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By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 99: Week 8 on DraftKings

At DraftKings, I posted breakdowns of the quarterback and wide receiver positions.

Sign up for DraftKings for Week 8 and become a millionaire on a $27 entry.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 98: How Many Lineups to Play

At DraftKings, I discussed why I believe it’s acceptable to play multiple lineups in cash games:

There’s not too much discussion about the merits of multi-entry in DraftKings tournaments—most people agree that you can enter a GPP a bunch of times and still maintain a positive expected value—but there’s a fierce debate over how many lineups you should construct for cash games (head-to-heads, 50/50s, and three-man leagues).

Popular wisdom suggests that daily fantasy players should enter just a single lineup into cash games—their “optimal” lineup with all of their top values, or as many of the top values as they can fit under the salary cap. I disagree with the idea that there is one true “optimal” lineup, as well as the notion that playing just a single lineup in cash games is a smart strategy.

 

The Problem with Counting Lineups

I first want to address an important related idea, which is that what determines risk is the number of lineups you play on DraftKings. Instead, risk depends on the number of players you use, the way you combine those players, and the amount of money you have on each player/combination.

Player A might use two different lineups that have completely different players from each other—18 different players in an NFL contest—while Player B might have two lineups with every player the same except one (10 different players across the two lineups). Who is taking on the greater amount of risk? Clearly Player B.

When you frame the issue in this way, it becomes clear that what matters shouldn’t be the total number of lineups, but the total player exposure. How much exposure do I have to this player and how much money do I have on him? In the case of Player B, the total risk and player exposure would be almost exactly the same as with someone who used just a single lineup, while Player A’s diversification would make his risk/reward much different.

 

Diversification

The key word there is ‘diversification’: the risk you assume has little to do with how many lineups you play and more to do with how much you diversify those lineups, i.e. how many players you use and what type of exposure you have to them. In a world with perfect knowledge, we should indeed use a single cash lineup optimized around our values. There’s indeed only one true set of players that will optimize a lineup’s projected points.

The problem is that we don’t have perfect knowledge of outcomes. We’re fallible, our projections are fallible, and our player values are fallible. One of the biggest mistakes a daily fantasy owner can make is not being aware of their own fallibility.

We see this all the time in the NFL when teams give up a king’s ransom to trade up in the draft to snag “their guy.” Many times, the only way those moves work out for the team trading up is if they get exactly what they think they’re getting. They fail to realize that the draft is a game of probabilities, and no one has perfect knowledge of how future events will unfold. They don’t say to themselves, “This is what we think and we’re pretty confident we’re right, but what happens if we aren’t?”

When we assume that our projections and values are flawless, we create an extremely fragile system for creating lineups. Every week, there are numerous players all ranked near one another in terms of value. To use one player because he’s projected to score 0.1 points more than another requires a level of confidence in your predictions that is simply unattainable.

Once we start to account for our own fallibility—once we acknowledge the fact that, hey, we could just be wrong—it opens up the door for greater diversification.

Here’s the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 97: Some DraftKings Plays for Week 7

At 4for4, I posted some of my favorite plays on DraftKings for Week 7. In the intro, I discussed the value in going against the grain, especially in a tournament like the Millionaire Maker.

Week 6 was the epitome of why an antifragile, contrarian approach to daily fantasy can be so valuable. I personally believe that the value in going against the grain is apparent when we stop analyzing fantasy football results in a binary way.

Even if we think about a decision probabilistically, it’s very tempting to just say “Hey, what are the chances that this decision works out?” I think that can be problematic thinking, however, if we don’t consider the degree to which we can benefit if things do indeed go our way. The thinking behind a contrarian strategy is that, by rostering low-usage players, we can acquire the most “usable value” if they produce as expected.

There’s a similar phenomenon in season-long leagues. Sometimes we get sucked into this trap of “Does this player offer value?” in a very binary manner. Well, yeah, maybe a certain player offers slightly more value than another, but what we should really be concerned about are the odds of a player helping us win our league.

Those are two separate things. Imagine that you roster a player on DraftKings who is really, really popular; we’ll say 80 percent usage. That player could score 50 points and the usable value would be limited because you’d still be competing with four-fifths of users.

Keep this idea in mind as you field your Millionare Maker lineups this weekend and enter in other large field events. We shouldn’t be concerned solely with whether or not a player offers value, but also 1) how much you can potentially benefit if that player scores X points and 2) how his anticipated usage will help you win your leagues, i.e. how much pragmatic value does he offer?

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 96: Week 7 DraftKings Values

At DraftKings, I broke down both the quarterback and wide receiver positions.

Read them now.

That is all.

