“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
I created this post with more of the FanDuel beginners in mind, but I’m confident that this post can be of value for the veterans as well. This post is meant to be a resource you read, bookmark and revisit as you continue to get better. It’s pretty detailed and intentionally long. Some tips may seem obvious, but when you’re in the daily grind of fantasy basketball, it’s easy to forget the obvious. You will walk away after reading this post excited, confident, and ready to grind.
Let’s get started:
I’ve spent the last half year testing out many strategies for winning more and losing less at FanDuel. The bad news is that I realized something… Luck is actually required. The more you can take luck out of the equation the more fun this game becomes. It can be frustrating when one of your players underperforms just as exciting as it can be when one of your players over-performs. The goal is actually to reduce the number underperforming players you pick and to increase the number of over-performing players.
My desire to win forced me to slow down and to begin trying to understand what contributed to my success and what led me to losses. With rare exception in life, you have to work your ass off to win at anything that matters.
I have put together this post for you even though I’m sure it’s going to cost me some games. I think it’s one of the most helpful things I could write for any of you looking to get better at FanDuel. This is the best “formula” I’ve been able to come up with so far. I have split this post into 3 sections:
1. Create YOUR strategy
2. Work harder and smarter than everyone else
3. Create your own team
1. Create your strategy
Sit at the right table. You really need to understand what you’re getting yourself into before you start putting some money on the line. There are many different formats of games that you can play in. You can play in head-to-head, 3-player, and 5-player games; there are double up, 50/50 games, and even 1000+ person tournaments. There are late games, 2-day games. Many of the veterans have different strategies when it comes to which types of formats they want to play and what percentage of their games are certain formats. However, I strongly think that if you are a beginner, you should really start in the 50/50 games or head-to-head matches and definitely avoid the big tournaments.
Know your enemy. What led me to many of my victories early on in FanDuel was my ability to scout out weaker opponents. It was not unusual for me to pull out some bigger payout victories against obvious beginners. The way you scout these beginners out is to click on their profile. The profile can reveal a lot about the tendencies of a player. I tend to look for the following criteria:
- How many NBA games have they won? (fewer the better)
- What percentage of the games they have won are NBA games? (the lower the better)
- How many other sports do they play? (the more the better and the less focused they may be)
- How long have they been a member of FanDuel? (shorter the better)
- How many NBA wins per month have they averaged? (fewer the better)
Advanced scouting. I wouldn’t recommend investing the time to scout to this level unless you’re starting to consider some higher entry fees. It’s just not worth your time if you’re playing just for fun.
- Check the leaderboard for the month to see if you can find your opponents name.
- Search other forums for your opponent’s username and their activity level.
When to scout for opponents. I’ll repeat it again. Knowing your enemy is extremely important and in formats like heads-up, 3-player, and 5-player games, it’s very realistic for you to be able to scout out a few opponents before games. What I’ve observed is that the veterans who play high-volume games tend to splash the lobby with multiple games even before games are over. Though I like taking them down every once in a while, I prefer to look for the players who fit the profile I described above. So I like to look for my opponents soon after the nights’ games are over or usually an hour or two before the games begin.
Be disciplined. Fantasy sports is a grind. The NBA season is long and everyone will have their ups and downs. It is a lot of work if you want to be successful. You should not be putting in a line-up if you are not fully satisfied with how much work you have put in that day. If you have some concerns about the players in your line-up – whether they are prone to injury, ejections, possible blow-out scenarios, but you really just have to have him in your line-up, tonight may not be the night to overload on your bankroll. I hate to break it to you, but yes, you are going to lose some games due to weird circumstances. When you see this higher risk and you’re able to hold yourself back, this is the art of Losing Less.
Take measured risks. On the same side of the coin as being disciplined is taking smart risks. If you have put everything you possibly can into a line-up and you happen to have found a piece of GOLD intel on a situation, commit yourself and don’t look back. You will not regret it even if it doesn’t pan out. This is when you need to exploit your opponents and extract as many wins as you can. Just like in poker, when you have pocket aces, you have to play them, and you have to play them big. Let your money work for you. This is the art of Winning More.
