You’ve probably heard of Sun Tzŭ, the general for the King of Wu for almost two decades, starting in 512 B.C.E. You’ve maybe even read his treatise on combat strategy and tactics, The Art of War. But you haven’t read it like this.
This is the third installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation on what you are reading. Just think of this as the DFS version of The Neverending Story.
How to Tilt a King
Not much is known of Sun Tzŭ, and his textbook on war — so influential now — wasn’t even translated into English until 1905, but a few stories about the general did survive the ages and one of them in particular is often referenced in order to demonstrate the type of leader and person Sun Tzŭ was.
As the story goes (and I’m making slight embellishments here or there, but this is the story), the King of Wu before employing him as his general wanted to see if Sun Tzŭ truly possessed the skill to command an army. As a means of testing him, the King ordered Sun Tzŭ to train 180 concubines of the palace. Sun Tzŭ split them into two companies and made the King’s two favorite concubines the officers of each company. He gave the companies an order, and all the women laughed at him. He apologized, saying that they must not have understood him. He repeated the command louder, and again the women laughed. He once again said that they must not have “understood” him — and then he ordered nearby soldiers to behead the two women serving as officers.
The King quickly interjected, not wanting to lose his favorite concubines, and Sun Tzŭ told him that, having been given a task by the King — to train the army placed under his command — he intended to do it, even if the King now ordered him otherwise. The favorite concubines were immediately beheaded, the two women who had been standing next to them were promoted to officers of the companies, and for a third time Sun Tzŭ gave a command, which all of the women silently obeyed. He then proceeded to drill them with a variety of marching orders.
When he was finished, Sun Tzŭ told the King, “Now you truly have a disciplined army of whores who may be put to any use you want. Whatever you bid them to do — anything — they will obey.” That day, the King made Sun Tzŭ his general.
Sun Tzŭ — the guy who ignored his sovereign’s order, killed the sovereign’s two favorite sexual partners, and then shamed the sovereign into making him the most powerful man in the kingdom — that’s the guy from whom we are taking today’s DFS lessons.
The Five Ways to Lose Your DFS Head
In the portion of his treatise dedicated to tactics, Sun Tzŭ enumerates the five dangerous faults that a general can possess:
These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.
Although the entirety of The Art of War is fascinating, these five points might have the most application to today’s world and the various fields in which we wage our non-bellicose wars. In particular, these five faults of a leader have immediate application to DFS, whether one is engaging in the battle of a cash game or the war of a guaranteed prize pool.
Here are the five fatal flaws of a DFS general.
As Sun Tzŭ writes, recklessness leads to destruction. In the context of war, examples of recklessness would be crossing a river at an inopportune time or place, making camp in a valley instead of at the top of a hill, and attacking an enemy directly when one has an inferior force.
Recklessness is essentially being needlessly risky, being overly aggressive, acting without caution, and failing to take into proper account the likely outcome of one’s decisions.
In DFS, recklessness takes many forms, especially in cash games, in which certainty is paramount. In cash games, one is reckless when one has too much exposure to one particular game, when one is over-leveraged to one particular outcome in a sporting event, when one employs more than one stack, when one focuses more on ceiling projections instead of median and floor projections, and when one entirely deviates from the chalk.
Essentially, in DFS, one is reckless when one builds a cash game lineup as it were a GPP lineup.
According to Sun Tzŭ, cowardice leads to capture. In the context of war, examples of cowardice would be failing to push one’s advantage against an inferior force, not committing fully to a plan of action, and not taking reasonable risks to conquer a territory when it must be conquered and the present opportunity might not present itself again.
Basically, cowardice is the opposite of recklessness. It’s the unwillingness to face danger. It’s the unwillingness to risk losing.
In DFS, cowardice is most applicable to GPPs, in which risks must be taken for one to triumph. In GPPs, one is a coward when one hopes merely to cash instead of to win the tournament, when one fails to use the power of leverage and stacking in order to gain an outsized advantage if one particular event occurs, when one fails to entertain the possibility of the improbable occurring, when one fails, and when one employs nothing but chalk plays.
In DFS, cowardice is building a GPP lineup as if it were a cash game lineup.
As Treebeard tells Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, “Don’t be hasty.” (That was for all of you Lord of the Rings nerds out there. You’re welcome.) In war, an example of hastiness is entering into a battle without first considering the multiple possibilities for attacking the opposing force and the multiple possible outcomes of the battle.
