Karen The Supertrader

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August 26, 2013 63 comments

June 2016 UPDATE – Turns out Karen is under investigation by the SEC. Read the details here.

Original article below.

Karen the “Super Trader” has gained some recent fame in the options world, as she generated outsized returns using a simple trading strategy.

She has been featured on Tasty Trade twice and quite a few people have asked me about her recently.

Her two interviews on Tasty Trade have had a combined 812,000 views on You Tube.

The two videos are embedded at the bottom of this post.

Karen initially started with a relatively small investment pool and turned that capital into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Her strategy entails collecting income from the options market but the risks she takes are substantial.

She started with 100,000 dollars which is still a sizeable amount of capital to start with.

She doubled that money relatively quickly and was able to attract capital as she continued to double her returns.

She professes to currently manage 190 million dollars, after making nearly 105 million in profits.

Karen only trades options and started focusing on more than 30 underlying assets, which generally included stock indices.

She currently only trades three indexes which include the S&P 500 index (SPX), the Nasdaq 100 (NDX) and the Russell 2000 (RUS).

Karen currently has two funds.

The second fund was created for clients as all of the profits of the first fund go directly into her charity.


Karen the “Super Trader” earns her income from selling options.  She would still be regarded as a “retail” trader even though her capital is substantial.

She uses the Think or Swim platform and looks for 12% out of the money puts and 10% out of the money calls that are rich in implied volatility to earn time decay which is also known as theta.

Time decay is calculated by dividing the premium by the number of days left before the expiration of the option.

The main premise of her strategy is to sell in to strength (sell naked calls on up moves) and buy into weakness (sell naked puts on down moves).

It strikes me that if the position continues to move against her, she continues to add to the position, taking on more and more risk.

This is a tough strategy and losses pile up at an exponential rate.

She has a large amount of capital behind her and can theoretically continue to double down as the market moves against her.

While it is a valid (albeit risky) strategy, she must had some pretty giant sized cojones to be risking $190 million.

Naked calls and puts can have their place in your portfolio but for the average retail trader with $100K or less in their account, it would be very difficult to replicate Karen.

The risk of blowing out your account is pretty high.

Remember “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”.

Karen uses Bollinger Bands which is a technical tool to find specific strike prices that are unlikely to be reached based on the current market environment.

Bollinger bands are an indicator that shows 2-standard deviations around a 20-day moving average.

By using this tool, Karen can find strike prices that are unlikely to be reached, to place trades that are approximately 56 days to expiration.

Another tool Karen uses is charting implied volatility.

She uses charts to measure the VXX and OTM volatility charts to find levels when implied volatility is rich or cheap.

The technique Karen uses to mitigate risk is avoiding her Lick (Net Liquidating Value).

The lick is applied to premium-paid upfront options cleared by an exchange.

Karen strategy is very risky as implied volatility can rise and markets can accelerate wiping out huge amounts of capital generating significant margin calls.

A margin call is an amount of capital that will be required by the exchange to hold onto current positions.

If the margin call is not made by an investor the position will be liquidated by the exchange involuntarily.

Karen’s strategy is also short gamma which means as the market moves against her, the positions become worse at a greater rate.

Karen also experiences large swings in returns, with losses of more than 4% within a month, but the upside returns have been much greater than the adverse returns.

Karen is very matter of fact about her business. She sees the returns as numbers but does not take trading personally.

She has a strong trader mindset and seems confident in her style.

Is Karen A Fraud?

There have been some people who think Karen is a fraud. Her results are amazing. The skeptic in me wonders how genuine they are.

The romantic in me wants to believe. It’s every traders dream to turn a small account into a multi-million dollar account.

Watch Karen the Supertrader on Tasty Trade

  1. The Lazy Trader says:

    I really have no idea how that is possible. In the TOS platform, if I sell a naked Put, the usual margin required is very large. We’re talking that my short Put usually would yield between 1.5% – 2.5% of the margin required. How can she obtain those returns is beyond my understanding. Unless she has some special deal with TOS and is required less margin than usual. For example selling the October SPX 1485 Put right now (10.20% probability to be in the money by expiration) yields 470 dollars but the reduction ins your buying power is almost 21 thousand dollars. So yes about 2% return. And that return is only in that one position! Not the overall portfolio. In order to achieve that return over the whole portfolio she would need to put that trade using all the capital, or several trades like that one, but in the end the idea is the same, marginalizing all your capital in order to obtain a 2% equity growth. The math never worked for me. Like you, the romantic in me also wants to believe the story.