Example: Dwight Howard – 3/12/2013. It was his first game back against the Magic since being traded. It was reported that Kobe made it a point pre-game to tell Howard to show the Magic what they were missing out on. Howard went for 39 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, and 0 turnovers for a total of 65 points!
Learning is required to survive and thrive. If FanDuel doesn’t require you to constantly learn then something’s wrong. Sitting around pounding a keyboard, pulling out your hair, and checking your phone doesn’t require many new ideas. Adapting and improving does. Improvement is about taking the best of you and making it better. Deep stuff, I know.
Commit to your line-ups. I’m ALL-IN when I play. I use the same line-up in every game because I hate hedging and betting against myself. I hate rooting for Lebron to score more than 30 but less than 45 so that I can hit in both my match-ups. (e.g., when you have Lebron vs. someone who doesn’t and in another game you don’t have Lebron vs someone who does). When you play, play to win. Don’t play to not lose. This is the opposite of the Win More Lose Less mantra.
Focus on the process, not the outcome. The concept of winning more and losing less is a state of mind. It’s a state of mind that you will use to govern your decision making.
2. Work HARDER and SMARTER than everyone else
Record everything. When you win. When you lose. What you predicted. What surprised you. Whose stock is going up? Whose stock is going down? Every lesson, positive and negative, write it down and understand how it’s forming your system and how you can use it to better learn and apply going forward. How can you know if you are getting better unless you know where you’ve come from? What do you need to record? Well, a good place to start is with my FanDuel practice journal post. You seriously cannot improve if you don’t have a baseline to compare yourself to.
Research. I’ve heard it said like this. FanDuel is 90% exploiting matchups and 10% luck. Accurate and timely Information are the most valuable resources you need. Did you hear that? Seriously. Don’t convince yourself otherwise. Every night I record the highest scoring line-up and for example, how I should have known that Spencer Hawes was going to tear up Brooklyn for 20 points over expected value. I comb through the best players’ line-ups and compare them to my own. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? How do I make these types of picks like them in the future?
Make a Scorecard. This tip is from Daniel Coyle, the author of “the little book of talent.” Coyle says, “organizations that focus manically on winning today tend to lose sight of the larger goal: learning and developing competencies for the long run. The solution is to create your own scorecard. Pick a metric that measures the skill you want to do develop, and start keeping track of it. Use that measure to motivate yourself. As a saying goes, ‘You are what you count” (Coyle). What do you want to track? Win and Loss record? Money made? The more granular you can get, the clearer you will see where your strengths and weaknesses are. I personally love to track my estimated total versus my actual line-up total.
Measure against your own standards, not others. If you spend any time in the forums like me, you will realize that everyone has different ways of measuring their success. Some people get excited if they make money. Well, most of us do. But some people get excited when they beat Condia’s score. Others get excited if they can break 300. My advice to you is to stop comparing yourself to others. It’s almost surely apples to oranges and you’ll either feel overly confident or overly disappointed. Either way it’s less than useful. You are your own comparison. Define your success and own it.
1%. What’s the difference between you and your opponent? It’s 1%. Everyone accesses the same information you do. Everyone runs algorithms. Everyone takes 5 pages of notes every night after losses. Everyone stays up late racking their brain for ways to get an edge. Everyone wakes up early in the morning preparing to grind. Do you?
Face your mistakes. “Develop the habit of attending to your errors right away. Don’t wince, don’t close your eyes; look straight at them and see what really happened, and ask yourself what you can do next to improve. Take mistakes seriously, but never personally.” (Coyle). One of the first times I decided to track my estimated total versus the actual line-up total on FanDuel, this is how bad it was. On March 6, 2013, I estimated that I was going to score 300 points with my line-up. Marcin Gortat gets injured at the end of the first quarter. I overestimate 7 of my 9 players to the tune of 83 points. I only scored 217 points that night. I was paying $276/point when my goal was $200/point. Man, I got a little unlucky with Gortat, but man was I off the mark. I was stunned as to how bad my guess was. I could have ignored this embarrassing moment, but instead, I became determined to tighten up my strategy and put in work.
Seek out different ways of doing things. You know what they call people who do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Unfortunately there is no magic formula and anyone who tries to sell you theirs is a fraud. You need to figure out what works for you by constantly experimenting. See what sticks. Without experiments we’ll never learn anything. Without learning, you’ll get nowhere. Consider FanDuel a series of experiments. Always be testing.
