Charles D. Ellis reads a book about tennis “Extraordinary tennis for ordinary players” and the book describes how tennis is two games in one, there is the professional game and the amateur game. Why do we say they are two games in one? Well the way professionals win is they outscore their opponent, they place the ball with great force and accuracy just outside their opponents reach meaning that professionals play to win the tennis games. When a professional loses a tennis game it means he was beaten by the winning player.
Contrast that to amateur tennis, they lose games. Amateurs try too hard, they hit the ball too far, they double fault when they serve, they hit the ball into the net, amateurs have lots and lots of unforced errors and so when you have two amateurs playing each other it’s not that one of them has beat the other, it’s that one of them has lost more points (put in reverse, the winning player had less errors compared to the loser) than the other and therefore loses the game.
Professionals score more points and win, whilst amateurs essentially defeat themselves and to Charlie’s great credit… he looks at this book about tennis and draws the analogy to investors.
Investors lose all the time, even professionals who in theory are supposed to be hitting harder, more accurately outside of their opponents reach as he describes it the competition is so intense. There are so many bright, well educated, knowledgeable, intense competitive players in the market place that they all sort of cancel each other since investing is a zero-sum game (there must be a loser for every winning trade and vice versa).
The advantage of indexing in Charles D. Ellis’ view is that when you have all of these smart people and they cancel each other out and you know you cannot compete with them as an amateur (you certainly wouldn’t step into a field of a Rugby game on a Saturday and play with the pros because guaranteed you will be taken out in a stretcher without fail) it’s the same thing as you step on to the grid iron of professional investing giants as an amateur, all of a sudden you’re up against smartest, strongest, fastest investment firms who have all the tools and everything they need to beat you, but they’re all competing against each other and what ends up happening is low cost, low activity index funds over the long haul tend to be the best opportunity for most individuals
This is remarkable insight that he developed, not just why indexing works but the way that amateur investors manage to hurt themselves and lose lots of money trying to compete with the pros and no matter how good the pros are, they cancel each other out is really a fascinating insight for all of us because it means we can actually win the losers game by just buying a simple, transparent, broad, and well diversified index fund that tracks the overall market at the lowest possible cost and keep adding to it consistently. By doing this for a long enough period we can outperform 80% (or even more) of all actively managed funds.
Sources: Winning the loser’s game