    Good article.

    1. Great comment LT. I’ve had a few emails about this article, it’s certainly peaked a lot of people’s interest.

      Apparently the Tasty Trade guys asked for proof before interviewing her, which would make sense, they wouldn’t want to ruin their reputation by having a fraud on their show.

      I think the story is true.

      In terms of margin, I would think she uses deep OTM options to control margin.

      1. Txsckb says:

        Yes, she stated that she “tricks” herself into thinking the market is already 100 points down and then takes her strike price down an additional 10-12%

    2. TraderX says:

      Simple. She has customer portfolio margin and sells short strangles. The margin required is much less than for Reg T accounts. Her magic is in how she manages the positions and her position sizing. That’s every trader’s edge…if you can exploit it. This is the part she holds close to the vest but most can guess at least some of her tactics.

      1. Very true. Good comment TraderX.

    3. Erik Trofatter says:

      Karen is on Portfolio Margin so her reduction in BPR is much much less, almost a third of that amount. My fund trades this strategy as well, however, I only risk 10% of my account on this strategy because as the positions move on you, the margin requirement expands, sometimes 2 or 3 times. Karen will be back on Tasty Trade February 11th for a live show at night. Should be a really interesting show being that Tom will finally be breaking into the “how she does it”

      1. Hi Erik,

        Thanks for letting us know about her return appearance on Tasty Trade.

      2. Jonny Phun says:

        Can you please explain what Portfolio Margin? Thanks.

        1. Erik Trofatter says:

          Portfolio margin is a reduced margin allowance set federally as a minimum of 100,000 account balance. However Brokers can have more stringent requirements. For instance, TD Ameritrade’s PM requirements start at 125,000, where Interactive brokers start at the FINRA minimum of 100,00. Portfolio Margin is a more leveraged margin calculation that looks at the overall potential risk of an entire portfolio and assigns margin per position accordingly. Portfolio Margin can allow a trader to have up to 6/1 leverage over a trader only using reg-t Margin. The more money you have, the better your margin.

          1. Thanks Erik, great explanation!

    4. matt says:

      She doesnt use TOS anymore is my guess….might have a personal account or something or started with them and investools…but not now

    5. Actuary says:

      I wish I were the romantic that Lazy Trader referenced but unfortunately he is right on the money with his example. It seems the comments to his posting are quick to brush it aside but there is no escaping his logic. I am an Actuary and have been using a strategy almost identical to what is described in this article used by Karen for 12 years. While biased to the methodology, I found that the math just doesn’t seem to add up.

      To determine an optimal portfolio return, one needs to focus on maximizing capital or in this case margin which represents the minimal capital required. According to the CBOE website regarding margin, a one-sided trade may cost 3.5%-5.5% of an underlying S&P contract, initially. This assumes Reg-T margin. There are many factors impacting the margin %, but the most significant are the inherent probability of success, the type of margin account and how well-balanced your portfolio is. Volatility and Days to Expiration and other factors are assumed to be incorporated into the % chance of success, so they are out of the equation for now.

      Switching to Portfolio Margin may significantly improve your results as well as writing on both sides. Only the $ of premium is added to margin for the second side. Assuming a 95% chance of success, premium equal to 10% of margin is not unrealistic. If you have such an account you can see for yourself. A new wrinkle is the portfolio stress test imposed on accounts by trading firms which serves to only increase margins.

      The amount of margin could be slightly lower but easily higher especially if the market moves on you. Since you are carrying risk for 2 months out implies a tie down of capital for that period and if replicated continually, i.e., 10% per 2 months, could possibly result in a return of 60% money over a year’s time. Over 3 year’s time, that would be a 4 fold increase in your money. Again, this calculation assumes margin is 100% utilized, no stress hurdles to overcome and every trade unfolds perfectly.

