10 Things DFS Players Should Never, Ever Do
So, you're diving into daily fantasy sports (DFS) for the first time as a newborn. Good. Dive headfirst, or with both feet. But don't do it before you have read the 10 things DFS players should never, ever do.
Bleacher Report presents a guide for you on mastering the game quickly, so you can pull quick paydays playing the games we love at daily fantasy sites like DraftKings. Don't feel overwhelmed. Pulling cash on a daily basis is a lot easier than you might think.
To aid in the strategies contained in this slideshow, we enlisted the help of DK Pro Jonathan Bales, who not only is considered a professional daily fantasy player, but has written books on the subject, too. His work can be seen as one of the five sponsored players and contributors for DraftKings Playbook, their proprietary content section.
You will want to listen to what Bales has to say. He cleared $95,000 in the DraftKings baseball championship last year (through a combination of his lineup's winnings and swapping equity in his seat—yes, that can be a thing for the advanced players). He has had a handful of cashouts of $10,000 or more, and like you, he is only getting started.
We interviewed him via phone Monday, March 23, so you get some direct tips right here in our slideshow. Now, for the list...
1. Don't Ignore the News, Especially with Regard to Injury
- Daily fantasy basketball is the game with the most reliance on injury and news updates. He said you have to plan to be at your computer right before the games tip off to catch the most bargains.
- Baseball lineups are generally set earlier in the day and are trustworthy pieces of information.
- There is no greater benefit to a daily fantasy football lineup than a cheap running back who suddenly comes into snaps and touches because of injury.
If you play daily fantasy on a regular basis, you should be well-versed here.
Most daily fantasy games are based on a salary cap and the proprietary prices in dollars set by each gaming site. These prices are made with a mathematical formula, which is objective and not influenced by last-minute news.
Here is where the greatest inefficiency in the daily fantasy marketplace can be found. A player who is suddenly out is obviously worth zilch. His replacement can be worth his weight in gold, literally.
The dollar values are rarely, if ever, updated after news breaks, and if you like loading up on stud players with a high price tag, those under-the-radar bargains become very, very important to setting a winning lineup.
2. Don't Set Your Lineups Too Soon
- Don't bother setting your lineup until the day of the game for baseball or basketball. Often the DraftKing lobby opens contests well in advance, even as current games are being played by those teams. You need to wait until those games finish and news comes out afterward. A player could get benched for a bad performance, or injured.
- Like our first slideshow piece of advice, reconsider all variables right up until game time. Generally, baseball and football news gives you more advance notice than basketball.
- Weigh the wisdom of the crowd. Give yourself time to see what others are doing and adjust accordingly. (More on this later.)
This piece of advice is related to the first, but it comes with a caveat: You can set your lineup early, but always come back to change it in the event news breaks.
Yes, this makes daily fantasy sound like a chore, but it is a fun—and potentially profitable—one. Consider this a part-time job. Hopefully you can rake in more than $10 an hour with it.
Absolutely read what daily fantasy analysts prescribe on a regular basis, but don't consider it the be-all, end-all. A number of things can change during the day and into the evening before the games begin.
Most of the time it is injury-related, or players scratched from a coach's decision. In baseball, rainouts can play a huge part in outcomes of games. You don't want to take zeroes because an April game in Colorado or Cleveland is snowed out.
3. Don't Ignore the Outside Data
- Stacking—loading up your lineup with players from one team—is a huge strategy in daily fantasy baseball. You can find the team(s) to stack with by looking at which games oddsmakers see as the highest scoring, or potentially the biggest blowout.
- No matter how good you are with making an algorithm for projections, professionals make a lot of money to keep the odds in their favor. These are smart people with great data and very good data tools.
Seeing Elvis and Marilyn Monroe is complete fantasy in Sin City, but the reality is you need to follow the money in order to cash in daily fantasy. No, daily fantasy is not gambling. It is a legal game of skill, but those lines-setters can be used to help us win in fantasy.
DK Pro Bales swears by the research he does on odds and even goes a step further to see where the data is on the player props, for things like the Super Bowl. If you read my content at B/R, you will notice the same there.
These professional oddsmakers are still standing and raking money for very good reasons. They have very smart people poring over data and statistics. Guys like myself and Bales, but ones that have a very profitable career just feeding the casinos the data to set the lines, over-under totals and statistical player props.
