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Sellers May Waste Pocket Aces

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Slow-playing hands could give buyers advantage.

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I'm not above mixing a few metaphors if it helps me to explain the market's condition. S&Ps have been stuck in a range since Tuesday's open, and it's reminding me of poker. The analogy might be helpful.

Tuesday's gap down, and its entire session spent in negative territory, can be equated to a Hold'em player being dealt pocket aces (two aces are the best "starting hand").

Wednesday's session ranged sideways, probing either side of Tuesday's range. This is much like the player who "slow-plays" his pocket Aces - he's not making a big bet, which would reveal the strength of his hand. That's because he's trying not to scare away lesser hands, so that they'll build the pot with their own chips.

Slow-playing pocket aces is either a very professional or a very amateurish move. It's never the safest play, because it allows weaker hands a chance to improve with as further cards are dealt. For example, pocket 3s might catch a third 3, making three-of-a kind - which beats the pocket aces.

The best starting hand doesn't always finish that way.

Tuesday's sellers are slow-playing their hands. We know they hold aces because each rally attempts slope has had the character of being overly optimistic, and each rally attempt was eventually entirely retraced. These are weaker hands.

It's not a problem for sellers... At least, not yet. But while they're waiting for their patience to be rewarded with a third ace, buyers might make their "set" first (three-of-a kind).

That would be too bad for the sellers. Sitting here in the announcer's booth, I can see everyone's hole cards. And I know that if sellers were to make a big bet here and push S&Ps under 1263-1264, then buyers would fold, and S&Ps could quickly drop 15 points.

And that drop could be parlayed into new lows for the year.

I'm still betting (from time to time) on a new low for the year being dealt eventually. The only question, to me, is whether yet another bounce could further delay it. That would be the "flush draw" analogy - but that's another story.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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