What Are the Inner Circle Trading Concepts?

FXOpen

Inner Circle Trading (ICT) offers a sophisticated lens through which traders can view and interpret market movements, providing traders with insights that go beyond conventional technical analysis. This article explores key ICT concepts, aiming to equip traders with a thorough understanding of how these insights can be applied to enhance their trading decisions.

Introduction to the Inner Circle Trading Methodology

Inner Circle Trading (ICT) methodology is a sophisticated approach to financial markets that zeroes in on the behaviours of large institutional traders. Unlike conventional trading methods, ICT is not merely about recognising patterns in price movements but involves understanding the intentions behind those movements. It is part of the broader Smart Money Concept (SMC), which analyses how major players influence the market.

Key Inner Circle Trading Concepts

Within the ICT methodology, there are many concepts to learn. Below, we’ve explained the most fundamental ideas central to ICT trading. To understand these concepts better, consider following along in FXOpen’s free TickTrader platform.

Structure

Understanding the structure of a market is fundamental to effectively employing the ICT methodology. In the context of ICT, market structure is defined by the identification of trends through specific patterns of highs and lows.

Market Structure

A market trend is typically characterised by a series of higher highs and higher lows in an uptrend, or lower highs and lower lows in a downtrend. This sequential pattern provides a visual representation of market sentiment and momentum.

Importantly, market trends are fractal, replicating similar patterns at different scales or timeframes. For example, what appears as a bearish trend on a short timeframe might merely be a corrective phase within a larger bullish trend. By understanding this fractal nature, traders can better align their strategies with the prevailing trend at different trading intervals.

Break of Structure (BOS)

A Break of Structure occurs when there is a clear deviation from these established patterns of highs and lows. In an uptrend, a BOS is signalled by prices exceeding a previous high without falling below the most recent higher low, confirming the strength and continuation of the uptrend.

Conversely, in a downtrend, a BOS is indicated when prices drop below a previous low without breaching the prior lower high, signifying that the downtrend remains strong. Identifying a BOS gives traders valuable clues about the continuation of the current market direction.

Change of Character (CHoCH)

The Change of Character in a market happens when there is a noticeable alteration in the behaviour of price movements, suggesting a potential reversal of a given trend. This might be seen in an uptrend where the price fails to reach a new high and then breaks below a recent higher low, indicating that the buying momentum is waning and a bearish reversal is possible.

Identifying a CHoCH helps traders recognise when the market momentum is shifting, which is critical for adjusting positions to capitalise on or protect against a new trend.

Market Structure Shift (MSS)

A Market Structure Shift is a significant change in the market that can disrupt the existing trend. This specific type of CHoCH is typically marked by a price moving sharply (a displacement) through a key structural level, such as a higher low in an uptrend or a lower high in a downtrend.

These shifts can signal a profound change in market dynamics, with the sharp move often preceding a new sustained trend. Recognising an MSS allows traders to reevaluate their current bias and adapt to a new trend, given its clear signal.

Order Blocks

Order blocks are a central component of ICT trading, providing crucial insights into potential areas where the price may react strongly due to significant buy or sell interests from large market participants.

Regular Order Blocks

A regular order block is an area on the price chart representing a concentration of buying (demand zone) or selling (supply zone) activity.

In an uptrend, a bullish order block is identified during a downward price movement and marks the last area of selling before a substantial upward price movement occurs. Conversely, a bearish order block forms in an uptrend where the last buying action appears before a significant downward price shift.

In the ICT trading strategy, order blocks are seen as reversal areas. So, if the price revisits a bullish order block following a BOS higher, it’s assumed that the block will hold and prompt a reversal that produces a new higher high.

Breaker Blocks

Breaker blocks play a crucial role in identifying trend reversals. They are typically formed when the price makes a BOS before reversing and breaking beyond an order block that should hold if the established market structure is to be maintained. This formation indicates that liquidity has been taken.

For instance, in an uptrend, if the price creates a new high but then reverses below the previous higher low, the bullish order block above the low becomes a breaker block. A breaker block can be an area that prompts a reversal as the new trend unfolds; it’s a similar concept to support becoming resistance and vice versa.

Mitigation Blocks

Mitigation blocks are similar to breaker blocks, except they occur after a failure swing, where the price attempts but fails to surpass a previous peak in an uptrend or a previous trough in a downtrend. This pattern indicates a loss of momentum and potential reversal as the price fails to sustain its previous direction.

For example, in an uptrend, if the price makes a lower high and then breaks the structure by dropping below the previous low, the order block formed at the previous low becomes a mitigation block. These blocks are critical for traders because they’re also expected to produce a reversal if a new trend has been set in motion.

Liquidity

Liquidity refers to areas on the price chart with a high concentration of trading activity, typically marked by stop orders from retail traders.