"They are the ones with the most money on the line, so we should trust their numbers are pretty close to accurate," Bales said.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Bales also says:
4. Don't Have Tunnel Vision
- Wisdom of the crowd.
- Game lines and player props.
- Find at least three sources of projections from trusted places. Rankings, data projections or values relative to price.
- Throw in your own.
- Average them all out to get something less biased, further from fantasy and closer to reality. (Actually, I wrote that last part on my own, just to be clever. He just said average them.)
- Don't have team bias, even if you might know a team more than the others.
Bales shared this one with us in the interview, but it was really a form of confirmation bias on my part. The wisdom of the crowd in statistics and data tends to be greater than one man's opinion, projections or daily fantasy picks.
I have always felt that way. It is why all of my rankings and projections in fantasy are a result of crowdsourcing, like weighing average draft position. I might have a conviction on someone, but that conviction won't matter if I am overrating him. The wisdom of the crowd tends to be closer to fantasy's reality (pun entirely intended).
A group of 10 analysts' minds is smarter than one, this reasoning goes.
We asked Bales directly about what goes into his daily fantasy basketball algorithm for NBA games. He said two things:
Crowdsourcing was No. 1, even if it is closer to middle of the pack in our slideshow of 10 things to consider.
5. Don't Ignore Public Perception
- Baseball is a daily fantasy sport with more randomness than the others.
- Basketball is more value driven.
- He doesn't follow the hot hands in baseball, as public perception skews fantasy's reality and potentially the daily prices.
This slide is related to the previous one, but it is also a completely opposite piece of advice in a way, and it comes directly from a tip from Bales as a DK Pro: You have to be aware of the public perception(s).
...then run away from it.
The wisdom of the crowd can be accurate, but you might also find a flaw in it. That is where the biggest inefficiency in the daily fantasy marketplace can be found, perhaps.
Everyone loves riding the hot hands. You might be caught chasing yesterday's news, along with everyone else. You want to pick the stars of today or tomorrow, not yesterday.
Basic stats can tell you the past, and mislead a lot of daily fantasy players. You need to focus on the predictive data more and what might be, not what was.
6. Don't Follow Everyone's Path Like Sheep; Be a Contrarian
- In baseball specifically: "You have to be aware of the public perception, and it is less about an algorithm. I tend to be more of a contrarian in baseball (than NBA or NFL).
- In NCAA tournament basketball contests: If everyone has Kentucky, you might be best off picking someone else and competing against the 10 percent that might not have the favorite.
- Don't have East Coast bias. "Stats say daily fantasy players are bullish on the East Coast players," he said. He likes to play West Coast guys in baseball.
Another related piece of advice from the past slides, yet potentially different. If everyone were to set the same lineup in daily fantasy, no one would win. We would all tie.
You want to set a unique, winning lineup. It is why the content I write rarely sticks to a blanket statement of: Set this as your lineup.
I give a variety of choices I can really stand behind on a daily basis. You have the freedom to pick among them and find the right mix. It has to be your mix, not mine or anyone else's.
Those big tournament payouts at places like DraftKings are a lot more lucrative if you have a different and better lineup than everyone else. Sharing sucks.
7. Don't Fear Randomness; Variance Can Be Profitable
- Baseball is his favorite daily fantasy game because so many follow data so closely and randomness can fall in his favor to big tournament victory, like the $95,000 he pulled in last year in baseball with the help of a friend.
- He doesn't follow the hot hands and tends to find value in those players everyone isn't all over because they are hot.
- NBA is more of a consistent data-driven daily fantasy game, even if baseball is the sport with the most statistics.
This one is a Bales specialty. I have to admit, I am risk averse when putting my money down on something. I like statistical backing when setting my lineups and doling out daily fantasy advice.
Bales said there is value in randomness, even as I suggested to him in the interview that thought appeared to fly in the face of fantasy's reality. His response:
The more randomness there is, the more value there is in being contrarian. It is counterintuitive to find value in randomness. It is not how you predict things as much as how much you leverage predictability. The more randomness, the bigger the edge.
OK, we can buy that, even if it is a bit abstract.