Hastiness is similar to and can be mistaken for recklessness, but they are distinct. In the original three Star Wars films, Han Solo is reckless, whereas Luke Skywalker is hasty. When one is reckless, one has a sense of the low odds of success, but one engages in the endeavor anyway. When one is hasty, one doesn’t think about the odds at all. Whereas recklessness has to do with the manner in which one evaluates and underestimates risk, hastiness has to do with the way in which one acts without even taking risk into account, as if acting were enough and thinking were unnecessary.
In DFS, hastiness is the cardinal sin. When one creates lineups quickly without taking the time to see if the lineups are optimal, if they have too much exposure to particular games or types of players, or if they are suited to the type of contests in which they will be entered, one is being hasty. If one is reckless or a coward, one still has a chance of DFS success, because at least one has put some thought into one’s actions. If one is hasty, however, one has almost no chance of success, because one has acted impetuously, without thought.
At Fantasy Labs, you can find the best DFS tools in the industry to help you conduct your research. Using our Pro Trends and Player Models as your guides, you can use our data to back test and create trends of your own design to employ in unique models of your own making. In constructing your own lineups, you can decide the weighting that you want to give to each of our innovative metrics, such as Bargain Rating and Projected Plus/Minus. We provide you with all of these tools. All you need to do is learn how to use them and do the research on your own to determine how you actually want to use them.
When one ignores these tools, fails to think about how different trends can be used together, and simply wants to be told which complete lineup to start in which type of contest, one is being hasty.
Hastiness is the failure to do your DFS research. Hastiness is the failure to devote time to the process of becoming a better DFS player.
4) Delicacy of Honor
Sun Tzŭ describes delicacy of honor as a sensitivity to shame or the excessive care of public opinion. Per The Art of War, if one is to be a successful general, one must be willing to do what is unpopular. On occasion, one must employ tactics one would rather not employ. In fact, it is possible that at times one must do what one considers to be immoral.
General William Sherman is a clear example of a commander who had no delicacy of honor. Considered to be “the first modern general” by the British military historian and theorist B. H. Liddell Hart, the stubborn Sherman is famous for ending the American Civil War essentially by using the techniques of terror against the Confederacy. Civilian homes were destroyed, crops were burned, and Union soldiers were tacitly encouraged to rape Southern women, white and black alike. In all likelihood, Sherman was probably a horrible person.
At the same time, he won the Civil War because he didn’t GAF. If not for Sherman’s scorched earth policy, the war might have continued much longer than it did and many more lives could’ve been lost. Fighting a just war, Sherman was an unjust warrior whose means brought about an end.
In DFS, having delicacy of honor is being honorable to a fault. It’s not employing an optimal lineup because doing so makes one feel morally compromised. It’s the decision not to play Jameis Winston in Week 11 — or Ben Roethlisberger ever.
It’s the decision you make as a general not to use one of your best warriors in a battle because you believe that warrior to be inhumane.
Nothing more needs to be said about this. We all must make decisions for ourselves.
5) Over-Solicitude for Soldiers
Sun Tzŭ states that a general’s concern for his men will expose him to worry and ultimately trouble. In war, the solicitous general is one who cares too deeply for his soldiers, who thinks of them as people and not pawns to be played on a lifelike chessboard, and who makes disadvantageous decisions for his army because he is focused on the parts instead of the whole.
The solicitous general is one who likes his soldiers more than he likes winning wars.
In DFS, the spirit of solicitude is almost the opposite of delicacy of honor. With the latter, one will not use players one personally dislikes. With the former, one will overuse players simply because one likes them. With either one, the effect is the same: One creates suboptimal lineups.
In DFS, having over-solicitude for one’s “soldiers” means that one allows one’s fandom to interfere with the decision-making process. One will start Dwayne Wade in a subpar matchup merely because one is a Heat fan. One will start Matt Ryan in too many matchups just because one graduated from Boston College. Or, in my case, Andy Dalton with Texas Christian University.
In DFS, being a solicitous general means that you ultimately would rather lose using the players you like than win using the players who make the most sense.
Every Labyrinth Has a Center
The purpose of this article — and of every piece in The Labyrinthian series — is to help you find a mental model that enables you to make better DFS decisions and ultimately to create winning DFS lineups. Just like our mathematical models, the mental models are for you to consider, to alter, and finally to make your own.
For some of you, the model of Sun Tzŭ’s Art of War may be inspiring. For others, it may be less useful.
Either way, I trust that if you are able to avoid the five faults discussed herein, you will be a victorious DFS general.
The Labyrinthian: 2016, 3