Practice. How do you get ready for a test? How do you get ready for a game? Practice. Practice. Practice.
Learn who you are. Analyze your trends through the data. See if you can spot patterns of when you win and when you lose. Everyone is going to have different strengths and different weaknesses. You must learn how to exploit your strengths and hide your weaknesses.
Analyze every investment. Whether you win or lose, you need to go through the process of understanding the details. Otherwise you’re going to be confused if you’re rich and people are going to just say that you’re lucky. Or you’re going to be broke and no one cares.
Showing up is just the beginning. If there is no difference between you and JimBob521 who showed up 5 weeks ago and you can’t beat him more than 80% of the time, I’d say that something is wrong. If you’re a JimBob, then I’m sorry, but I’m hunting for you.
Start small. There is no need to rush into this. Enjoy the few games that you have going on and analyze the crap out of them. Grow your knowledge of what to look for and what to avoid.
Build confidence. It takes confidence to go into tournaments, 5 player leagues, etc. Don’t be afraid to test the waters every once in a while and see if you’re ready to move up the food chain.
Be consistent. Track your progress. Track your winnings. Track your decision-making. Be careful not to make emotional gambles.
Don’t start too early. If you’re like me, there are times when you’re trying to set your line-up at midnight before the games the next day. Don’t be silly. You know you’re going to change it up 30 minutes before your game anyway. Don’t waste your time.
3. Put together your own team
Participate in forums. It’s fun to have others rooting for you, sharing line-ups, strategies, etc.
Learn from those around you. Every interaction is a chance to learn. There are a lot of really helpful people willing to share their success and failures with you.
Be careful who you learn from. The only problem with the fantasy sports world of self-declared statisticians and gurus is that there is more absolute crap available to learn than ever before. More books are being published, more blogs being created and more courses being offered than ever before. By default this means the sheer number of mediocre or downright bad content is going through the roof. Find a way to filter what you consume.
Share notes. “When you open up your process and invite people in, you learn” (Austin Kleon).
Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. “If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats” (Howard Aiken)
Get in arguments. Friendly arguments, of course. Having arguments helps you know exactly why you are submitting the line-up you chose for today.
Friends. Make some. They make everything more fun.
4. Get better every day but DON’T play every day.
This is a little bonus. If you do the above three things you will start winning more consistently (even if bad luck does seep in every once in a while). Most importantly, your decision-making is getting better. That is what massively helps your chances of increasing your bankroll (in case that’s what you’re here for). Part of better decision-making is knowing when to play and when not to play.
Take a break once a week. Relax. I’m not saying that you can’t play. I’m not saying to take a break from your daily journal entries. I’m just saying don’t enter any paid games ONCE a week. Why? The emotion of playing for money can often blur our decision-making. Once a week, play for free. This will allow you to detach monetary rewards from your line up selection process. If you win while making mistakes, you’re going to think that you can just keep playing the same way and win every time! Success in these free practice sessions will lead to better line-ups down the line. Try it out. If you can’t take off one day a week from putting skin in the game try once a month. If you can’t take a day off once a month, you need to be careful. You may be on a slippery slope (link to slippery slope post). Oh, and nights when there aren’t enough games for FanDuel to run do NOT count. Good try. Just to be clear, I still want you to prepare and play as if you were playing for money.
Pick your battles. What’s harder? To play on a day where there are 3 games or 13 games? Sometimes, you just know that there are too many variables or there are not enough variables that luck is going to play too much of a factor in the equation. On these days, don’t’ play! Save your money for another day. Make this a practice session. If you want to win, you need to know when to pick your battles. There really is nothing wrong with retreating to fight another day. The great thing about FanDuel is that there will always be fish in the barrel.
2-day games?! Do you know what you’re going to eat tomorrow night? Did you know that Dwyane Wade was going to have a mid-ankle sprain tomorrow morning at shoot-around? Only if you had a copy of Biff’s Sports Almanac should you be making line-ups for 2-day games… can’t you JUST WAIT one day?
How bad do you want it?
Winning More and Losing Less is totally possible if you’re willing to put in the work. It is almost completely on you. The good news is that not many people are grinders.