Trading Depth #21: How Scott Pulcini Leverages Bookmap to Fight Machines
Prior to our interview, I have been looking through an excerpt from a book “Enhancing Trader Performance: Proven Strategies from the Cutting Edge of Trading Psychology” by Brett N. Steenbarger (2007), where you were talking about your trading experience. What has changed since? Do you come back to that book or feel any nostalgia?
Yes, definitely, that was a different time in my life. I have been trying for years to get back to that level of trader. I had gone from making millions of dollars to not being able to turn a profit overnight. Shortly after the book was written, there were many changes primarily because of the algorithms starting to take over which really hurt my short-term trading style. I was one of the fastest traders in the world at that time in terms of clicking the mouse, generating 10% of the E-mini S&P volume on most days.
The trading volume of E-mini S&P averaged around 500,000 contracts a day at that time with and I would average 50,000 of those contracts.
That was my level of involvement with the market on a daily basis. The combination of the algorithms and low volatility of at that time started to cost me the ability to make a profit. Following that, I spent years seeking answers. The mindset of the trader teaches you to accept the losses and move on and try to seek a better strategy. I have spent years trying to reinvent my style and become a longer time frame trader because that’s the only way I thought I could survive in today’s marketplace. But the software platform [Bookmap] is by far the most promising thing I have seen in terms of visualization of what is actually occurring in the market on a shorter-term timeframe, which is ideal for the day-trader. The price ladder can be very confusing nowadays with the algos running the show as it’s very hard to distinguish if the order is legit or not as far as staying in the book when the market approaches it. And that is coming from me, a trader with 20 years of experience. I can only imagine how confusing it can be for the newer trader.
Dr Brett N. Steenbarger introduced me to Bookmap. The platform has given me a better understanding of the core algorithms. The daily morning seminars with Bruce interpreting the liquidity, the order flow, and delta, has been very helpful too. My trading has improved overnight. The combination of my experience of reading the charts, as well as liquidity and order flow, makes a huge difference.
The mindset of the trader teaches you to accept the losses and move on to seeking a better strategy.
So, is it an ongoing battle between machines and humans, and Bookmap helps you win that battle?
I don’t think it necessarily helps you win a battle against the computers, which is nearly impossible if trying to scalp, as much as it helps you avoid them when they are dominating the marketplace in a given price area. I gave up looking at the order book a long time ago, because it is useless as far as understanding the size in the book, etc, and understanding what the big money is trying to accomplish. Bookmap is vital for visualizing the order flow that you can’t pick up on a price ladder, providing extremely valuable information. The difference is significant for the trading process.
It is interesting to see how our interviewees approach Bookmap since the purpose of the interviews is educational. At least half of our interviewees that tried Bookmap, liked it a lot and continued using it. What about those seven years, when you were trying to reinvent yourself? Which tools were you trying before Bookmap?
I had to try to learn how to read the markets and trade in the longer term, which wasn’t my strength. I would try to use other volume reading tools with limited success. I have become better at analyzing the markets from the longer time-frame perspective, while still being able to trade on a shorter time frame. Knowing how to look at the market from this larger long-term perspective has helped when putting on shorter-term trades to understand what is going on but it does not help you with your entries and exits, which is one major problem the traders have. Anyone can see that a market is trending downwards, but where is the best place to get short? Bookmap helps with that tremendously with the visualization of the liquidity and the actual transactions taking place. You become much more of an informed trader.
Taking Bookmap and your reinvented strategy, you are a well-informed trader. What else is important to make your everyday trades successful?
The most important part is controlling your emotions. I, like most traders, do not like losses obviously, but I get more emotional when I do not understand what is going on. I can take a loss, but the most frustrating thing is taking a loss and not understanding the reasons you were wrong. The markets are not random, otherwise, there would be no point in trading. However, it can feel very random when staring at the market ladder and bar charts.
Some traders just ride the flow; do you consider yourself from the opposite camp, when you want to recognize the patterns before they occur?
You look for different patterns, but you must look at order flow to confirm those patterns or levels. This is where Bookmap became eye-opening for me since you can have a hypothesis coming into a trading day and know your levels but you also need to know whether the algorithms and the other major players are also at those levels.
