It's Lonely at the Top for Investment Challenge Leader

With two weeks to go, David Betten maintains his lead in the <I>TSC</I> Investment Challenge by a wide margin.
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With more than 9,500 contestants trading in

TheStreet.com's Investment Challenge

, many of whom are experienced money managers and professional traders, it would seem unlikely that one contestant would dominate. But

David Betten

, who last week was the top gainer for the third straight week, has established himself as the clear-cut favorite to win -- and two weeks remain in the challenge.

Betten's portfolio is worth nearly twice as much as the second-place contender, making the chance of someone catching him remote.

"I didn't mean to not make this any fun," Betten says.

A professional trader in New York, Betten has made the most of his fantasy money daytrading IPOs. His aggressive tactics over the past six weeks enabled him to make more than $1 million each on IPOs such as

MP3.com

(MPPP)

and

Net2Phone

(NTOP)

.

But last week was a different story. Betten stuck to popular tech stocks -- and still managed to produce gains that have characterized his challenge performance so far.

On Thursday, for instance,

eBay's

(EBAY) - Get Report

23% rise earned Betten a cool $1,326,230 on 300,000 shares. He also daytraded

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

to a $728,720 gain over the course of the week.

In fact, Betten believes that sticking to a few companies has been more lucrative than dabbling in a slew of stocks.

He finished the week at $16,143,252 with a $3,783,785 weekly gain.

Last week's third-place gainer,

Mark Zinn

, isn't playing this investment challenge for fun. Instead, he's testing it as a prototype for a challenge he plans to run at his new investment company,

Van Buren Securities

.

Zinn, a long-time professional trader, is attempting to move his firm from the floor to online. "I need

my employees to change their thinking," Zinn says, explaining that a fantasy challenge will acclimate his stockbrokers to online trading in a safe, realistic fashion.

Last week, he gained over $1 million by placing puts on

AOL

(AOL)

and shorting

Lucent

(LU)

.

Like Betten, Zinn says that contestants with demanding jobs can succeed in the fantasy challenge if they stick to a few key stocks.

"You can actually do your job and make your living ... when you're only watching two or three stocks," he says.

Zinn finished the week at $2,724,166 with a $1,267,881 weekly gain.

Chris Jorgensen

, last week's fourth place finisher, is a good example of why it's so hard for amateur traders to break into the top five. Though 18-year-old

Harris Kupperman

has shown that it's

not impossible -- making the top five winner's list three out of the past six weeks -- contestants such as Jorgensen often limit the ambitions of amateurs in the game.

A trader at

EBI Securities

in Spokane, Wash., Jorgensen is well informed about the market. Last week he daytraded

RealNetworks

(RNWK) - Get Report

to a solid gain, and in general he plays IPOs that he learns about on the job.

Despite his strong performance, Jorgensen remains well off the lead as he finished the week at $2,051,120 with a $1,261,545 weekly gain.

The other top-five finishers for the week included

James Burleson

, who ranked second at $4,071,285 with a $2,311,940 weekly gain.

Douglas Beasley

ranked fifth at $3,047,109 with a $1,245,059 weekly gain.

For a list of the current overall leaders, click

here. Registration for the challenge ended on Aug. 9.