The return of the Turtle Traders: nature vs nurture

DO YOU have to be born a successful trader or can anybody learn how to play the financial markets and make a tidy profit in the process? This debate has divided Wall Street and the Square Mile for decades and in 1984 35 year-old Richard Dennis, a commodities analyst from Chicago, set out to prove that trading could indeed be taught to anybody. He placed a job advertisement in the back of national daily newspapers for a commodity futures trader at C&D Commodities, clearly stating that experience was not necessary.

Dennis whittled down the 3,000 applicants to just 23 – 21 men and 2 women – all of whom had never traded the financial markets before and came from a range of backgrounds from a college graduate to a security guard, an assistant restaurant manager and even one of the designers from Dungeons & Dragons.


Over a two-week period he taught his Turtles – Dennis was inspired by a visit to a turtle breeding farm – to trade using technical methods, focusing on price and its daily, weekly and monthly behaviour, seeking out patterns or trends. His system was one-third technical, one-third money management and one-third psychological.

After these two weeks, Dennis gave them each $1m and let them loose on the markets. The experiment ran for four-and-a-half years, after which time the Turtles were up $175m on Dennis’ original investment. One of the most successful was Curtis Faith, who became a Turtle at just 19 and made $31m in profits over that period.

Other Turtles have gone on to set up their own trading companies – Jerry Parker went on to found Chesapeake Capital Management in 1988 while Elizabeth Cheval set up EMC Capital Management in the same year.

Like Richard Dennis, veteran trader Mike Baghdady believes that trading is a teachable and trainable skill. In conjunction with Training Traders, which has taught trading methods to institutions such as Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Bloomberg, he is reprising the turtles experiment here in London. Baghdady and Training Traders will be taking 10 people with little or no trading experience and will teach them how to trade, although with a different set of rules to the Turtles and which are said to be more suitable to 21st century trading.

So what are they looking for? Baghdady says: “The first thing to say is that there is no blueprint for a successful trader. However, the 10 people we choose will have a certain way of thinking – they will have courage, passion, discipline and, importantly, the ability to follow a set of rules.”


“These character traits will be embedded in 10 people of differing age, gender, race and background,” he adds. After the closing date for applications, there will be a first round of interviews. Some candidates will be eliminated at this stage and a smaller group will be invited for a second round, after which the chosen 10 will be notified.

Baghdady and Training Traders will train each apprentice for free and will give each of them a fully-funded account to trade live across all the financial markets. Each trader will earn a percentage of his or her profits.

To apply, send your CV and one paragraph to by 15 November, or go to if you want more information.


The original Turtles were recruited by Richard Dennis, a commodities trader from Chicago and who had worked at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.

There were 23 Turtles – 21 men and 2 women. The experiment lasted over four years during which time the traders made $175m on top of the original investment.

Some market commentators have said it was just luck that the Turtles tested the system during what appears, retrospectively, to be its golden period.

The 1983 John Landis film Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy is based on a similar concept to the Turtle Traders.