20 things you need to know about Trading

These thoughts are my random musings, and there might not be a clear/coherent flow in the points mentioned, but nevertheless, I believe these are some important things to keep in mind if you are trading the markets.

1. Have you taken a loss? Forget it quickly. Have you taken a profit? Forget it even quicker
Everything passes away – both success and failures

2. Chart patterns are as much art as science. If 25 people look at a chart and all 25 of them come to the same conclusion, then it becomes objective. If they dont come to the same conclusion, then its subjective

3. The market kindles your emotions. It pushes all our buttons of fear and greed – it ferrets out all. I found out very early in my career that i was not temperamentally too suited to be a great discretionary trader. The way i found to overcome this shortcoming is to have a definite set of entry/exit rules

4. Read a lot, test a lot and dont trade until you have a trading plan. Make sure your trading methodology is objective in nature as you have better odds of success stacked in your favor.

5. Learn to limit your risk – if we can stay in the game long enough, we will learn how to become successful in trading.

I always tell this to folks – if you can trade profitably for 10 yrs in trading and increased size steadily, you would have already amassed a small wealth or would amass it within the next couple of years

6. If one is following a system(mechanical)/methodology(discretionary) consistently and making money, how do we make more money then?

We have 2 options – more leverage or bigger size. My vote is for the latter as the former has decimated more accounts than what we can imagine. It will take a while to build size but it has to be done incrementally (and not exponentially with the use of leverage)

7. Many new traders wonder – what’s the best way to trade. Let me assure you that its an impossible question to answer. Nobody can tell you what’s going to suit you (except you).

Whatever methodology you use, it has to fit your personality. This is why copying somebody else’s system never works (almost) but one can derive ideas from it.

8. Every professional (irrespective of their profession) go through slumps.

Let it be Virat Kohli or Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods or Lionel Messi – Slumps are inevitable but once we have come out of slump, no matter how long it takes, we know that we can do it again. If something is done once, we know it is a repeatable act. So, embrace slumps as that knowledge of digging ourselves out of slump is invaluable in the long run.

9. It is prudent to focus on exits rather than entries. There is only so much one can do in entries but they can do lot of variations in exits. It is impossible to tell in advance which trades will be the good ones.

Some folks say “take only the high probability trades” and they tend to forget the random nature of distribution of trades. We are better off taking all the trades if we are following a system.

10. You need to be willing to take small losses. Taking a small loss reinforces a trader’s sense of discipline and control. Losses are not failures – please etch this in your mind

11. Two primary reasons for why we focus on being right.

First, we are conditioned to be right by our school system.

Second, everyone in the trading industry gives people what they want – ways to be right (high winrate system is the main culprit) and that perpetuates the myth. The traders who identify this early in their career do really well.

12. The difficult thing for many traders is that we have so many choices on timeframes, different instruments/markets, to trade the trend/counter trend/non-directional(delta neutral) but guess what, we can’t do it all.

So, we have to sit down and decide the type of trading we will pursue upon. A lot of traders (atleast for few initial months/years) are trying to do it all.

13. Many ask me about what books to read – i recommend Market wizards book as it gives an idea to the new trader that there are dozens of traders who were doing different things but still able to do it well.

Think about it – you dont have to be only a 100 meter sprint runner to make it in athletics

14. All new traders will ‘have to pay their dues’ to the market – no exceptions here. They have to learn about excitement, fear and hope in trading. They have to make their own mistakes (I don’t believe in learning from mistakes of others in trading as trading is an experiential task)

15. If you are a trend follower, by and large, having profit targets wont work as the price of your underlying instrument can keep changing over the years and trust me, reframing the profit target is no easy task. So, start with the right thought-process if you are a trend follower (by exiting only when the trend bends)

16. I would highly suggest trading a breakout system initially as it teaches us to do things that are hard to do naturally – like buying high and selling higher or selling low and buying back lower.