      A more reasonable return would be in the neighborhood of 40% as extra cushion is generally needed above the required margin and not every trade goes as planned. More importantly there is a predictability to this return over playing it out long which is what makes short option trading so much more desirable. Consistency trumps alpha.

      The Supertrader’s methodology makes perfect sense but unfortunately the dollars don’t. One poster suggests he “thinks” the story is true and another credits the “magic..” to exploitive position management. While there doesn’t appear nor do I believe there is any intent to deceive, the numbers just simply don’t add up. Seller BEWARE that if you are short on both sides of the market, selling strangles as it is, it is a mathematical certainty that you will be limited in your returns unlike going long. Albeit, while the returns over the long haul will be better by being short, the only way you will get $41 million in profits starting from $700k is if someone hands it to you. Tread carefully…the market doesn’t pay us hopeless romantics in kind.

    6. E. Cunningham says:

      If you don’t understand how she did it you should really get out of this game!

  2. dniel says:

    “sell naked calls on up moves” and “sell naked puts on down moves” I don’t get this.. aren’t you supposed to “buy calls on up moves” or “buy puts on down moves” to make money??? even theta decay would not catch up on a moving market in either direction in typical 30 – 50 days??

    1. Hi Dniel,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Karen trades what is sometimes referred to as a “mean reversion” strategy. After a sustained up move, the likely future direction is down and vice versa. She probably doesn’t sell calls on every up day or puts on every down down. Rather, she probably waits for an extended move in one direction before placing her trades.

      If a stock or index moves too far away from it’s moving average (50 day, 200 day etc.), chance are that it will eventually revert to the mean, or long-term average.

      Buying calls on up moves and buying puts on down moves as you mentioned would be a trend following strategy.

      Both are valid ways to trade and each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages.

  3. Richard says:

    link me to her website, i wish to visit it

    1. Sorry, I’m not aware of her website. She may not have one as she is a private trader.

  4. bfis108137 says:

    For those that can’t get portfolio margin which is most traders then you can do what she does with es futures. Futures will give you a similar underlying but with margin similar to portfolio margin. Also since 1 es future is 50 instead of 100 contracts you will have more flexibility than spx. As an example one atm option in es will cost ~8400 to open and only 6700 to hold. spx in reg-t margin will cost about 27,000 and portfolio margin will cost about 10,000 to open. Portfolio margin is still better as you would have to trade 2 es contracts to equal 1 spx but futures margin is still only 30% more than portfolio margin and half that of reg-t.

    1. Jermelle Mitchell says:

      I thought of this but wouldn’t the commissions be very high with all those contracts?

  5. jeff says:

    How about just sell call spread or put spread instead of naked call and put? Less capitals and less profit, but safer.

    1. It certainly is Jeff, I think like to have the higher Theta associated with the naked options but they of course carry much more risk.

  6. Chris says:

    One important point to keep in mind is that the growth of her assets under management of $100,000 to around $190 million is not purely from trading gains… the majority is from new investment from clients. She has stated her annual returns from trading are in the 25-35% range. In 2013 she returned around 28%. She has returned more in years with higher volatility.

  7. Matt says:

    Of course she’s not a fraud, what a stupid suggestion.

  8. Lez Trade says:

    I don’t think she’s able right now to deliver those great return. Don’t forget that she was trading over 30 stock at the start, and it’s easier to deliver big return trading stock like aapl, nflx etc whit a small account… Don’t forget that selling option while volatility was surging in 2008-2012 should have been really profitable. I think in 2013-2014, she must have some trouble to deliver 2 digits returns. But her strategy his great for a big account, i’m trying to achieve the same kind of thing. 3 digit return so far this year

  9. tony says:

    karen’s strategy works

  10. Scott Swallows says:

    Is there a way to have your company manage my money. I have 100,000 dollars.


    Scott Swallows

  11. Andy says:

    Karen the super trader is no fraud. I googled her, found her name and name of the two funds. Her funds file every year with the SEC, all public records. You can view her 2013 filings.

  12. stuart sugden says:

    This story certainly comes over as genuine. One issue is surprising to me. That is much of 2008 was a time when the market made major crashes. And yet she claims she started this strategy in 2007. There is no way she could have made money selling naked or even covered puts in such a major down market. Had she reserved her trades to only selling calls maybe. Buying put options would have been a way to make a huge fortune in 2008 but this is not what she is claiming. Puzzling. 2008 was a tremendous year for trend following systems. Her system is the opposite of that to a significant degree.