 

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 95: Week 6 Recap + 11 Tips to Win on DraftKings

I have a bunch of links for you guys to click on right now so you can learn things. Nothing useful, but things nonetheless.

Interesting Stats from Week 6 at RotoWorld

Brian Hoyer is Good (video) at NBC Sports

Picking the Right RB at RotoWorld

Is GPP Play All About Upside? at RotoGrinders

DraftKings Rewind: Week 6

11 Rules to Win on DraftKings (Rules 1 through 6 are below)

Whenever someone asks me for tips on how to win playing daily fantasy sports, I refer them to…my own books.

Duh.

But even before that, I always suggest reading a few books that have nothing at all to do with fantasy sports. One of them is The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. Another is Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I do this because I think the biggest weaknesses of most daily fantasy owners aren’t in their sports knowledge—most people who play daily fantasy seem to know sports fairly well—but rather in risk management and understanding volatility.

One of my favorite writers to read is author/entrepreneur/hedge fund manager James Altucher. If you aren’t familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. So much of daily fantasy success comes via the ability to think critically about complex problems. I believe the largest strides one can make come outside the field of sports by studying the work of people like Altucher because it aids us in problem-solving and thinking analytically.

At his blog, Altucher recently published a piece titled “Life is Like a Game. Here’s How You Master ANY Game.” It’s one of my favorite blog posts in recent memory and, as I read it, I couldn’t help but consider how the advice could be applied to DFS. Come to think of it, I pretty much do this all day long; hey, our waitress wasn’t very consistent in bringing out our food…she’s probably pretty high-variance and not a great play for my daily fantasy server leagues.

So anyway, Altucher’s post on mastering games suggests that those who are good at pretty much any game—poker, board games, whatever—usually have the ability to master all games (through a combination of critical and contrarian thinking). Altucher—at one time a poker player and one of the world’s best backgammon players—lists 11 rules you need to know to master any game…in our case, daily fantasy sports.

1) Look at all the ‘candidate moves.’

“List all the options that can happen. Don’t go deeply down ANY OF THEM. Then start to look slightly deeper down each one and see which options you can quickly eliminate. This saves you mental energy and time.”

 

One of the reasons that I write my daily fantasy books is to help users streamline the process of daily fantasy research and lineup creation. I think it’s really important to figure out which aspects of daily fantasy research are the most important, then dedicate your time to those so that you can see the greatest return on your time.

I personally like to aggregate projections, which gives me a really accurate foundation for identifying value in a short amount of time. Leveraging the Vegas lines is another example of obtaining high-quality, actionable information “for nothing.”

 

2) Don’t take too many risks.

“Games are all about taking risks. But if you take too many risks, you always lose.”

 

Daily fantasy football is indeed all about risk management. Taking risks isn’t inherently bad, but the key is to maintain a positive expected value.

If I were to give you 3-to-1 odds on the roll of a die, for example, that would be a risk that you wouldn’t want to take; with just a 1-in-6 chance of rolling a specific number, you’d have a negative expected value. If I were to give you 10-to-1 on your money, though, you should take that bet, even though the risk is exactly the same.

Don’t take too many risks, but don’t be afraid to embrace volatility when it’s appropriate.

 

3) Look for the shortcuts.

“Every game, and almost every life situation, has short cuts: ways you can get better without learning the entire literature of the game from beginning to end.”

 

My book “Daily Fantasy Football Pros Reveal Their Money-Making Secrets” was filled with interviews of daily fantasy’s best players, many of whom are DK Pros. One of the coolest parts of talking with those guys was learning different heuristics they employ to make sound decisions when creating their lineups.

I actually think there are a lot of reasons for players of all skill levels to use heuristics like “Always stack a quarterback and receiver in a GPP” or “Never start a running back and wide receiver on the same team,” but that’s especially true for new players; such heuristics are shortcuts that can be used to improve your odds of winning when you’re not yet sure when to side with the exception to the rule.

 

4) Play people better than you.

“You learn more from losing than winning. Losing is not failure. Losing gives you a treasure trove of insights into how you, personally, can get better.”

 

Play people better than you…but play them cheaply. Enter $1 and $2 50/50 games because they expose you to a whole bunch of lineups for a low cost. Study the lineups of the best players, but also analyze the losing lineups, too.

There’s not much to be gleaned from an individual lineup, but continue to assess different lineup types to see what they consistently have in common; how much more often do winning lineups place a certain position in the flex as compared to poor lineups, for example?

 

5) Luck favors the prepared.

“Whenever you feel like saying, ‘I was just unlucky,’ trust me when I say, ‘you’re probably an idiot.’ Analyze the reality. Don’t just try to make yourself feel better.

