So many traders start out with a sensible plan, only to abandon it because of the way the markets move. This abandonment of a smart plan invariably leads to potentially small added gains but large added losses.

In entering a trade, it is sensible to set two goals: the point where profits will be taken, and the bail-out point where losses will be cut. If you buy a long option, you should know going in that 75% of options expire worthless, so setting goals to sell and close make sense.

This does not means that 75% of long options will lose because a majority will be closed or exercised before expiration; even so, the closer to expiration, the more accelerated the time decay, so taking profits or cutting losses determines how well you will end up. According to the Chicago Board Options Exchange (NASDAQ:CBOE), the actual numbers are quite different. About 55% to 605 of all options are closed before expiration, and another 10% are exercised. This means that only 30% to 35% of all options are likely to expire worthless. The big question is how many of the early closed options are profitable; and this depends on whether or not you take profits or cut losses when you are able to. Because too many long option holders do not act in time, they are likely to lose.

For example, you buy a long option for 4 ($400) and set the following two goals: Sell when net value grows to 6 or above, representing a 50% profit; or sell when the value falls to 3 or below, a 25% loss. You know going in that time decay works against you, so you face the possibility of incurring losses from which recovery is unlikely. This means you have to select long options with some additional goals:

1. Pick long calls at the downside swing. This means you enter the long position on sessions when the market drops dramatically. Stocks tend to follow the broader market, so when an otherwise well-managed quality stock falls several points, you know it is not always a factor of the company. This may be the best time to buy a call for a fast swing trade turnaround, especially following a negative earnings surprise. At such times an over-reaction takes the stock down on the announcement session, but prices tend to recover within two to three sessions.

2. Pick long puts at the upside swing. This suggestion does not contradict the one before. It is the opposite. Prices often rise just as irrationally as they fall, especially after a positive earnings surprise. So when the values jump sharply, stocks tend to go along for the ride; but you may see a retreat in the following two or three sessions. When overall market prices rise quickly, buy puts on the upside swing, anticipating a drop back to "normal" levels of trading.

3. Know your stock beforehand. Every stock exhibits particular trading tendencies and rhythms. Some tend to over-react to broader markets while others hardly react at all. This tendency, called beta, is a valuable technical factor in identifying how stock prices react to market movement. Stocks may tend to exaggerate news as well. So for example, a disappointing earnings report of only a penny per share may cause the stock price to plunge, only to get back most of its decline in the following session or two. Knowing how a stock tends to act and react helps pick options with better market intelligence.

Michael Thomsett blogs at the CBOE Options Hub and several other sites. He is author of 11 options books and has been trading options for 35 years. Thomsett Publishing Website

Thomsett also writes extensively on the topic of candlestick charting. You can discover the world of effective chart reading with Profitable Trading Strategies Using Candlestick Charting. This is a comprehensive and complete course on the nature of candlestick charting, offered exclusively by the Global Risk Management Community. By the conclusion of this course, you should be able to locate actionable candlestick signals, better understand what is likely to occur next, and combine candlesticks with other technical signals to forecast price movement. To find out more, go to Using Candlestick Charting

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