Intro: Consult the title of this article.
This is the 41st 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.
Divulging My DFS Process
A couple of months ago, someone asked me to divulge my DFS process. Although my process is almost certainly inferior to the processes of Peter Jennings, Jonathan Bales, and almost anyone else who happens to write for this site, I think that if you were to follow this process you would likely not be awful at DFS. Here’s my process.
Deposit a Set Amount of Money
I believe that far too many people don’t know how much money they’ve deposited into DFS platforms. You must keep track of your investment. Either put a set amount of money into DFS platforms one time and plan on that being your bankroll for a set amount of time — or keep track of all your DFS deposits in a spreadsheet.
However it is that you keep track of your money, just be sure that you keep track of your money.
DFS is an Investment
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: DFS is an investment. Just as you shouldn’t put too much of your investable money in stocks, real estate, commodities, or any other class of assets, you also shouldn’t put too much of your money into DFS platforms. The amount and percentage of investable money will vary from person to person, based on how much money people have, their investing style, and how skilled they are at DFS relative to other manners of investing.
If your name is Peter Jennings and you have an abundance of jelly beans and DFS skill, then it probably makes sense for you to have a lot of your investable money on DFS platforms. If your name is not Peter Jennings and you are not DFS Superman, then you would be wise to have a lower percentage of your money on platforms.
Basically, invest in proportion to what you can afford to lose and what your skill level actually is.
Know Your Skill Level
This is a really important and difficult step of the process. To borrow from Bill Parcells, over a sustained period of time you are what the numbers say you are. If you are someone who loses money consistently playing in $10 cash games, then maybe you have just experienced a prolonged stretch of bad luck.
At the same time, maybe you are simply someone who isn’t yet ready to compete in $10 cash games — and if that were the case then there would be absolutely no shame in admitting that. The shame (and continued loss of money) would be in not admitting that.
Looking at yourself and your process with an evaluative eye is difficult. In part, that’s why you need to keep very careful track of your initial investment. If you don’t know what you started with, you have only an inexact way of measuring your process. If you know what your original investment is, then it will always be easy to track your performance and thereby gauge your skill level.
DFS is Not a “Get Rich Quick” Scheme
Whether you are investing in stocks, real estate, precious metals, or anything else, you should never expect to make a lot of money in a short of amount of time. You should not expect to be a Black Swan or a DFS outlier. Rather, you should approach DFS as a value investor, knowing that a steady, systematic, and reasoned approach has a higher probability of resulting in long-term success than a process built upon the assumption that you deserve success and that it will quickly and automatically be yours in abundance.
And this point gets to the heart of what FantasyLabs is: We are not a lineup service promising you instant riches. Rather, we are the provider of data, tools, and guidance that can help you become the best DFS player you are capable of being. You can’t join FantasyLabs, use the optimized lineups from our Player Models tool, totally ignore our Trends tool and tutorial videos, and then be surprised when the lineups you “created” weren’t successful.
If you want to build muscle over time, you yourself must do the heavy lifting. We can be the trainers who guide you — but we don’t lift the weights for you. That’s something that you do for yourself.
All of which leads me to my next point.
Create Your Own Analytical and Evaluative Process
Each of us is responsible for creating our own process. My process involves heavily relying on people who know more than I do or who think about information in ways that I wouldn’t have considered. So I read John Daigle’s daily slate breakdown. I read each Trend of the Day and Plays of the Day article. I watch the CSURAM88 videos and the Bales videos. I read basically everything on the site. (And then I try to avoid reading as much as possible of the copious DFS bullshit that’s out there.)
And whenever I have the opportunity, which isn’t often, I try to consume intelligent non-DFS content.
I am careful about what I (don’t) read for a few reasons. First of all, I barely have enough time to wake up in the morning. I’m not going to waste precious moments reading something that isn’t as good as other things I could be reading. Secondly, I read the material that I have found to be actionable and/or entertaining. I read for the knowledge and enjoyment. Lastly, I read what I read because it helps me learn how to think. It shapes my perspective. It instructs me.
The best texts don’t just inform us. They form us.
I never play more than five percent of my bankroll on any given day. That’s just a personal rule that I have. I’ve found that it helps me continue to have money to play for the foreseeable future. Some people play a higher percentage. Others play a lower percentage. I suggest that you figure out a percentage that works for you and then stick with it.
You can make slight adjustments here or there, depending on the slate, but in general you will probably want to keep your daily action within a fairly consistent range.
Also, you will probably want to keep your cash game/tournament ratio fairly consistent. Some people prefer to play cash games exclusively. Others prefer tournaments. A lot of people have an 80/20 split. Your split should be determined in part (but not entirely) by your goals, evaluative skills, and playing style.
Again, you can make adjustments based on particular slates — smaller slates are generally better for tournaments than for cash games — but in any given week if your actual cash game/tournament ratio doesn’t come close to your ideal ratio then you need to adjust your process.
Figure out what is important to your process (and life) and then focus on those things and cut down on everything else that is extraneous.
For some people, watching actual sports is important. For other people, it’s not. And for a third group of people, it actually might be detrimental because it can be misleading and/or a time drain. I’m not saying that any of these positions is the correct position. It’s all about what works best for your process. If you find that you enjoy watching sports but that it’s actually not important to your process, then never forget that fact. Remember that watching sports is something that you do for fun as a luxury — not for DFS as a necessity.