17. If you are a pullback trader, check your trades over a long period of time (backtesting) – you will be surprised to find the best breakouts wont give you pullbacks to enter the trade. You are either in the trade or you are not.

18. Big gaps are always a problem – one can expect short term volatility and hence, wider stoplosses (market driven) are possible. In short term trading, if you are stopped out of your trade after a big gap up/down, the reversal trade is usually very profitable.

19. When trading a trend following break out, your two best friends are ‘whipsaws and ‘law of large numbers’. If you dont understand whipsaws are part of Trend following-Breakout trading, then trading will be a mystery all the time

To accept whipsaws are part of Trend following-Breakout trading, one needs to understand the ‘Law of large numbers’.

A quick blogpost on ‘Law of large numbers’ here

Law of Large numbers and its implication in Trading

20. Last but not least – when you have a losing trade, it is ‘just’ a losing trade.

Many have difficulty in separating the reality of a losing trade from the psychological sense of feeling like a loser.

They equate losing with being a loser. This frustrates/depresses/creates anxiety about his P/L so much that it would start affecting his self-image. So, losing is part of trading and that does not make you a loser

Hope it helps someone out there and happy trading all !!

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Improving a system and system jumping


As a trader, everyone goes through the urge (multiple times) of improving themselves and more importantly, to improve the trading idea/strategy/mechanical system they trade.

Conventionally speaking, new traders and some experienced traders go through these thoughts at least few times in their trading career (however short that maybe 🙂 ) –

1. “I already have a trading system in place but i seem to get attracted towards other systems i see in social media/online
2. “I went through an elongated time/points drawdown and i think is should change my system to keep drawdown to the minimum
3. “This quarter was not as good as my previous quarters and i picked up 3 great ideas(based on this year’s market movement – Recency bias in play here) which i would implement from next trading day”

This begets an inevitable question in a trader’s mind – improving(adding/modifying or creating a new one) one’s parameters is good right? But, is it not system jumping? This is an interesting question as system jumping is a topic that flash across every new/experienced trader’s mind sooner or later

Is Improving a system bad?

We all have read somewhere that ‘system jumping’ is bad 100 times from various resources. So, one should never try to better his own system?

1. Typically, when we are bombarded with new ideas/information about trading via social media/books/seminars, 2 schools of thoughts can arise —

A) If we start implementing ideas we see in a public domain/book or elsewhere, does it not amount to system jumping? If not, then what is system jumping?

B) What is wrong in improving my Risk:Reward/win ratio or other parameters (if i can)?

If we look into point A, we will understand that there is no definite answer for this dilemma. The answer lies in the belief we have about trading. As we have heard enough about ‘not jumping like a monkey from 1 tree to another’, we would have ingrained ‘system hopping’ is bad ?

And it is. Our minds habitually want to get away from discomfort/uncertainty. Human beings love certainty and the inherent nature of trading is full of uncertainties. In the pursuit of seeking certainty, folks jump from system 1 to system 2 seeking certainty. It is searching for a cotton candy seller in thunderstorm. Unless we relish the uncertainties that is inherent to trading, this profession would make us regret why did we ever come into it.

With my limited experience in the markets, i can say with a reasonable certainty that a new trader stands absolutely no chance against the deluge of info (promising the ‘holy grail’ system) that flows around everyday. He is bound to look for greener pasture.

I had written a blogpost on ‘Social media and its impact on the mindset of a trader’ sometime ago. Here is the blogpost

Social media and its impact on the mindset of a trader

2. When we are bombarded with these kind of information, it would be natural to think that the system we have (35% WR with 1:3.5RR) is the reason behind not making money in the markets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think about it for a second.

If we look at point2, it is actually a valid thought. After all, we constantly endeavor to drive a better car, live in a better house, wear better clothes, eat better food. So, why not having something better than what we already have? Why trading system should be an exception? Great question.

Truth – Sticking to a system is much more difficult than jumping systems

Guess what – here are the real questions –

When do we stop? When we hit 80-90% winning system? or when we start making money?

