Liautaud Students Sink or Swim on TD Ameritrade's Dime

TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim Challenge is now in its second week, and four Liautaud MBA students are staying close to their laptops and strategizing non-stop. “We’re constantly meeting between classes to check the trading account,” says Jon Spurgeon, “we leave a trading strategies class or a portfolio investment class with plenty of new ideas to test in the market.”

The TD Ameritrade thinkorswim Challenge is a four-week trading competition between 450 teams representing universities from across the country. Each team gets a “practice” balance in their TD Ameritrade account, and winning teams can end up with a substantial real TD Ameritrade balance, as well as money and new equipment for their school.

Another Liautaud team member, Jason Chiou, has been trading for years on his own. “I use TD Ameritrade on my personal account, but I wanted the chance to learn with others, especially in options trading.” Chiou, who shares classes with the other team members, likes how the competition keeps him on his toes. “We strategize on the spot, and it gets emotional. In class, we learn the fundamentals and the theory. But when you actually start trading, you see the consequences of your decisions in real time. It’s exciting, to put it mildly.”

Matias Jalil Caceres Arar, the third team member, came to Liautaud on a Fulbright scholarship from Paraguay. “It’s eye-opening, to learn this trading platform. Capital markets aren’t this developed where I come from, so for the first time I’m seeing some of the economics I studied in graduate school, efficient markets theory, for example, just completely blown out of the water.”

A team’s standing in the thinkorswim ranking can change drastically in an instant. The Liautaud team has held on through both precipitous drops and meteoric rises, and currently sits around the top fifty. “One thing you can watch is other teams’ strategies,” says Calvin Castelino, who organizes the challenge for Liautaud students. “You see something that works, and you figure out how to make it work for you.”

“There’s no substitute for trading in real time,” says Spurgeon. “Processing reports as they come out, watching markets react; you’ll see huge changes in mere seconds. Classes give you some idea of the market, but only exposure gives you a feel for it.”

All team members agree that the challenge is an invaluable application of theory to practice. “It’s a great balance of real experience and academic knowledge, especially as the challenge moves into an earnings release period. We’re about to witness some huge swings, which are great opportunities to test options strategies.”

“Losing $100K in a day,” says Matias, “then coming back $150K overnight - there are a lot of moments when we break out into excited laughter, ‘what if this were real money?’”

Sergey Bulakov, the fourth Liautaud thinkorswim team member, was not available at the time of this conversation. For more information about thinkorswim and the Liautaud team, please contact Calvin Castelino, ccaste7@uic.edu.