In chess there’s a saying, ‘Only the good players get lucky.’ This applies to every area of life. As Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) said to me, ‘if you know you’re only going to succeed at 10% of the things you try, make sure you try 100 things.’

 

Daily fantasy sports is awesome because anything can happen in a single night (and truly anyone can win). Over the long run, though, there’s not really such a thing as luck; the prepared users win, and the unprepared lose. You can put yourself in a poor situation and win in the short-term, but that won’t continue to happen.

I think the Scott Adams quote “If you know you’re only going to succeed at 10% of the things you try, make sure you try 100 things” has a direct impact on tournament strategy. If you’re trying to build a bankroll and want quick growth with a big tournament cash, it makes sense to fire as many bullets as possible, i.e. play multiple lineups instead of using a single lineup and placing more of your cash on that one lineup. Five entries at $10 is superior to one at $50.

 

6) Study the history.

“Every game, every industry, has its history. A history of successful business models, of successful people, of styles in which the game was played. If you don’t love the history of what want to master, then you will never master it.

Poker players have read Doyle Brunson’s classic a dozen times. And entrepreneurs have all now read Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs and dozens of other biographies of successful businessmen.”

 

The “history” of daily fantasy is the data. My book Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People is filled with data on the best daily fantasy strategies—those that are actually winning leagues on DraftKings.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 94: Get all of my books for FREE!

I am giving away the entire Fantasy Football for Smart People series – all nine books – for free. You can enter the giveaway right here.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 93: How to Win $1 Million in Week 6, Part II

At rotoViz, I published some analysis on how to be a contrarian to win the Millionaire Maker on DraftKings this weekend:

GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

Imagine that a player is such an incredible value that everyone uses him—no really, all 92,400 lineups have this player. If that were the case, the player might have theoretical value in that his price is too cheap for his expected production, but his usable value would be zero; no matter how well he performs, it wouldn’t help or hurt anyone. Now consider the opposite—a player in just one lineup (yours)—that has a monster game. In that scenario, the player’s usable value would be at its peak; you benefit when no one else does.

It follows that the lower a player’s usage, the better the odds of him increasing your lineup’s win probability if he performs well. Of course, the Catch-22 is that the least popular players are typically among the least valuable, too. So we’re forced into this conundrum of either emphasizing value or going contrarian on players who offer less value but will be in fewer lineups. Value-based strategies provide the greatest potential for a high-scoring lineup, while contrarian-based lineups trade in some of that expected production for lower anticipated usage rates.

Check out the entire post.

I gave five more tips over at PokerNews. Here are the first two:

TIP NO. 1: PICK YOUR QB/WR PAIR AND DIVERSIFY AROUND IT

Three of the top four lineups in the Week 5 Millionaire Maker had Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas—a duo that exploded for over 81 fantasy points—and the majority of the best lineups paired a quarterback with at least one of his receivers.

The reason that you should pair a quarterback and a wide receiver (or tight end) is because it increases the upside of your lineup. The production of your receiver is obviously dependent on how your quarterback performs, so pairing them creates a symbiotic relationship within your lineup that makes it higher-variance—a good thing in a big tournament.

You’ll need to hit on a high-upside quarterback/receiver pairing to win in Week 6, but don’t be afraid to use the same pair in multiple lineups. If you really like Manning and Thomas again this week, use them in a few lineups with different groups of players around them.

The idea is that, if Manning and Thomas have a big game, you’ll be rewarded for hitting on that stack because at least one of the combinations of players around them will be good enough to help you cash. You don’t need to diversify to the point that you’re playing anyone, but certainly mix and match your core values around your favorite QB/WR tandem to act as a hedge and to ensure that the success of those lineups mirrors the quality of the duo.

TIP NO. 2: CHOOSE PLAYERS WITH MULTI-TOUCHDOWN UPSIDE

Again, the name of the game here is creating as high of a ceiling as possible. You don’t want ‘good,’ you want ‘elite.’ Basically, you’re trying to use astute roster construction to improve your odds of hitting on a really high-scoring lineup.

To demonstrate the thinking behind this idea, here’s a sample distribution of DraftKings scores using both a low- and high-variance approach.

With the high-variance approach, you generate greater access to both outstanding and horrible scores, which is a positive in a tournament. A wise man once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” and the Ricky Bobby approach to daily fantasy sports is actually a smart one in certain situations, i.e. when you crave upside.

When I’m creating a tournament lineup, I ask myself, “Can this player score two touchdowns on a semi-consistent basis?” If the player is somewhat dependent on touchdowns for production, he can make for a smart tournament play because his points will tend to come in bunches. That’s in contrast to a slot receiver, for example, who sees a bunch of short targets (and thus has a high level of consistency), but doesn’t have much touchdown upside.