    Since she claims her approach is conservative presumably the selling of options was hedged. If not both margins are higher and there is a huge risk with limited reward.

    And why can I not find her on searches that give more complete information? What is her last name? Did I miss something?

  13. Gavin says:

    Hi Stuart, I think she is reasonably private. I’m not aware of what her last name is.

  14. strategy works says:

    This strategy works. Generated 64K in 6 months. Very volatile. And you can see +/- 20% or more swings in one day…

  15. Dirk says:

    If it’s about put bullspreads and call bearspreads, I can believe something of this story but naked puts are gonna hurt some day. And the fact she’s ads to losing positions, it can cause a margin call so she has to close thing and take a loss.
    Maybe, at those difficult moments, she asks the investors to add money into the account so she can survive.
    Maybe ‘the market’ tried to hurt people like her with the flashcrash some years ago.

    Another thing that’s strange is the fact there’s not even one chart or table of her performance. I hear a lot of big numbers but just give the facts black on white.

    And why she would not give her last name and the name of the funds. It would be great marketing for her.

    After all, it’s not easy to raise money, or is it? This was in the interview:

    He: “Basicly people are throwing money at you right?”
    She: Yes…

    Then a little further she says:
    She: “Everybody knows how hard it is raising money, it’s really hard for me to raise money”

    So, is it easy or hard..?

    As long as I can’t see an equity curve of the fund, it’s CRAP and BS !

  16. Gavin says:

    All fair points Kirk. I think until people see her account statements, there will always be scepticism.

  17. Sandman says:

    I think the key is money management. Be aware – she sells on both sides of the market but not necessarily at the same time (so although it is a sort of strangle, it is not managed as a strangle. Each side is managed independently).
    She sells at a delta of around 0.1-0.15 on either side, and waits for a “significant” directional move in one direction first before selling into that move (employing a “mean reversion” approach).
    During the crash of 2008, this would have been the best time to do this because the implied vols would have been massive, meaning that a 0.1 delta at 30-60 days to expiry would have probably translated into strikes being several hundred points away from the current price on the SPX, and would have collected a nice premium to boot.

    She has explicitly said that portfolio margin is a big factor in making these returns. She also uses weekly options to manage positions.

    In the recent bull market it has been harder to make the gains as the VIX has been low for a long time. In this case they have resorted to using 50-60 day maturities on the put side and weekly options on the call side (or at least less than 30 days).

    1. Gavin says:

      Thanks for the input Sandman. Yes the VIX explosion in 2008 was a nice time to sell put spreads, as long as you weren’t burnt on the initial move down.

      I think the idea of going out 50-60 days makes a lot of sense as the gamma risk is a lot lower. This is good for retail traders who can’t watch the markets all day. The gamma on weekly options is a killer.

      Trading the 50-60 options and using weeklies to hedge is a very good strategy.

  18. Burt says:

    I think there is more than a fair chance she may be a fraud and possibly even an invention of TastyTrade. Any manager worth her salt would be happy to provide audited returns, especially if only managing 150 million. Managers typically eager to accept more client money until the fund is so large that it hampers trading and is closed to new investors. It’s also worth noting that nowhere has this woman been interviewed other than TastyTrade even though her story is so remarkable that she would have appeared on several TV shows by now.

  19. Michael says:

    I apply this strategy and have 85% winners with it but resulting a 1 to max 3.% per win only. Karen uses up to 70% of her capital which to my mind is close to suicide. I personally use some single digit %amounts. An unexpected 20% decline or even worse a nasty row of small declines with a sudden change in volatility plus spiking interest rates would kill. Over a 10 years period this is almost sure happening and there is no way out as premiums go up and roll overs not affordable anymore.

  20. Cessna says:

    See Tasty Trade Aug ’14 interview with Karen. She uses futures to hedge her positions. She also believes that market circuit breakers will prevent a drop greater than 10% in one day. She also keeps 50% in cash.
    A hedge can pay more than the loss. With the 50% cash available, she can take advantage of the opportunity that a crash opens. After a market crash, reverse the hedge.

  21. Me says:

    I used this strategy purely inspired by her you tube interview–I made 300% in about 12 months trading dax naked puts –I failed few months ago when I sold puts and market went more down as a hedge I sold 10400 strike calls market was 8400 at the time –after that market reversed up and those f. calls killed me At expiration they were both out of money but margin and stress was too much on calls . Strategy would worked out perfectly if I didnt take calls (timing was very bad )I was too gready and that `hedge` payed in the past about 32 % a month i ve done it only once –and market didnt go up like crazy. Anyway what I wanted to say is that strtegy works but sooner or later you have to be prepared for some unexpected market moves in any direction and you must have a plan before you take a position. I thought I have one but huge bounce prove me wrong .And it was my hedge strategy that has failed not initial trade if I did not hedge just wait another 3 day I would made anoother 20 % a month
    Good luck traders

    1. Javaman says:

      Other than smaller sizing most traders over hedge on a draw down and that turns out to be their other biggest mistake. The best thing to do is give your self a longer time to be correct and maintain the original position and direction. The whole option market works best as a hedge mechanism or defend defend defend…Now we want to make money out of that philosophy. Doable but it requires a different mindset and approach.

  22. Carlos says:

    The first thing to realize about this story is that she has not personally generated $100M starting from $100K. Most of the money she is managing is from investors, so most of the profits are from other people’s investments. She is probably generating around 30% a year while taking a lot of risk. I don’t know if that makes sense in the long run.

    1. Gavin says:

      Excellent comment Carlos. It’s Finance 101 isn’t it? The higher the return, the higher the risk you have to take. If she is generating 30% or greater per year, she is taking on a lot of risk. Hopefully her investors realize that.

  23. Turtle_Wannabe says:

    I watched the Karen Super Trader videos several times last year and believe she is real. Her strategy is along the lines of the Turtle Trader Rules. A few things I got from her video outside of the Turtle Trader Rules are:
    1. Retail accounts are monitored constantly by Brokers for risk management (for the benefit of the Brokers, not for account holders). For certain TDAmeritrade account size, there will be a human broker assigned to monitor the accounts daily.
    2. Must have sufficient capital. Karen keep her accounts 50% or more in non-leverage cash.
    3. Each option play is settled 10 days or more before expiration either by high probability of expiring worthless or well hedged so that worst case is a small profit.
    4. Call and Put option plays are treated separate and independent from each other.
    5. Option strike price is at least one variation unit (out of the money) from current price.
    6. Put option is purchased with minimum 6 weeks from expiration and Call options are about 2 week minimum from expiration.
    7. Trade only Index options to qualify for benefit of the 1256 tax treatment: 60% long term 40% short term from trading gain/loss of 1256 qualified (non-equity) options.
    7. Need a lot of patience and self discipline coupled with strong risk management to get 15 to 30 percent annual gain.
    8. Karen uses the word “harvesting” for her trading process. This means her performance depends on the size of market volatility, not the direction.

  24. Dee Anders says:

    Karen’s day job was an accountant, she probably has a better conceptualization for the numbers than the average trader?

  25. Maybe fake says:

    If you manage other people’s money with more than 100M$, you need get registered with SEC/Finra or NFA/CFTC. So far we only know her first name and that is very strange. Where to find her registration information? Auditing information etc? Without that, it is very fishy…

  26. Tanman777 says:

    Karen’s last name is Bruton.
    She has made so much money and continues to amass such good returns that she is sharing her wealth through her charitable missions. Look up her name and you will find her website.
    Her story is incredible and not for everyone.
    I don’t need to make 100’s of millions…i’d be happy doubling my account every few years so that I would not need to work for others any longer.

    I love how humble and simple she is in her approach. But make no mistake, she is no dummy.
    She knows how to manage her trades without letting emotions get in her way.
    Every options writer needs to know how to turn a losing trade into a win or a break even.

    My 2cents worth!

  27. Carol says:

    Does anyone know of a fund or manager that uses a similar strategy but with less risk to manage our funds? Thanks.

