As all the football bettors return to the Premier League till summer, it's just us true tennis aficionados left and talk becomes a little more, shall we say, refined. OK, maybe not refined but certainly far less of 'Federer is Nadal's bitch, Nadal is the GOAT' etc etc.

Don't let anybody tell you that these smaller tournaments are not worth trading. It's absolute garbage, usually said by people who simply don't know the players names. Obviously, the quality of tennis is not going to match what you see in a Grand Slam event but that's no different to any sport. Do serious football traders ignore The Championship because they don't like the standard? Of course not! In fact, many will tell you that the best opportunities lie in the lower leagues, where people have less info and know less about what they are doing in the market. I can tell you for a fact that finding value is easier in these smaller events for the exact same reason.

One example was Dusan Lajovic v Matteo Viola. Lajovic was odds on fave and traded sub-1.2 when he went ahead in set 1. Yet Viola is not only ranked 50 places ahead of him but BEAT Lajovic only two weeks ago at the Australian Open! The only reason I can think Lajovic was priced so low was because he was playing in Croatia and maybe people got his nationality muddled up (he's Serbian, hardly likely to be a home favourite in Zagreb!). Or maybe his indoor record compared to Viola might've been seen as favourable but as Matteo beat him on a hard court, that makes little sense either (and their records aren't that different actually). Viola won 2-0.

Anyway, my point is, if you make the effort to know more than everyone else, the opportunities are there. The standard of the tennis is completely irrelevant. What difference does it make if you are seeing beautifully constructed rallies with stupendous winners smoking the lines like a speeding bullet? If you are entering the market because of the shot selections of a player, then you are entering for the wrong reasons. OK, you can argue it's easier to read a game if the quality is higher, as there are less mistakes and unforced errors but it's quite rare that two players play terribly at the same time. Besides, what the markets are doing is far more important than what the players are. There wasn't even a stream at all for that Lajovic-Viola game.

As long as you can get matched (rarely an issue on any televised tennis match plus, if you 'make' the market, it's still easy to get matched at value) and you are not going in blind, it doesn't matter if they are shanking every other ball into the net. It may be more fun watching Nadal and Djokovic battling it out like unearthly warriors but that doesn't mean you are any more likely to make money (unless you are playing around with huge figures and if you are, why the hell are you reading this?! Get back on your yacht!).

Besides, people speak as if there is no good tennis played at 250 level. Already this week there's been Davydenko, Youzhny, Almagro, Melzer, Baghdatis, Gasquet - some of the finest players to grace the ATP not only currently but EVER. And it's not as though the lesser players never play good matches. It's very easy to compare Lajovic v Viola with Murray v Djokovic and have a good old laugh but very few players have ever produced tennis as good as those semi-finals at the Australian Open.

I used to hear the same things said about the lesser leagues of European football, when I was a soccer trader but I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm trading for the money, not for the buzz. Therefore, it makes no difference if it's the best or worst match in the world. The markets still tend to react the same way no matter who's playing.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 8, Russia's Vera Zvonareva: