CONCLUSION: The Six Commandments of Value Investing

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Investing and Chess

By Vitaliy Katsenelson, CFA

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Conclusion: Investing and Chess 

I read somewhere that chess is a game of small advantages. When the game starts, the players are equal – both hold the same number of pieces in the same positions. But then every move either adds to your position (competitive advantage) or subtracts from it. These little decisions (resulting in a better pawn structure, a more secure king, a centrally positioned knight, and so on) that you make with every move accumulate into victory. 

Investing is not that much different, especially in today’s world where access to information has flattened. A mutual fund that manages $100 billion may spend $100 million on research, but that $100 million doesn’t buy any more than what a patient value investor can glean by reading financial statements. 

I am not talking about Warren Buffett either, who doesn’t even have a PC in his office. Ted Weschler and Todd Combs (Warren Buffett’s right-hand men) achieved phenomenal investment success without a fancy research department by simply reading carefully and following our Six Commandments. 

The key to succeeding in this irrational world is to actively ingrain each one of these principles into your investment operating system, improving your process just a little on a daily basis, and then success will follow. 

Finally, this would not be a worthy chapter if I did not contradict myself, just a little. Investing is also unlike chess. Investing affords us a luxury that few people appreciate: You can choose your own opponent. In chess tournaments, you don’t get to choose your opponent. Tournament organizers match you to someone with an equal rating; then as you win, you are progressively matched against better opponents. 

In investing, you are the “tournament organizer.” You get to walk into the room and, instead of choosing the geekiest opponent – the dude with thick glasses who hasn’t been on a date in years and has only thought and dreamt about chess – you can go for the muscular guy who spends five hours a day in the gym, and only joined the tournament because he lost a bet. 

Money doesn’t know how you made it. A hundred dollars made by solving easy problems (buying stocks where both your IQ and EQ were at their highest) buys as much as a hundred dollars that caused you to lose your hair. In investing, you don’t have to solve the problems that everyone else is solving. There are thousands of stocks out there, and your portfolio needs only a few dozen.

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