Start Researching Early
I don’t watch sports that often. I love sports. That’s a big reason for my interest in fantasy sports. But I no longer have the time to watch sporting events as often as I would like.
Instead — and this is the case really only for daily sports like NBA and MLB — when the games for one slate are being played, I normally start my research for the next slate. It’s not hardcore research. It’s more like exploratory foreplay. I survey the slate, look at its curves, gain an appreciation for its strengths and subtleties, and then think about what I would like to do with it the next night.
Each slate deserves a lot of attention. If you don’t start showing at least a little interest in a slate until the day of the dance, you shouldn’t be surprised if your night doesn’t end happily.
When I start doing tentative research, I look for three main things: strength, weakness, and value.
My sense is that most people focus on the first and third items but overlook the second item. That’s a mistake. We must always look for negatives. Figuring out who not to play is often more important than figuring out who to play.
So when I start researching early I’m not looking to make any definitive decisions. I’m simply looking to familiarize myself with the slate and to make some tentative assessments.
Reaching the Cash Line
When I start researching for real, I shift from a player-centered perspective to a lineup-centered one. Ultimately, I’m not looking to get any particular player into my lineup (especially for cash games). Rather, I’m looking to create a lineup that, as a collection of individual players, has a high probability of functioning well in that particular slate.
To that end, I think about the best way of reaching the cash line. I don’t stop thinking about individual players, but I just start thinking a little bit more about particular lineups and what their odds are of reaching the tentative cash line. I ask questions like, “How many points will a lineup need to cash in 60 percent of its cash game contests?” and “What are the odds that this lineup gets that many points?” and “If this one NBA game doesn’t reach its Vegas totals, will this lineup be robust enough still to cash in its contests?”
So in the latter part of my research I’m thinking less about individual players and their production and more about particular lineups and their various ranges of potential outcomes.
Building the Lineups
Depending on the slate, the number of rosterable players, and the number of strong lineups I can create, I will usually use one lineup or three lineups in my cash games. I like the triangulated approach, but only if the second and third lineups are comparable to the first lineup in potential and the differentiating players in those lineups are truly worth playing.
I’m not opposed to using two lineups in cash games, but for whatever reason — maybe it has to do with slate structure or salary trends — I’ve found that, whenever I feel the need to play multiple lineups, that third option seems to create itself just as easily as the second one does.
So, in general, I play one lineup when I clearly prefer that lineup to all others and believe that I’m not leaving on the table any players who absolutely must be rostered. And if there are too many must-start players to fit in one lineup, then I usually use three lineups.
And when I’m building lineups, I pay attention to late swap.
I’m also excellent at pulling out of a long, narrow driveway in reverse at night. And, unfortunately, that’s not as euphemistic as it may sound.
Selecting the Cash Game Contests
This point is applicable to everyone, but it’s most applicable to less-experienced players: You need to play at low denominations when possible so that you avoid getting slayed by randomness and/or superior players.
If you have $20 to play in cash games, you should seriously consider playing all of that in $1 contests. You’ll be less likely to suffer massive losses that way. For one, the level of competition at lower denominations isn’t quite as intense. Secondly, the law of large numbers will give you something of a buffer.
Also, you might want to play in only head-to-head games. If you play in H2Hs and your lineup scores in the bottom quartile, then you will cash in roughly 25 percent of your contests. If, though, you are playing in some 50/50s or double-ups, then you will probably cash in none of your contests, because you will be nowhere near the cash line in contests with a slightly expanded field.
So if you are the type of player who is newer to DFS and is learning, then you should probably put 100 percent of your cash game funds toward H2Hs in order to minimize your risk. If you are an experienced player who consistently builds cash-game lineups that score in the top quartile, then you actually might want to commit the majority of your funds toward 50/50s, double-ups, and maybe even triple-ups in order to increase the percentage of contests in which you cash and to maximize the edge that you have.
Selecting the Guaranteed Prize Pools
In general, you also might want to consider playing at a lower denomination in GPPs. Again, the competition will likely be easier. Additionally, if you are paying less money per GPP lineup, then you can afford to enter more lineups into GPPs — and, with the multi-lineup generator available to you via FL, you want to create as many lineups as possible and mass/max-enter a GPP if that fits within your bankroll management practices.
With more lineups in a GPP, your odds of winning go up dramatically, because you have more opportunities to go against the field and create unique lineups that distinguish themselves in increasingly inventive and contrarian ways. When you enter many lineups, your odds of winning don’t merely increase in an additive fashion. Your odds increase at an exponential rate.
So instead of entering one $20 lineup in a larger GPP and competing against players who are among the best in the industry, you could enter 40 lineups into a smaller GPP (at $0.50 per lineup) and have a better chance of winning because you have more lineups and are playing against opponents whose skill level is closer to your own.
Evaluating Your Process
Make changes as needed — and you will almost certainly need to make changes — but do so based on long-term production and trends, not on short-term hot and cold streaks. Make changes that are incremental, not drastic. Ideally, any change you make to the process should be an instance of evolution, not revolution.
Remembering that the Game is a War, Not a Battle
Outro: Consult the title of this subsection.
The Labyrinthian: 2016, 41
Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page.