Could you recall your early years, when you started trading? What did you feel back then and what do you think of a trader as a profession?
I have always been drawn to trading since my grandfather introduced me to the stock market when I was 14 or 15 years old. I got into this AT&T investment challenge, when you could select stocks, and ended up in the top-10 rankings out of thousands of high schoolers/college students. When my grandfather introduced me to stocks, there was no internet, so we had to follow it every day in the newspaper. We picked a stock and followed it to see who would do better. Once he introduced me to stocks, I was hooked and I knew that was what I wanted to do. My major in college was business finance and I knew being a trader was my calling. However, I did not know in what capacity or how I would go about pursuing it.
Following college graduation, I had an internship at Smith Barney, as I was thinking of going the financial advisor route, but I soon realized that it was not my cup of tea, since I wanted to be in the market, not just recommending stocks to customers. I had a friend that worked for the Chicago Board of Trade; he got me a job there as a runner making $200 a week then moved to be a clerk of a five-year option pit. From there I moved to the 30 year Bond Pit which was like the major leagues of floor trading. This is where I honed my mental processing skills, allowing me to become a scalper when I went to screen-trading. I had to work with brokers trading thousands of contracts, dealing with significant stress levels as if I made a mistake, it could cost the broker hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fast mental processing and the ability to handle stress helped me to become an elite trader.
Fast mental processing and the ability to handle stress helped me to become an elite trader.
It is captivating to see your enthusiasm as you are talking about trading. Back when you started, was money the biggest motivator or the challenge of becoming a better trader by comparison?
The majority of traders say that money is a byproduct of trading well, but back then I did not realize the actual amount of money you could make from being a proficient trader. When I started at my trading firm, I saw some people making millions of dollars while not being outstandingly intelligent and that motivated me even more.
I told myself that if they could make millions of dollars, I definitely could do it, which was my motivating force.
When I started trading at the firm, I lost literally every day during the first month and a half of trading. I was on the brink of losing my dream job before it really even started. Then, 9/11 happened and they shut down the U.S. markets for a week. I started trading German DAX futures overnight just to learn how to trade and get some experience. That is when I started seeing some patterns, and when the U.S. markets re-opened, I applied the things I learned with DAX to the Emini S&P and began to make money. My goal was to become the best trader at the firm, so I went to the firm’s owner office and made a bet with him that I would be the best trader at the firm during the following year, which was 2002. I was still trading tiny at the time but I just knew I had figured it out. The next year I netted $2.4 million and won the bet.
In the book, you mentioned that your biggest virtue is being a dreamer. Could you also comment on what you said regarding being a “jerk in trading”?
Being a jerk means being in a losing trade and holding on because you think you are right. There is a saying that the market can be irrational much longer than you can remain solvent. I was a jerk back then, pushing my size around and fighting the market, and subsequently being run over many times. When I would get emotional, I would make very bad decisions. For the newer traders, respecting your daily stop-loss limit is very important. I used to have a loss limit of $100,000 when I started making serious money. A few times my firm would listen to my wishes and let me lose more than that. I would lose $300,000-$400,000 in a day and many times I would end up making it back by the end of the day. While that worked some of the time, it cost me millions by just not sticking to my pre-defined daily stop loss.
The number one thing I tell new traders is to respect their daily stop loss amount and remember there is always another day.
I assume it is a common mistake when young traders know about the importance of risk management but still experience losses. Only following the losses, they start managing risks. Do you agree?
Experience is important in this regard, including respect for stop losses. However, when you are a trader or a so-called gambler, it is difficult to stop. It took me years to learn how to respect my rules. The majority of traders find out about it the hard way. Only then do they become emotionally stable and mature. A very small percentage can sit down and follow the rules without making the mistakes first.
Could you please tell me about your daily routine? When do you start trading, do you still do it daily?
I wake up around 5 am Arizona Time, Standard Time, which is 7 am Chicago Time, as I trade crude oil as well. I try to meditate after waking up, which I have learned helps with being focused. I trade in the morning and try to get out mid-morning when the markets die down. I do some exercise, like running or weightlifting, to clear my mind. Then I come back for the afternoon session.