Traders do system jumping as they strongly believe that ‘poor system’ is the reason for them to not make money in the markets.

a) Please understand that once we start to make money in our system (real money and not backtested excel money), that thought should dissipate slowly. Loitering on other people systems (available online and in forums) does not help the cause as well.

b) When we are in the process of building a system, any idea is worth looking into it. One can get inspired/derive ideas from other’s system – no issues with it. But. it is imperative that we understand the subtle difference between building a system based on a idea and jumping system because your social media hero made crores this year with his system.

c) I also know few traders who keep on testing systems (not to deploy more non-correlated systems for diversity but to jump the existing one – i have a differing thought on diversifying but thats for another day).

d) Unless we live in an isolated environment(without family/friends), this backtesting/improving system idea should stop somewhere (or it would be forcibly stopped by your family/spouse ? ) Trying new ideas forever would definitely rob us of the time we could spend with them.

e) This leads us to the most basic question of all – why did we come into this trading profession?

This is a question that needs to be asked to oneself in frequent interval. It is very easy to get lost in the information overload world we live in.

f) In my opinion, the improvement should happen in the trading size and it should happen in the execution (and not in the existing trading system with a positive expectancy). This thought process is very crucial.


There is not much difference between a system with 50% winrate and a system with 40% winrate (assuming RR/ number of trades are equal and systems have a positive edge/makes money in the long run).

Once we settle down, money management can fill the gap between these two systems nicely and over a period of 10 yrs, both these systems could have given a small fortune to a trader who respects risk. One can learn 100 books about psychology but nothing can beat the experiential learning aspects of handling ourselves when we traverse through the treacherous waters of trading ?

After all, your sub-conscious knows that you, yourself, cannot be trusted after breaking so many plans and giving up on so many goals.

Kindly sit on this thread (content) for a while. This will make lot of sense once we understand the mental framework behind this phenomenon.

Happy trading all !!

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Trading plan and why we dont follow it?

“By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail” – Benjamin Franklin
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend 1st four sharpening the axe” – Abraham Lincoln

We all know the importance of Trading plan and many of us already have a well-defined trading plan. But, why do we fail to follow it? Have you ever thought about it?

This is a quick blogpost elucidating the reasons behind that phenomenon.

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Intraday Options trading – compounding analysis


In the years 2007 & 2008, I was a premium video subscriber of John Carter’s (Author of ‘Mastering the trade’ book) website. I had seen him taking a $10,000 account to $100,000 in 1 year and that was the first time I ever saw someone do compounding in a trading account live. It had a major impact on me as it acted as a great inspiration for me to think beyond what I thought was possible. Many of us think that compounding word does not apply to trading and it is an ‘investing’ term. Far from the truth, ? Any financial account should be exposed to compounding !! » More »

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Backtesting An Idea/System

Backtesting is a topic that always attracts one set of traders and despised by the others 🙂 The topic is pretty vast and this blogpost is just a basic primer on Backtesting. It is gonna be a long one but i believe, it will be worth your time 🙂

Let us etch something in our mind very clearly before getting into details – Discretionary trading methodologies/ideas cannot be backtested. You need a set of rigid entry/exit rules to backtest the idea. There are no 2 ways about it. One can act smart and twist words around it but there is no backtesting for discretionary systems – period.


Backtesting an idea (in trading terms) is to gauge how a set of trading rules performed on historical data. But, many folks who come into trading just do data mining. Data mining simply scans historical dataset for rules that would have worked in the past. We have read this disclaimer various times that ‘past performance does not guarantee future results’ But still, the professed value of backtesting is based on the premise that historical tendencies/patterns repeat.

Backtesting and its efficacy

So, the popular question is if ‘past performance does not guarantee future results, why backtest an idea/system in the first place? One could very well save the time, effort and sleepless nights right?’ This is an argument that has some validity, up to a point. It is definitely true that past performance is not indicative of future results. But does it therefore mean that historical testing has no validity? I don’t think so.

