Becky Smith was the January winner in Stockpickr's Wall Street Pros vs. Main Street Joes stock game. A $1,000 prize is awarded to the game's top percentage winner every month, in addition to weekly prizes. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of TheStreet or its management.NEW YORK ( Stockpickr) -- My name is Becky Smith, I am a housewife, and I trade stocks. I did not go to college and have never studied finance or economics. I became interested in stock trading about 11 years ago. The first six to seven years were a little rough, but I've learned from my experiences. I have learned that to be a stock trader, you need to have a good understanding of the markets, their trends and how the markets and individual stocks react to news. You need to know what things to take into consideration (P/E, float, volume, chart) before trading a stock. It takes confidence in your research. You need to have the time to follow the financial news and your stock trades. I enjoy playing online contests and the competition it provides. Before 2007, I had never shorted a stock. I practiced my shorting strategies in a previous eight-week contest called Beat the Street, sponsored by TheStreet in 2007. I won. Related: How I Turned $250K Into $364K in One Month To win one of these contests, you need to take chances, bet on small-cap companies and bet big. Take profits when you have them. Don't be greedy. I start my day out by tuning into CNBC. I want to know what news is affecting the markets and what economic reports are being released and when. I watch the premarket trading, looking for low-priced stocks that are making a large-percentage move to the upside, looking for something to short. I take notes. When I find something premarket, I can take some time to read the news that has caused the price increase and decide if I believe the jump in price is justified. If I'm interested, some of the things that I check after I've read the news are the outstanding share count, the float, the average volume of shares traded in a day and the percentage of shares that have been shorted. The smaller the float, the more unpredictably the stock will trade, and I tend to avoid stocks with very low floats. If there is a high percentage of shorts once the price starts falling, it will not stay down long because shorts will start covering and drive the price back up.
In general, stocks usually trade in the direction of the market, unless they have had news. For earnings, I tend to go with stocks that have had a history of beating and exceeding earnings expectations. Very often when one of the CNBC anchors announces that coming up they will be discussing a certain stock or talking to the CEO of a certain company, if it's something positive, the stock price moves up during the clip. I've made money by taking a short position as they are talking and covering a couple of minutes after the clip is done. In the month of January, I played sectors, three to five stocks at a time, going long on some earnings plays and short some commodities. The shortage of rare earth elements had been in the news for weeks. Some of the stocks in that sector had run up 200% to 700% in a matter of a couple of months or less. I made a lot of money shorting those stocks. I went long Potash ( POT) and various other agricultural stocks going into POT's earnings on Jan. 27, and it paid off. On Friday, Jan. 28, I just happened to notice Massey ( MEE) was moving up. I bought 1,000 shares about 10 minutes before the close. After the close, Alpha Natural ( ANR) resources offered $7.1 billion for Massey. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. There is always over-exuberance in the market, to the upside and to the downside. The price of the stock will always correct. Plan your strategy, make your trade -- and however you trade, long or short, may all of your trades be profitable!