Would You Go "All In" With Your Portfolio?

Yet another World Series of Poker has concluded. This time, American Jamie Gold took home $12 million by winning the No-Limit Hold 'Em final event. That's unbelievably impressive, of course. So why, then, can't I stop thinking of Chris Moneymaker? Probably because of the way he won the 2003 tournament, thanks to a hand that has become known simply as "the bluff."

A Rule Breaking bet
Moneymaker was heads-up at the end of the main event with veteran pro Sam Farha. About halfway through their duel, Moneymaker was dealt the four and seven of spades -- a modest, speculative hand that you'd typically prefer to play against a lot of opponents. Farha does better, picking up an unsuited king and nine. When the first three cards -- "the flop" -- come two-nine-six with only one spade, Farha has the top pair and second-best kicker. That's a strong heads-up hand. Moneymaker has nothing. He needs either two running spades to make a flush, or two running low cards for a straight. He's a long shot, at best.

Predictably, Farha bets. Moneymaker has a big chip lead and thus calls. Silly? Maybe, but 19 of the remaining 47 cards can materially improve his hand. (That is, any spade plus the non-spade fives, eights, and 10s.) He gets one of them with the next card: the eight of spades. Suddenly, he has a huge hand -- good draws to both a flush and a straight. Farha, however, still leads and bets $300,000. Moneymaker raises $800,000, which appears to be about one-third of the chips remaining in Farha's stack. He calls, correctly figuring he still has the best hand. What happens next, however, is the stuff of legend.

The final card is a completely harmless three of hearts. Moneymaker now officially has nothing. First to act, Farha checks. Without hesitation, Moneymaker bets it all. After deliberating for a few excruciating minutes, Farha folds. It was the turning point of the event and led to Moneymaker's $2.5 million victory.

Crazy?How about crazy like a fox?
We simply have no way of knowing what Farha was thinking when he laid down the best hand, nor can we know what Moneymaker was thinking with the all-in bet. But it would be simply wrong to conclude that the affair was a matter of feel. Sure, that played a part, but so did the situation.

The point is this: There were dozens of ways for Moneymaker to analyze his position and, especially after the fourth card, his chances to win. It may not look like it on TV, but every great poker player -- especially the odds-calculating No-Limit expert -- has an analytical side. And so does every Rule Breaker investor.

A science and an art
That's because failing to think through every profitable scenario can cost you at the poker table, and it can be equally costly in growth investing. For example, loading up on shares of WPT Enterprises (Nasdaq: WPTE  ) , Progressive Gaming International (Nasdaq: PGIC  ) , PokerTek (Nasdaq: PTEK  ) , or Bally Technologies (NYSE: BYI  ) simply because poker has created a renaissance in gambling is not investing. It's more like coin-flipping or, worse, lotto.

Growth investors, instead, imagine outcomes under which a speculative stock like alternative energy play Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq: ESLR  ) would make enough moola to handsomely reward shareholders, and then determine how much they would pay for the stock, given the probability of those events coming to pass. In that sense, they're like Moneymaker betting his four and seven of spades on a flop offering nothing more than a pair of long-shot draws.

Short-stacked and all-in, but with lots of outs
Developing a valuation thesis for a growth stock is a lot like counting your "outs" -- that is, the cards that can improve your hand -- in poker. Often, they're hidden. Go back to Moneymaker's four and seven of spades. With two-nine-six on the flop and only one spade, most players would throw away that hand to any bet. They'd probably conclude they were too far behind. And they'd be right from the standpoint of immediate outs. The three remaining fours and sevens probably wouldn't help much. But this is also very short-term thinking, particularly when it doesn't cost much to see another card.

Now consider Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation, The Knot (Nasdaq: KNOT  ) . This online media company, which caters to the soon-to-be wed, is up 35% since joining the portfolio in February. And yet the company still faces considerable criticism; nearly 9% of its shares are sold short. Those betting against The Knot see weaknesses in the company's valuation (the trailing P/E is 52), as well as its competitive advantage. After all, the market for selling to the lovestruck is crowded with the likes of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO  ) and others operating in the digital and print realms.

While those are fair points, there are also a number of "outs" available to investors in The Knot. First, insiders own nearly 11% of the outstanding shares, which I consider to be a sign of confidence in the underlying business and its growth prospects. Second, the company blew away estimates with second-quarter earnings and is on the cusp of acquiring its rival WeddingChannel.com, in a $78 million deal. And, finally, a number of respected institutional investors are long The Knot, including T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and Bridgeway.

In sum: For every reason the shorts have to be short, there's a lucrative reason to be long. That's why The Knot is a recommendation of our Motley Fool Rule Breakers growth investing service.

Go all in
Like No-Limit Hold 'Em, Rule Breaker investing is for the advanced student who isn't afraid of some volatility in his or her holdings. It's demanding, but it can also be richly rewarding. Just ask Rule Breakers lead analyst David Gardner. Many of his earliest bets have paid off in multibagger fashion. Now the current Rule Breakers portfolio has found four more in the first two years of the service. Find out who they are with 30 days of free access. There's no ante and no obligation. Click here to be dealt into the game now.

This article was originally published on Aug. 12, 2005. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers never check-raises the flop, only the turn. And if you believe that, you're invited to play poker with him. Tim didn't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on all of Tim's stock holdings by checking his Fool profile.The Fool's disclosure policy is all aces, baby.


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