Here is a case in point. Let’s say you want to build a model of the sun rising. Every day for a month, you get up before dawn, and wait for the sun to appear. Every day, it rises in the east. So, you build your model, run it for tomorrow, and it “predicts” that the sun will rise in the east. Will it? Who knows for certain? Some strange axis switching or earth rotation reversing could occur overnight or a cosmic phenomenon might occur (which could be understood only by Late Stephen Hawkings 🙂 ) and the sun could rise in the north, south, or west. Highly unlikely, yes, but so was the financial crisis of 2008, Nifty flash crash in Oct 2012 and the recent coronovirus debacle. Outlier and unexpected events can and do happen.

If such a calamity occurs, does it mean that the model is useless and never should have been built? No, but certainly you would have to now take into account that the world you modeled has changed significantly. So, having a model based on history is much better than completely guessing. With guessing, you are likely to be looking the wrong way when the sun rises tomorrow morning 🙂

Strategy and psyche

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of backtesting, I would like to clear few hitches of system development. It is imperative that the trader should come up with a system to backtest based on his/her traits and psyche.

1. Let us say that you are a profit-target based trader and dont believe in trailing the profits much. If someone gives you a profitable(system with positive expectancy) blackbox system to trade, sooner or later, you will abandon the system or will tweak it in few trades. Reason is very simple. The system skeleton and ideologies are not attuned to your psychology(the belief you have about how markets operate). A profit target based trader cannot trade ‘trailing stoploss’ based system (and vice-versa is also true) as there will be internal conflict. Please understand that psychology is like fingerprint – it is unique. Hence, it is very important that we choose a system that is attuned to our psychology.

2. If a trader cannot digest 10 losses in a row of a trend following system, there is no point devising one and backtesting it. If your psychology/understanding about the markets do not match what the system can offer, then you shouldn’t be trading that system. Manipulating the rules because you are intolerant with the results can turn a winning system into a big losing one. If you can’t live within the anticipated parameters, then you need to develop or find another system. If one is devising a system for intraday to backtest and he is known to hesitate on taking quick decisions, then it could prove costly in live trading. If a trader vacillates for even two minutes to enter a trade in an intraday system, then that could be the deciding factor between a winner and a loser. With a longer-term trading system, the entry is generally not so critical and hesitation errors are forgiven usually.

Ways of producing backtesting results

Before venturing into the topics in detail, i would like to state that am a big proponent of ‘bar-by-bar’ backtesting as it has number of advantages (but takes a lot of time) compared to automated backtesting (using code).

1. Historical backtesting

This is a kind of testing done by most of the charting software nowadays. You create a few lines of code and they spit out the results with myriad number of statistical parameters. This kind of testing also encapsulates the major problem in backtesting – over-optimisation and curve-fitting (did not get into the definition of these terms as they are commonly known). There is virtually no chance that the results in the future will be close to the ‘optimized’ results. The results are just too “tuned” to the data used in the test.

If a system has indicators (with parameter numbers) incorporated in it, there is higher chance of optimization and curve fitting. Once can play from 1 to 500 as value of the moving average and the s/w will spit out results in seconds. A trader will be tempted to choose the best MA (say 283) out of 500 MAs and guess what, real trading would suck big time as curve-fitting has been done nicely with the past data.

2. Out of sample testing (OOS)

If one is persistent on optimization in backtesting, this kind of testing can be a savior. So, here a trader can test 3 years of historical data testing (automated) and run numerous iterations of optimization but run the following year bar-by-bar. Of course, nothing can beat bar-by-bar testing of a well formed idea (with zero optimization) but this will help those folks who are a bit lazy in backtesting bar-by-bar.

3. Walk forward testing

Walk‐forward analysis is simply the aggregate of many out‐of‐sample periods, stitched together. So, 2 years of automated testing + 1 year of OOS testing followed by 2 years of automated testing followed by 1 year of OOS testing. Once we have a set of 4-5 years of OOS testing, we put them all together and create the statistical parameters. In this testing method, we can get the best of both worlds – a bit of bar-by-bar testing and optimization (if needed)

Importance of data in backtesting

For an accurate evaluation of any system, the data must be impeccable. Online free data will not cut it (a saying flashes through my mind right now – ‘penny wise, pound foolish’). Without correct data, system testing is useless.

