During the past nine months I’ve found something I enjoy doing almost as much as playing poker and it takes the form of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS).
There are a number of parallels between DFS and poker. But is it as fun as playing poker?
I’ve made a profit so far but can’t be certain that I’m a winning player as my sample size is too small. I’ll be discussing tournaments, or GPP’s, as it’s the format I’ve experienced the most.
GPP’s are similar to poker tournaments in that a large number of players compete for top-heavy pay-outs, typically paying out 10-30% of the total prize pool. In a daily fantasy sports GPP, you draft the team of players (with $50,000 in salary on DraftKings or $60,000 in salary on FanDuel) with the intention of creating a line-up of consistently high performing and high scoring players.
To accumulate chips and reach the final table at a poker tournament, you have to take risks and increase the variance. In a GPP you must make similarly risky selections to increase the likelihood of accumulating enough points for a top 10 finish.
In DFS everyone selects players from the same rosters, akin to everyone getting dealt cards from the same deck in poker. The skill in both games comes from understanding how and when to use the cards (or players) that you’ve selected to play. Forecasting which players could have a strong performance is hard enough, but the key factor for GPP success is making sure you take into account the level of player ownership (what percent of tournament field will select that player).
Ideally you’ll roster a team of players that regularly have high scoring performances, but are owned by a low percentage of the tournament field. That way, players are scoring points for your benefit but for few others. When it’s obvious a player is likely to enjoy a strong performance, however, most people are going to select him much like everyone in poker knowing how to play a strong hand.
Players with low ownership are often overpriced, on obscure teams, coming off bad games or completely forgotten about. There’s more risk involved in selecting slumping players or those plying their trade with weaker teams, just like playing weak cards or making plays with low equity in the pot.
In poker you try to reduce unnecessary risks by passing on low-equity situations, but you also have to capitalise on weak-hand situations if you believe your opponent has a similarly weak hand. It’s almost impossible to win big GPP tournaments if your players don’t reach their salary value. Basically, you can’t afford to have any duds in your line-up.
You want to avoid, like the black plague, players with high ownership whom you think will perform poorly. It’s like playing poker against someone who gambles too much; you have to merely wait for him or her to make a crucial mistake. Choosing to avoid a player who’s projected to perform well is called ‘fading’, and making thoughtful fades will improve your line-ups. Don’t become too creative with your fades or you’ll miss out on a player selected in most line-ups who posts big scores.
There are a few things you can do to improve forecasts and player selection accuracy:
Stay current on league news
Take the time to see who will be playing. However, some players are game-time-decisions so stay apprised as you may need to add high value back-up players on short notice. Player ownership, because some starters are game-time-decisions, may be lowered due to the fact many don’t check players’ status just before game time (Rotoworld.com is a reliable source for info spanning many leagues).
Multiple options exist for DFS NFL projections, including Numberfire.com and 4for4.com. For the NBA, Basketballmonster.com is a good starting point. You’ll want to consult projections for your games as the numbers will sometimes identify value plays that you aren’t yet aware of.
Watch the games
It sounds crazy, but some serious DFS players don’t regularly watch the games. They might find it nerve-wracking to follow the swings of their money or, simply, don’t enjoy watching sports. You can make money at DFS without knowing that much about sports, but you have to be willing to do the research and homework to catch-up. By watching the games you can see how players look, perform and fit with each other. It reminds me of poker players who don’t pay attention and miss out on crucial information. But, like anything worthwhile, it is time consuming so don’t expect any easy fixes.
And, like anything else that involves an element of gambling, you’re going to need some luck. You can select a line-up with eight players who have great performances, but if the ninth twists his ankle and is forced to leave the game, you’re wading up shit creek without a paddle.
Let me remind you that no matter how much fun playing DFS is nothing will ever compare to taking a seat at the felt.