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My Book Reviews

Category: Trader autobiography
Published: 1999
Read: 2001
Reviewed: Jun 2010

In "Pit Bull", Marty Schwartz (of Market Wizards fame) tells the story about how he went from practically nothing to becoming one of the best traders around. Despite the book's all-too-common misleading subtitle which promises trading lessons, there are none included - it is strictly a biography. Even though Schwartz does include a section at the end of the book about the methods he uses, it is mainly just a list of canned indicators without any context.

The book opens with a description of his first trade in Mesa Petroleum options. It then jumps back in time when he worked as an analyst at E.F. Hutton, while also trading his personal account on the side. After being frustrated about not being able to trade full-time, Schwartz sits down with his wife Audrey and creates a plan to build up his grubstake so he can finally quit his job and trade full-time.

After he built a bankroll and quit his job, he bought a seat on the American Stock Exchange in order to trade options. After making a million dollars trading gold options, he eventually moved on to the S&P futures, where he basically became a scalper and made 7-figure annual profits for many years.

His personal profile grew after he won the US Trading Championship, so he decided to start his own fund. But the stress led to him having major health problems which forced him to have life-saving heart surgery. After his investors pulled out half their money, he closed down his fund and moved to Florida in order to live a low-stress trading lifestyle.

The book is full of interesting adventures (like the incident where he almost got into big trouble when one of his analysis reports got leaked) and exciting trading stories (like his positions during the crash of 87 and war in Iraq). My biggest complaint about the book is how immature Schwartz acted. In addition to his generally immature behavior (when he says things like "IBM's moving. It's time to get on the Big Blue train", or his juvenile rivalry with "Porky"), there are many examples of his behavior which perpetuate the inaccurate myth of the high-spending, high-stress trading lifestyle (like his move to an expensive apartment in New York and buying expensive art, or panicking that the world is going to end and pulling his gold stash out of the banks).

Despite his off-putting demeanor, it would be a stretch though to say that his story was a sensationalized account, since he made serious profits and built an admirable record using mostly his own money. But considering that he went from nothing to greatness, his story could have been (and should have been) a lot more inspirational and a lot less entertaining. His story would have had a lot more value had he shown the trademark humble attitude that most successful traders have, and engaged in fewer superfluous activities like hobnobbing with the industry heavy-weights and entering trading competitions.

Some readers have wondered how talented of a trader he really was, since a lot of the money he made was based on a few factors that are no longer in effect (the S&P/bond pattern he took advantage of, his simplistic indicators that he depended on, and the fast-moving and easy-trending markets of the 1970s and 80s). He also shows a lack of intelligence when he thinks that he can run a $70 million fund by scalping. In response to these critics, I believe that his success was based on a core talent as a discretionary day trader who could read psychology and momentum really well. You often see this scenario with talented traders who say they rely on canned indicators. Most people believe the success of these traders was due to their indicators, when in actuality they are really talented at reading the price action and using their judgment - their indicators are really just incidental.

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