The Experiment That Proves Successful Traders Are Made, Not Born

The story of Richard Dennis and the Turtle Trading Experiment exemplifies the power of disciplined trading tactics and the value of good coaching. Founded in the 1980s. This experiment gathered a group of aspiring traders, taught them a set of principles, and then let them loose in the world of commodities trading. To this day, the outcomes of the Turtle Trading Experiment intrigues and motivates traders.


Richard Dennis, a well-known commodities trader, was adamant that successful trading was a skill that could be taught rather than an innate gift held by a select few. Dennis, together with his collaborator William Eckhardt, set out to put this hypothesis to the test by hiring and teaching a group of inexperienced traders known as the "Turtles."


Dennis believed that a well-defined and methodical trading methodology, along with stringent risk control, could provide consistent returns in the market. He intended to demonstrate that trading was not an elusive art, but rather a science that could be understood and followed carefully.


Following a rigorous training period, the Turtles were released into the markets with their newly acquired knowledge and rules-based approach. The outcomes over the next few years were nothing short of astounding. The Turtles made significant earnings as a group, with certain individuals making enormous riches.


Dennis and Eckhardt devised a set of trading rules to provide the Turtles with the tools they needed to succeed. These principles served as the foundation of the Turtle Trading strategy, providing a defined framework within which the traders could operate. Among the essential principles were:



  • Trend Following: The Turtles were told to spot and capitalize on big market movements. Rather than seeking to foresee market reversals, they concentrated on trading in the direction of the dominant trend.


  • Position Sizing: The Turtles were taught that the size of their positions should be determined by the level of market volatility. This strategy attempted to decrease risk exposure and protect capital during times of market instability.


  • Entry and Exit Signals: The Turtles used technical indications to determine their entry and departure points. These indicators were used to find the best purchase and sell opportunities.


  • Diversification: To reduce risk, the Turtles were advised to diversify their holdings across other markets. This strategy sought to mitigate the influence of individual trade outcomes on overall performance.



To generate entry and exit signals, the Turtle Trading method used a mix of technical indicators. While the specific indicators used by the Turtles may have differed slightly, the main set of indicators included the following:



  • Donchian Channels: Donchian Channels were used by the Turtles to discover breakouts and entry and exit places. Donchian Channels are built by graphing the highest high and lowest low over a given time period. When the price broke above the top channel, it indicated a buy entrance; when it broke below the lower channel, it indicated a sell exit.


  • Moving Averages: Moving averages were another important component of the Turtle Trading method. The Turtles mostly relied on the 20-day and 55-day exponential moving averages (EMA). When the shorter-term EMA crossed above the longer-term EMA, a buy signal was formed, signaling a potential upswing. A sell signal came when the shorter-term EMA crossed below the longer-term EMA, indicating the possibility of a downturn.


  • Average True Range (ATR): The ATR was used to size positions and manage risk. It calculates market volatility by calculating the average range between daily price highs and lows. The Turtles calculated their position sizes using the ATR, changing them based on the current level of market volatility. Higher volatility would necessitate smaller position sizes in order to limit risk exposure, whereas lower volatility would necessitate larger positions.



The Turtle Trading Experiment made an unmistakable mark on the trading world. It popularized the concept of trend following and introduced a systematic approach that is now utilized by traders all over the world. The Turtles' success inspired a new generation of traders, and their story has been told in a number of books, films, and interviews.





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