Purity of data is another very crucial requirement. Any anomalies or mispriced quotes will have a direct impact on the system’s test results and can skew the results extensively. Cleaning of data is not an easy task and often must be relegated to professional data providers.

Parameters to look out in backtesting

As most of these terms are self-explanatory, I would just like to list out the most important parameters to watch out for.

Percentage profitable, Total number of trades, Max consecutive winning/losing trades, Net points (after cost), Maximum drawdown, max time take to come out of DD (Recovery factor), Ratio of average yearly profit to max DD (Calmar ratio). Max loss and max profit are not that important to me as they are singular events.

I am not a big fan of the popularized ratio – Sharpe ratio. There are 3 reasons for it.

1. It does not include the actual annual return but only the average monthly return. Thus, irregularities in the return are not recognized.

2. It does not distinguish between upside and downside fluctuations. As a result, it penalizes upside fluctuations in the same way as downside fluctuations.

3. It does not distinguish between intermittent and consecutive losses.

Optimization of backtested system

Once we have a trading methodology and an initial set of parameters, it is time to fine tune our approach. The principal folly of optimization is the tendency to curve fit. The problem is more pronounced with systems that involve indicators with numbers (like moving averages, RSI, etc). So, if one is dogged to optimize using a software, use the walk forward testing technique discussed earlier. By doing this testing, one can easily assuage the apprehension of curve fitting to a large extent. Word of caution here – fine-tuning a system just increases the level of false confidence that eventually will be dashed in real time when the system fails. I have backtested numerous systems in the past and have always followed this route – take a concept/idea, create rules based on the concept and test it bar-by-bar without optimization even a single time. Yes – it is an arduous task but in my opinion, it’s well worth the effort and time.

Final thoughts on backtesting

Traders are especially captivated of the percent profitability, or accuracy of a system. In practice, we should not target a specific win/loss ratio – the goal is to create a profitable system (= system with positive expectancy) in accordance with the trader’s psyche. It doesn’t matter whether you get there via relatively few but comparatively large winners, as is the case of trend-following systems, or smaller wins with a tendency to compensate losses and much more. It also could be a combination of the above. Eventually, the totality of the system is all that matters.

Please be cognizant of the fact that several trading luminaries have owed their successful careers to simple trend-following systems. These systems tend to produce winning trades close to 30%. And there is almost always some giveback of profit before a winning trade is closed out. A position’s equity high is never anticipated and profit targets are not used. It’s therefore easier for a trade to wind up as a loser. So essentially, the cardinal parameters of a system (with positive expectancy) could vary from trader to trader but search for the holy-grail system has to stop sometime.

Happy backtesting all !!

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Procrastination And Ways To Overcome It

I always wondered why traders never get to the point of creating a solid trading plan/system and the reasons behind this phenomenon.

I love writing articles about trading psychology and this topic made me come out of hibernation. This blogpost is a small attempt to see the probable reasons behind procrastinating in formulating a system – from a psychological perspective.

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Trading addiction and its antidote

I have been running workshops couple of times in a quarter and get this question a lot – Is trading the markets an obsession/addiction? – Answer is both YES and NO. » More »

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Lessons from market wizards – then and now

I read Market wizards book some 11 years ago and remember highlighting so many points that made sense to me those days. After someone talked about Jack Schwager recently, i thought i should read that classic book once again. » More »

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Master of one or Jack of all trades

Everybody wants to be a jack of all trades but many dont bother to master anything specific. This blogpost tries to analyse this topic from trading point of view. » More »

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Professional vs Amateur trader

This blogpost is a small effort to delineate the thought process of a Professional in comparison to an amateur trader. » More »

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