Mock Trading

We played StockSlam after dinner. The kids (well not the 1st grader) and adults were all into it.

There are 8 colors or shares that take a random walk over 10 rounds. The shares of the color that climb the highest are worth $100 at expiration. The rest of the shares are worthless. So you are trading a derivative contract (a future) not the share prices directly.

Purple is in the lead:

The rules are simple. You are mock trading in an open outcry environment. You start with 4 shares of each color and cash. It’s a free-for-all where you can trade with anyone at any price. You can bid, offer, or make 2-sided markets. It’s exactly what we did when we trained although simpler since we aren’t using options (although depending on the audience we will also trade options as side bets…”what’s your offer on the blue 150 call?”— if you get lifted, you can buy blue shares to delta hedge and isolate the vol).

The game is a deeply layered experience. You can just play for fun. It’s wildly energetic — we make sure everyone gets involved and there are gentle ways to do that, different personalities manifest in so many ways…some sling from the hip, some are shy or don’t want to open their mouths until they think they know the value of everything but then it all changes and you realize that approach won’t work.

But what attracted me to the game, beyond the fun, was how it bursts with trading lessons. Based on the audience we modulate the experience up and down. We give homework leading up to the event and bridge the rationale of the questions to insights embedded in the game. We connect real-life investing and trading concepts to the game (and honestly we don’t even get to them in these 2+ hour events…everyone wants to play not listen to lecture).

The single most powerful lesson though is one I harp on all the time — trading is about measurement not prediction. In the game, prediction is not even possible. The walk is random. But skill expresses itself strongly! Your ears pipe in pricing data so you can triangulate fair value and find aberrations. The visceral feel of playing skillfully is well-matched to the feeling of trading effectively in real life. When I pull you aside and ask why you did X or Y, a good answer will take the same form of sound trading rationale — “well, I bid 17 for green because red which is in the same position just traded 20 and I know Sam bought a bunch of green last round for 12 and is looking to flip a quick profit”. Your transacting like crazy but you can kind of tell without stopping to count if you are making or losing money when you get into the flow.

Getting In The Trading Headspace

Let’s pose some questions and entertain some scenarios.

At the start of the game, all the colors start at 100. I might start by just throwing out a 14 bid for red or a 9 offer in yellow just to see or a 16 offer in green, etc to get a read of the thought processes when the game is a blank slate.

Let’s look at a scene futherer along:

Suppose the following montage represents the situation in the pit:

Purple: 28-32

Green: 20-24

Blue: 20 bid

Gray: 10 bid

Jane yells “Pink/orange 1×3…even bid for the pink. I’ll buy pink, sell 3 orange for even”

What do you do?

If you sell the 1×3 you will get long 3 orange and short 1 pink. You can then turn around and lift the 1 green at 24 while hitting the 10 bid in the gray 3x.

What’s your net position:

+3 orange

-1 pink

+ 1 green

-3 gray

Chunking the risk:

  • You’re long 3 orange and short 3 grays (they are worth about the same, as they are 96 and 95 respectively in the race).

  • You are long 1 green and short 1 pink (again worth similar amounts based on their race position)

The risk on these positions is basically a wash…but you collected $6!

[You sold 3 grays at $10 each and bought 1 green for $24. The pink/orange 1×3 traded premium neutral]

If you keep doing positive expectancy trades and manage to not get too unbalanced in your positions you will have a high Sharpe and be profitable by expiration. If you just try to load up on the color you think will win, that’s a zero expectancy strategy that’s high risk/high reward and will have a garbage Sharpe over many games.

As we play the game I might come over and nudge you:

  • “Hey, do you think the gray bid had any room? If you can squeeze an 11 bid out of them then you would have collected $9 instead of $6.”

  • “What if the gray bid was thin and you could only sell 1 on the 10 bid? Do you see how liquidity and gauging the size on the bid/offer is important? You are now ‘hung’ on 2 grays that you couldn’t offload. Is the trade still worth doing if you have to hit a 9 bid on the remaining 2 lot for an average price of 9.33?”

  • “The green bid was only 20, you could have bid 22 and maybe the 24 offer would have stepped down and offered 23s or better yet just hit your mid-market bid.”

  • “Blue is 20 bid…maybe those oranges and grays were kinda cheap relatively and the good side of the trade was just buying the orange 3x via the first ratio trade but not locking it in by selling the grays. Don’t do a trade good by $5 and then do a trade bad by $2 to lock it in if you don’t have to…you have to maximize when you have the best of it because you may find yourself needing to give up edge sometimes to manage risk”.

  • “With the green offered at 24, maybe you can dangle a 22 offer in the blue…if you get lifted turn around and take the greens. You’ll have legged the spread for 2…maybe you try to offer out the pink/blue spread at 7 fishing for a 5 bid. Paste those and your net position is long green/short pink for a $3 credit!”

This is trading.

Replace colors with option strikes/maturities and all the many combinations of vertical spreads, synthetics, straddles, and underlying… churn all day, and let the chips fall where they may.[see Mock Trading Options With Market Makers]

If you trade enough with a positive edge the expiration results are just noise — you win some, you lose some. The p/l over time converges to your edge.

Knowing the arbitrage relationships in options is the same as knowing that the field of colors can’t be worth less than or more than $100. Today we measure fair value from liquid consensus using machines — in the game we gather consensus by listening. In the pit, it’s loud and busy and orders are flying around everywhere. You learn to focus attention on what matters. And that changes depending on the context. The same is true in modern trading.

Today we enter trades with code or mouse clicks not vocal cords but the concepts are the same. That’s why prop firms still use mock trading to train. The arena is a Socratic forum that opens up conversations about practical scenarios. It’s like having a poker coach press you on “Why did you call that bet? What did you think they were holding? With what odds? If you think they just caught a 2 pair with that Jack of clubs on the river, do you think they really would have called the big bet on the turn with a low pair and no draw?”

Mock trading in the presence of an experienced trader is an opportunity to debug your thinking.

This was Friday night:

And then Saturday night with the family:

The Bay area events ranged from 10 to 25 people. I’m still in awe of a 6th grader who could just see the Matrix. The kid was fast and a total shark, preying on people that were still getting their bearings. After the game, he had opinions about shifting some of the probabilities in the algo and adding skew. I asked his mom if he was coding or using Excel and she said “no, not yet”.

”Umm, give him to me”. With some tools for expression he’ll be off to the races!

Otherwise, with respect to the game, I will share more as appropriate. We did have a videographer at all the sessions so at some point there will be more to see. In the meantime, if you are interested in having us do a team-building or educational seminar at your office, conference, or school hit me up and we’ll figure something out. By the way, the game shown above is just one of several games we actually trade on. The attendees will remember their favorite “bunny” I’m sure.]

Ready to get started?

Track and analyze volatility metrics for 40+ symbols using 20+ proprietary charts. Equities, FX, commodities, crypto, and more.