Do you devote a lot of time to your family as you are reinventing your style and take a break from trading, especially as you have had more time in the past several years?
Yes, doing things with my two young daughters gives me the break from the screens on a consistent basis that I need. You definitely need a mental balance. As for reinventing my style, it is important to figure out the type of trading you are gifted at. I was one of the best in short term order processing but when I branched out and tried to make it into more of a long-term timeframe, I was average, but not world-class. This is why it is important to find your niche or gift in trading as far as timeframes. It is also impossible, to be honest with yourself. For instance, long-term trading requires sitting through trade with the markets getting closer and further from the target. It requires a special mindset to handle that. It is vital to determine what you can handle mentally as a trader.
Once you found your niche, what is the period, when you feel comfortable or satisfied to leave trading or retire?
When you are a trader at heart, you never want to retire. I mean, I will do this until the day I die, hopefully, but it could be a grind at times. I can understand the traders getting in their 50s and 60s and retiring, as it can be emotionally draining. Trading is mentally stimulating for me. It is impossible to be a good trader when it is not mentally stimulating. I do not see myself or many great traders retiring. I know many older traders that still follow the markets and trade a couple of times per week. You should always have that drive to watch the markets.
If any trader could give you a master class, whom would you ask and which questions?
That is a tough question. It would probably be Ray Dalio who runs Bridgewater. I would want to learn his methodology and strategy. He has put out a white paper on his strategy on principals and I would want to learn from the mistakes he made. You want to learn the mistakes of any great trader so you do not repeat them.
Are there any other pieces of advice you can give our audience reading this interview?
The general advice is to have a predefined strategy and stop limits for your trades and for the day and respect them. In terms of Bookmap, it is essential to go through the educational aspects, listen to Bruce on the educational videos and watch the daily live order flow analysis webinars with him, especially if new to Bookmap. Then watch the markets live on your own as well as using the playback feature after the close for a few weeks will help you to start seeing tendencies in the markets with order flow and liquidity that would be impossible to notice otherwise by just looking at bar charts, etc. As for the psychological side of trading, I highly recommend Dr Brett Steenbarger. He does daily posts on his website, Traderfeed.blogspot.com. He also has some incredible books out on trading as well.
Volume drives the market, not the price.
Thus, when the volume is transacting, it is possible to see where the algorithms are being aggressive/filled in Bookmap. It’s much more defined and less confusing seeing this on the Bookmap platform versus looking at the order book. In its simplest form, I try to see where the majority of liquidity is resting, which shows where the algorithms will try to push the market to eventually to get optimal fills. It is important to avoid focusing solely on short-term. It is necessary to zoom out and see where liquidity is in the long term and find an entry point that can give you a good risk-reward. This is the number one thing I have been able to get from Bookmap, and so far, it has been golden.
Have you tried yourself algo-trading, just to see how it works?
After I left Kingstree, I went to work for a firm Wolverine Trading and we tried to combine the things I learned during my scalping days but it was hard for them to understand what was going on in my mind and implement in a computer program. It was 2010, so there were many things I did not understand. I have not dived into developing my strategy for algo-trading as of yet since I am not comfortable with it at the moment.
Do you have a dream now that you could share?
My dream is to become a world-class trader again, which comes from being confident in what I am seeing in the market. For me, my gift is reacting the same way to trade if I have one lot on or if I have thousands of contracts on and not having an effect on my mental game. I have learned over these lean years that trading is much, much more than just sitting down in front of a screen without a game plan and making decisions on the fly. Bookmap has been an amazing tool to work on my trading strategies outside of market hours as well, including an ability to replay the trading day and place trades on the simulator. You cannot ask for anything more from a learning aspect. The majority of market education comes from screen time when you have to sit at the screen for many hours to become a proficient trader. The ability to replay market action hundreds of times faster and perfect your trading style is incredible to me.
Where to follow Scott:
- Find your trading niche and build on it
- Respecting stop-loss limits is an essential part of the strategy
- The mindset of the trader teaches you to accept the losses and move on with seeking a better strategy
- Fast mental processing and the ability to handle stress help in becoming an elite trader
- Educational feature of Bookmap allowing trading day replay is invaluable