You have heard of the Magnificent Seven, the stocks that dominate the Australian stockmarket. Well, this year they really went to work. As I write, the stockmarket is up 13.85 per cent so far this year. Pretty good, you might think. But let me strip this number back a bit for you. If you take BHP out of the equation the ASX 200 index is not up 13.85 per cent, it is up 7.6 per cent. If you have not held BHP this year you have missed out on 40 per cent of the market's performance. Without BHP the market would have performed in line with the Dow Jones (not twice as well). Take out the main resource stocks including BHP (up 66 per cent), Rio (up 87 per cent), Fortescue (up 309 per cent) plus Woodside and Newcrest and the market is only up 4.7 per cent. The Australian stockmarket would be underperforming the US without resources. Pretty damning considering the subprime and credit market trouble they have had. More incredible, take out the top 20 point contributing stocks from the ASX 200 and amazingly enough the market would have fallen 0.4 per cent this year. In other words just 20 stocks in the ASX 200 have accounted for the whole of the market's rise this year. The Australian market is a rock in a sock. There are all these big stocks that create all the action in the index. But beyond that the performance of the tail, the performance of the vast majority of the stocks by number, is hardly noticed and for this year, anyway, has not really been that good. So when your spouse busts down the study door next month clutching the Financial Review telling you what a good year the market has had and prodding you for what you did wrong, you can show them this article. It is your excuse for under-performance. Just point out that it is unfair to measure you against the index because if you missed out on just one of the Magnificent Seven (you are only human), your benchmark is significantly less than the newspaper's lazy declaration. Even better, you can say that the fact you have made a return at all is almost miraculous considering you did not hold any of the Magnificent 20. And many people, especially traders, simply do not. Then there is this calculation. The 20 best-performing stocks in the ASX 200 have averaged a rise of 146 per cent this year. The 20 bottom-performing stocks have fallen an average of 36 per cent. In other words the difference between picking the right 20 and the wrong 20 stocks in the ASX 200 so far this year has been 226 percentage points. The opportunity to make and lose money in the Australian stockmarket is fantastic. The 10 top-performing stocks averaged a massive 190 per cent return. There were 15 stocks you could have picked in the ASX 200 that went up more than 100 per cent, five times more than the 10-year average return of 9.3 per cent. This year you have had 15 opportunities to make 10 times that much. Averages suggest stability. Averages suggest a lack of risk. But the truth is the Australian market has no depth and the averages apply only to people who hold the whole market. The rest of us, we band of brothers, we optimists who invest directly into the equity market ourselves cannot, I'm afraid, achieve or hide in the average. For someone with a 10- or 20-stock portfolio there is no average. For us there is a huge spread of volatility and risk. It is wild out there. If you think your benchmark for a 20-stock portfolio is the average, think again. You are holding an independent-minded clutch of heroes and shockers. On that basis you have to realise that in Australia you have to pick stocks. You will live or die on those few selections and you cannot expect average. The opportunity is big. The chasms are deep. Invest direct and every trade counts. Every pick matters. Leighton Holdings is up 202 per cent this year. The National Australia Bank is down 3 per cent. Which one did you have and why? Marcus Padley is a stockbroker and the author of the daily stockmarket newsletter Marcus Today.