Note: weight is the best physical predictor of touchdowns for receivers. All else equal, target heavier receivers.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 92: Matchup Analysis + Week 6 Plays

At DraftKings, I posted an article on how quarterbacks and wide receivers perform versus top five defenses.

I also gave some thoughts on Week 6 on DraftKings over at 4for4.

DRAFTKINGS WEEK 6 VALUE PLAYS

High QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay at Miami, $8400

The choice here for me is between Rodgers and Peyton Manning. I think Manning is the safer choice against the Jets and I’ll have some exposure to him as well, but I’d really like to pay up for running backs this week, too, and Rodgers allows for $1,000 in cap relief as compared to Manning.

DraftKings has Rodgers’ matchup with the Dolphins ranked as the seventh-worst, but we have it as just the 21st-most difficult after accounting for Miami’s opponents. My only concern is that Rodgers has thrown the ball more than 33 times just once this year, but I think that’s due more to weird game scripts than anything else.

Low QB: Nick Foles, Philadelphia vs NY Giants, $6800

Of all the cheap quarterbacks, Foles must be the most reliable, especially in terms of his anticipated workload. He’s thrown at least 37 passes in every game this year and, despite struggling in terms of efficiency, he’s still actually a low-end QB1 on DraftKings in terms of fantasy PPG.

High RB: Matt Forte, Chicago at Atlanta, $8800

Even as the most expensive running back this week, Forte offers sensational value against the league’s worst run defense. The projected total in this game is 54, and the spread is close such that the game script should be favorable for basically everyone.

Forte’s ability to contribute as a receiver in Marc Trestman’s offense gives him such a high floor from week to week, as we saw in Week 5 when the Bears were trailing. Forte is second in the NFL in targets among all players.

I also really like LeVeon Bell for the same reasons.

Low RB: Ronnie Hillman, Denver at NY Jets, $3000

This one is obvious, right? Hillman saw the bulk of the snaps last week when Montee Ball went down, so we’d expect that to be the case against the Jets as well. I’m not at all opposed to playing both Hillman and other Denver players in the same lineup because I think there will be enough points to go around for cash games, although I’d shy away from that in tournaments just because it will probably limit your ceiling.

And here’s a look at my favorite wide receiver plays.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 91: How to Win $1 Million in Week 6

DraftKings made someone a millionaire on a $27 entry last week, and they’re doing it again in Week 6.

At DraftKings‘ Playbook blog, I posted breakdowns of the quarterback (here) and wide receiver (here) positions to help you make your lineups this weekend.

Good luck in the chase for second place behind me.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 90: Making a Consistent DraftKings Lineup

At RotoGrinders, I broke down how to make a consistent NFL lineup on DraftKings.

POSITIONAL CONSISTENCY

In a past article, I explained why emphasizing consistency can work out in cash games. Basically, you’re trying to narrow down the range of possible outcomes as much as possible, taking a low-variance approach that will result in as many possible scores near the mean (with that average of course being as high as possible). Here’s how it might look in terms of a range of scores onDraftKings.

We want our cash game lineups to come close to resembling that blue line. We can do that by fielding a consistent lineup.

One way to create more consistent lineups is to pay more money for the most consistent positions. I researched the weekly consistency for each position using, looking at the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends, and defenses, and the top 24 running backs and receivers in terms of end-of-year points. Here’s how often those players finished within those ranks on weekly basis.

For week-to-week, you can use the RotoGrinders’ Consistency Tool to research how consistent a player has been performing.

Top-12 quarterbacks have around a three-in-five chance of finishing in the top 12 at the quarterback position in a given week. The exact percentages here don’t matter as much as the fact that quarterback and running back are the most consistent positions on a weekly basis. That makes sense when you consider how touches are distributed in a typical game; quarterbacks and running backs see more relevant plays than the other positions, and thus have greater week-to-week consistency.

Because of that, sharp fantasy players typically “pay up” for those two positions in cash games. By going with elite or second-tier players at the quarterback and running back positions, you can narrow down the range of potential outcomes for your team, giving you greater consistency and increasing your win rate in cash games.

PLAYER TYPES

One of the reasons I sort players into buckets and analyze them like that is because I think individual player evaluation can sometimes be misleading. It’s really difficult to determine an individual player’s consistency because there’s a lot of variance in those results. Even a player who has been in the league for four years and played every game, for example, has just 64 games to study. The difference between 50 percent startable weeks and 60 percent would be around six games, which is pretty flimsy. We especially can’t trust individual consistency for rookies or second-year players.

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