Buy- and Sell-Side Liquidity

Buy-side liquidity is found where there is a likely accumulation of short-selling traders' stop orders, typically above recent highs. Conversely, sell-side liquidity is located below recent lows, where bullish traders' stop orders accumulate. When prices touch these areas, activating stop orders can cause a reversal, presenting a potential level of support or resistance.

Liquidity Grabs

A liquidity grab occurs when the price quickly spikes into these high-density order areas, triggering stops and then reversing direction. In ICT theory, this action is often orchestrated by larger players aiming to capitalise on the flurry of orders to execute their large-volume trades with minimal slippage. It's a strategic move that temporarily shifts price momentum, usually just long enough to trigger the stops before the market direction reverses.

Inducement

An inducement is a specific type of liquidity grab that triggers stops and entices other traders to enter the market. It often appears as a peak or trough, typically into an area of liquidity, in a minor counter-trend within the larger market trend. Inducements are designed by smart money to create an illusion of a trend change, prompting an influx of retail trading in the wrong direction. Once the retail traders have committed, the price swiftly reverses, aligning back with the original major trend.

In the Inner Circle Trading methodology, two specific types of sharp trending movements signal significant shifts in market dynamics: fair value gaps and displacements.

Fair Value Gaps

A fair value gap (FVG) occurs when there is a noticeable absence of trading within a price range, typically represented by a swift and substantial price move without retracement. This gap often forms between the wicks of two adjacent candles where no trading has occurred, signifying a strong directional push.

Fair value gaps are important because they indicate areas on the chart where the price may return to "fill" the gap, usually before meeting an order block, offering potential trading opportunities as the market seeks to establish equilibrium.

Displacements

Displacements, also known as liquidity voids, are characterised by sudden, forceful price movements occurring between two chart levels and lacking the typical gradual trading activity observed in between. They are essentially amplified and more substantial versions of fair value gaps, often spanning multiple candles and FVGs, signalling a heightened imbalance between buy and sell orders.

Other Components

Beyond these ICT concepts, there are a few other niche components.

Kill Zones

Kill Zones refer to specific timeframes during the trading day when market activity significantly increases due to the opening or closing of major financial centres. These periods are crucial for traders as they often set the tone for price movements based on the increased volume and volatility:

Optimal Trade Entry

An optimal trade entry (OTE) is a type of Inner Circle trading strategy, found using Fibonacci retracement levels. After an inducement that prompts a displacement (leaving behind an FVG), traders use the Fibonacci retracement tool to pinpoint entry areas.

The first point is set at the major high or low that prompts the displacement, while the second point is set at the next significant swing high or low that forms. In a bearish movement, for example, the initial point is set at the swing high before the displacement and the subsequent point at the new swing low. Traders often look to the 61.8% to 78.6% retracement level for entries.

Balanced Price Range

A balanced price range is observed when two opposing displacements create FVGs in a short timeframe, indicating a broad zone of price consolidation. During this period, prices typically test both extremes, attempting to fill the gaps. This scenario offers traders potential zones for trend reversals as the price seeks to establish a new equilibrium, as well as key levels to watch for a breakout.

The Bottom Line

Understanding ICT concepts gives traders the tools to decode complex market signals and align their strategies with the influential trends shaped by the largest market participants. For those looking to apply these sophisticated trading techniques practically, opening an FXOpen account can be a great step towards engaging with the markets through a robust platform designed to support advanced trading strategies.

FAQs

What Are ICT Concepts in Trading?

ICT (Inner Circle Trading) concepts encompass a series of advanced trading principles that focus on replicating the strategies of large institutional players. These concepts include liquidity zones, order blocks, market structure shifts, and optimal trade entries, all aimed at understanding and anticipating significant market movements.

What Is ICT in Trading?

ICT in trading refers to the Inner Circle Trading methodology, a strategy developed to align smaller traders’ actions with those of more influential market participants. It utilises specific market phenomena, such as order blocks and liquidity patterns, to analyse price movements and improve trading outcomes.

What Is ICT Trading?

ICT trading is the application of concepts that seek to identify patterns and structures that indicate potential price changes driven by institutional activities, aiming to capitalise on these movements.

What Is ICT Strategy?

An ICT strategy combines market analysis techniques to identify where significant market players are likely to influence prices. This includes analysing price levels where large volumes of buy or sell orders are anticipated to occur and identifying key times when market moves are most likely.

Is ICT Better Than SMC?

Comparing ICT and SMC (Smart Money Concept) is challenging as ICT is essentially a subset of SMC. While SMC provides a broader overview of how institutional money influences the markets, ICT offers more specific techniques and terms like inducements and displacements. Whether one is better depends on the trader’s specific needs and alignment with these methodologies’ intricacies.

This article represents the opinion of the Companies operating under the FXOpen brand only. It is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation with respect to products and services provided by the Companies operating under the FXOpen brand, nor is it to be considered financial advice.

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