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Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 13:00

The Surprising Poker Lessons That Led Me To 50% Gains

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 1:00 PM

For those that don't know, in addition to being the Chief Strategist behind StreetAuthority's Stock of the Month newsletter, I'm also an avid poker player.

I first picked up poker about a decade ago, well before it was all over television. But I wasn't after the big jackpot like most of the people who've taken up the game. I simply thought poker could make me a better investor. Poker has a lot in common with investing -- and no, I'm not talking about luck.

In poker, you get only one move at a time. You don't get the luxury of making your moves in a vacuum or without consideration for the dynamics other players bring to the game. It also takes patience and foresight to win consistently. And sometimes, it's not about winning, but simply knowing when to cut your losses.

When put in those terms, it's easy to see how playing poker can make you a better investor.

It's easy to spot an inexperienced player at a poker table. He'll be they guy who plays nearly every hand. He's probably grown up watching televised poker, where folded hands are edited out to highlight the relatively few contested hands. In his limited view, he believes by playing more hands, he has more chances to win. He has no idea how many hands he'll lose before he gets lucky. I want this guy at my table for as long as his money lasts.

Experienced players describe poker as "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror." Pros fold many more hands than they play. They don't want to be forced into difficult or tricky decisions when their own money is on the line. As a result, they play only a few high-quality hands that have a good probability of winning. If they aren't dealt a good hand, they fold it and wait -- sometimes for hours.

When put in those terms, it's easy to see how playing poker can make you a better investor.

Inexperienced investors tend to own too many investments. They mistakenly believe that more is better. For every high-quality stock that outperforms the market, they have three underperformers preventing them from maximizing their profits.

That's why I count on my experience and skill at the table for my strategy in Stock of the Month. I select only one pick each month to invest in -- it's crucial I make the right call. With a $100,000 real-money portfolio (yes, I buy my recommendations with actual cash), I'm not playing a theoretical game either... this is real money, and my picks have real implications.

Fortunately, losing money has been something I haven't had to worry about. My background and simple, focused strategy is paying off.

A perfect example is a call I made in August 2012. This company had been on my watch list for a while, but I felt it needed a change in leadership to transform the company.

After Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) announced it hired former Google executive Marissa Mayer to be CEO, I bought 300 shares.

As usual, when I put in my buy order, I got a little shot of adrenaline -- not unlike making a call at the poker table. But my research and patience has paid off handsomely. Since making the Yahoo purchase back in August and adding another 150 shares of the company in September, I sold half of my 450 shares for a 50% gain.

Certainly at this point Yahoo has seen quite a run for readers fortunate enough to have taken the ride. While I think there may still be some profits left, I'm honestly more excited about some of my more recent additions to the portfolio.

In poker, there is an expression for playing a starting hand with the highest probability of winning. It's called "getting your money in good." My goal is to "get my money in good" with stock picks like Yahoo every month. So far, the odds have been in my favor. On my 43 closed positions, all but seven have had positive returns, including 17 with returns of 25% or more.

But I've learned the best poker players -- and investors -- don't spend their time thinking about the hands they've already won. They are always keeping their eyes open for the next hand to play.

P.S. -- Remember that I'm not just paying lip service to investing in my best ideas. I have $100,000 in actual cash behind my Stock of the Month portfolio. So far the performance has been great -- 85% of my closed trades have posted positive returns. You can get all the details here.

Amy Calistri does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC owns shares of YHOO in one or more of its “real money” portfolios.