The Bettin's on Betten as Investment Challenge Rolls to a Close

The professional trader has amassed a hefty $25 million fantasy portfolio, which is all but out of reach for his competitors.
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Despite a gain of more than $5 million last week, 18-year-old

Harris Kupperman

appears to be a day late and a dollar short in his bid to overtake the leader in

TheStreet.com Investment Challenge, professional trader

Dave Betten

.

Now in second place overall, Kupperman hopes to take two days off this week from his job at a local mall to usurp the lead. "Screw risk-management," Kupperman says. "I intend to catch that guy."

But with only three days left in the contest, Betten has amassed a virtually untouchable lead. At the end of last week Betten's portfolio was worth more than $22 million, giving him a sizable cushion over the risk-taking Kupperman, who had around $14 million. The challenge's grand-prize winner will win a trip to Wall Street and a morning in the trenches with

James J. Cramer

, co-founder of

TheStreet.com

and a daily columnist at

TSC

.

One stumbling block for Kupperman, who at the end of last week led third-place contestant John Smathers by some $6 million, is that Betten's portfolio continues to expand at a healthy clip. For instance, even as Kupperman scored a $5.4 million gain last week, Betten outperformed him by more than 10%, taking in some $6 million.

"I saw the kid make a bunch of money last week," Betten explains. "And I said, 'Uh oh, better start going.'"

After a morning of trading

Red Hat's

(RHAT)

IPO, which eventually earned him a staggering $4.6 million, Betten was comfortably back in charge.

Kupperman's opportunity to keep pace with the leader went by the boards when he had to work on the morning of Red Hat's IPO, preventing him from taking advantage of its heady first-day rise. Instead, Kupperman had to settle for smaller gains on Red Hat throughout the rest of the week.

Betten hopes to maintain his leading portfolio, which by midweek had grown to $25 million, by remaining "conservative": He'll aim to make between $1 million and $2 million a day.

And what are his thoughts on a possible challenge from Kupperman? "I'm hoping he'll have to work one of these days," Betten quips. Of course, he has room to make jokes: He finished last week at $22,232,567 after a $6,089,315 gain for the week. Kupperman finished the week at $14,028,580 following a $5,438,280 weekly gain.

John Smathers is not near the lead overall for the tournament, but that didn't stop him from gaining more than $5 million last week, rivaling the leaders. He finished the week as the second-best gainer -- just above Kupperman -- at $7,890,179 with a $5,469,900 weekly gain. Smathers, who employs a unique strategy by exclusively trading call options on

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, rode a sharp rise in Intel's stock last week to his $5.5 million take.

In fact, Smathers, a retired electrical engineer for

Bell Labs

in Boulder, Colo., says that one of the reasons he entered the challenge was to teach himself options. He is long on Intel -- and says that he reads every scrap that is written on the company -- but until now has never attempted options.

Though he has done well in the contest -- currently his fantasy portfolio is worth $7 million -- Smathers had other obligations this summer that kept him from taking the challenge too seriously. He returned last week from a three-week vacation to the Oregon coast during which he didn't see a computer screen or a single copy of

The Wall Street Journal

.

"I think I have my priorities straight," he explains.

After the challenge ends, Smathers hopes to begin trading Intel options in his actual portfolio.

The other top-five finishers based on weekly gains included Michael Fung, who ranked fourth overall at $8,420,240, with a $4,966,898 weekly gain. Fung is currently in fourth place overall. Kent Hurd ranked fifth for the week with a $2,637,743 gain. Hurd is currently in third place overall, at $9,966,030.

Click here to see the

overall leaders.

The challenge began June 28 and registration ended Aug. 9. Friday is the last day of the challenge.