  28. brian says:

    i saw this interview and wish the moderator would shut up and let Karen speak. she really didn’t get to say much and didn’t seem to care that the guy just talked away the whole interview. i’ve seen him 2 or 3 other times and it’s the same thing. he talks too much. so i really didn’t learn much of Karen’s trading plan. i know nothing about her and have no opinion but i would have loved to hear specifically what her trading strategy was and her hedge/adjustment strategies are to that particular strategy.

    but i did learn most of her stock investing education was useless. i think she says she trades only indexes and plays to keep ALL the premium. now how she does this i was never told. low, low delta ICs? hedging? idk. wish she was more specific.

  29. trader QA says:

    Read the comments, um so noteworthy points…Karen only started with $100k, she made $40k the her first year. The results were so impressive, wealthy clients and others started throwing money at here is a very large way. Within 2 years she had $300million under management and $600+million under management a few years later. That’s how successful she was/is.

    These large trades are not uncommon in the larger indexes. Look at the SPX weeklies on any given day, you can see ~50 days out, there are credit spreads being put on that receive $9-13million in credit against $100-150million BPR or capitol at risk. These trades are easy to spot at SPX right now of 2100 in the 1800-1870 range and 2180-2220 range. These trades are very easy to spot everyday. These are not Karens trades, as she trades naked strangles 100-500 contracts at a time. To put on Karens trades, you need a counter party, these are large PROP trading companies like Citadel, » Susquehanna, and others who have 10s of billions and make markets to facilitate a liquid/efficient market place.

    Most of Karens trades are in the 100-250 contracts at a time collecting ~$300k and putting up $1-5million margin, BPR or capitol at risk, however you want to look/call it. Then she’ll ladder up or down depending on the market moves. She will close the trade when she makes 25-50% profit. When your trading at SPX 1820 puts, your just managing winners. It takes a really severe flash crash or recession for her to have “margin call”, which hasent happened in 6 years. She also said she adjust the tested calls or puts at 30% Delta, so that also givesw more room to adjust losing trades if there need be.

    trader QA

    1. Gavin says:

      Great comment Trader QA

  30. Tony says:

    Hey lazy trader…. you could always buy a call against it ,,, that reduces the margin requirements

  31. YC says:

    Shorting options is something that can generate positive expected return by with enormous risk… I also short options but with careful hedging and I’m not making money as fast as her.

  32. Dan C says:

    Is there any sense in doing an opposite strategy where you sell calls while following the down trend, and sell puts while following the up trend? I would imagine that you would have lower premiums with this type of strategy, but greater success, at least until you hit the point of mean reversion.

    1. Gavin says:

      Yes you could do this. As you said you would have to watch for the mean reversion. Bear market rallies could kill your calls.

  33. Karen A Fraud? says:

    Well now we don’t have to question it anymore. She’s a fraud….Read the article below

  34. Rick says:

    i can tell you this, i have been trading OPTIONS ONLY since 1995 and through TOS using portfolio margin since Jan of 2014.
    AND 80% of what i trade is naked SPX both sides,, 10% is NDX and the other 10% is on stock options during earning season. the way TD has the risk parameters set , if you sell WAY out of the $ on both sides , you’ll be lucky to get 1-2%/mo THATS IT, . i had 3 losing months trading this exact strategy since 1998.. for what karen is doing, its taking on way too much risk,, im way more OTM, besides there is a bug with the TOS platform, theres a inverse volatility curve on way OTM puts, so as the mkt goes higher the maintenance on the naked puts INCREASES,, yeah i know its wrong,,,yeah its something that i have talked numerous times to the PM team and they all know the issue and no fix is in place

  35. This incident is self evident of the fact that people who get attracted to Options Selling by the words of so called experts should be on toes before committing any money to be handled.

    Its much better to be mentored by an expert like Gavin and understand the in & out of Options trading and venture out for a consistent income.


  36. JK says:

    Rick, if 1-2% per month includes the losses then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Or were you referencing this to the supposed returns Karen had racked up? Sorry if I misunderstood.

    Speaking of criminal, it’s too bad TOS can’t get their margining straight. You’re not the only one I’ve heard complain of that, either.

  37. dataatq says:

    Just a reminder that if you get to big the government will look at you. True or not, This is a negative.

  38. Amanda says:

    This one cracked me up… Karen the “day trading superstar” lol

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