In order to win a huge payday in daily fantasy play, you have to have a unique lineup and catch a shred of well-educated luck. You can make your own luck with sound strategies and daily lineup choices.
8. Don't Have the Same Strategy for All Sports
- NBA is more reliant on a data algorithm and daily projections than baseball.
- Football has the most game-to-game variables that affect performance, like matchup, game plan, touches and personnel decisions.
- He finds no value in actually watching baseball games nightly, even if it is his favorite daily fantasy game to play. Every day is a different beast.
- Football is one game he finds value in watching, and generally watches more games than he doesn't.
- He doesn't bother with value relative to price in baseball as much and will overpay for studs.
- He very often overpays for studs "like Calvin Johnson" in football, especially since injuries (specifically at running back) can create bargains elsewhere.
This slideshow is intended to apply to all daily fantasy sports. The reality is each sport should be considered its own and approached in different ways.
Bales spent a good portion of our interview Monday comparing and contrasting the different games. Again, you can use this to your advantage, he said.
In tournaments for baseball I am more likely to be contrarian than with NBA. Basketball is value-based and really predictable. You can be wrong a lot more in baseball, but so can everyone else.
You need to become an expert in the nuances of each game. Bales can help:
9. Don't Pick the Wrong Types of Action
- Large-pool, guaranteed tournaments—They offer the biggest payouts, the most randomness and the most novice players (bonus!).
- 50/50 pools—You set lineups with a number of others and half of the entries double their money at the expense of the bottom half of the scorers. These are generally the safest way to play. Even if they are not the most profitable in terms of big payouts, you tend to lose the least here (a very important strategy in any gaming).
- Head-to-head—You play against one person and take his entry fee minus the house rake. These can be incredibly easy to win if you get a "donkey" or a "fish" (a poor player who is throwing good money after bad). They can also be real tough, if you happen to catch a daily fantasy pro.
- Multipliers—You can do 2x (like 50/50), 3x, 5x, 10x, et al. The higher the multiplier, the higher you need to finish to cash in on these games. They can be profitable, but they can also feature some very consistent and knowledgeable players you are competing against.
- Free rolls—Everyone should start here. You can play for free at times on the different sites, and the host can offer payouts to give you a taste of winning with zero risk.
- Tournament play introduces the most randomness. You are competing against a lot of different lineups and varying degrees of quality of play. Remember, Bales invites randomness.
- He looks for high-upside picks in tournament play. Again, he is willing to overpay for studs, because those have the highest ceilings.
- He looks for consistency and statistical certainty more in other smaller-pool games.
In addition to understanding the differences between daily fantasy sports, you have to understand the different types of games you will be playing and how the strategies might alter your approach. There are many more ways than one to skin a cat.
Please don't skin cats. It sounds inhumane.
But definitely play the right ways in the right games in daily fantasy.
These are the general different ways to put your money into games:
10. Lose Your Ego and Avoid Taking on the Professionals
- Large-pool tournaments are getting easier to win (for good, sound players) as more and more new/novice players are introduced to daily fantasy.
- What he considers "cash games" (head-to-head and 50/50) are getting tougher, because veterans realize these are safer ways to play and they are progressively getting wiser, more consistent and tougher to play against.
There is always someone smarter than you. As a youth sports coach, I always remind my best players there is always going to be someone better than you.
Even if you can win consistently in daily fantasy sports, you are not a genius. You are as much lucky as you are smart. After all, you have heard this before: It is better to be lucky than good.
Here is where we come up with our 10th thing DFS players should never, ever do: Play to your ego. It is a surefire way to be a loser (pun entirely intended).
Bales is not only a fantasy analyst, but also a professional daily fantasy player. He spends more time writing about the games he plays, even if he earns more money playing than writing, he said. If anyone can have an ego and pump his chest, it can be a DK Pro like himself.
Nope. He doesn't need any of that. He wants greenbacks.
"I avoid the pros," he said "I don't want to prove anything to anyone. I have no ego. Playing against pros for ego is a way to lose money over the long run."
More money, more problems.
It stands to reason the higher the stakes, the better the player(s). Remember that. Pros are less likely to bother playing daily fantasy with the peasants like us.
Expect to study more and win less often when putting the big money down in games.
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Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.
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