Live Final Qualifying Tips
I understand that some people at GuruElite may not be familiar with me, so let me give you a brief introduction. I got into DFS a few years ago after having some success in the high stakes season-long fantasy football tournaments like the FFPC and after realizing the profit potential on sites like FanDuel and DraftKings as they started to offer bigger and bigger contests. The first year I kind of just took things easy and tried to learn the intricacies of the game and analyze which contest types I was doing well in. I started to make a pretty good amount of money with a relatively small bankroll and figured with the data I had collected on game types and ROI that I should start setting some attainable goals. Though I had never really put much money at all into qualifiers at this time, I realized that I was coming really close (a couple runner-up finishes) and that my opponents were making some obvious mistakes which lowered their odds significantly.
Goal #1 heading into 2015: Make my first live final.
I emailed this goal to one of my good friends in the industry in December 2014, along with some other goals that we'll talk about another time. Setting this goal fell in line with my monetary/ROI goals in that I didn't really care about turning a small profit YOY. What was attractive to me was having the upside of a six- to seven-figure payday, and if I lost a budgeted amount of money that season trying to get that experience and opportunity, then so be it. I knew my long-term ROI would end up much higher over the years if I took this approach rather than a strict cash game approach or something. Don't get me wrong, some of the best players in DFS do really well that way -- it just wasn't "me".
So what happened?
Well, I crafted a game plan and went after the Q's immediately, albeit still somewhat cautiously. In January, shortly after putting this plan into action, I qualified for the 2015 FanDuel Playboy Basketball Championship on one of my three $25 entries. So obviously it's not like I "bought" the seat by throwing money at it. I invested a limited amount and still was able to take it down. I point that out because I want people to understand it's probably within their bankroll means as well. The other cool thing about that day is that I wrote a detailed article about the guys I liked in the slate, so the people that trusted my thoughts also had really big nights too (and I appreciate the ones that took the time to thank me for it later!). Anyway, since then, I've made every FanDuel live final up until this point (knock on wood). That's a total of 16 times that I've qualified...and I've been able to build my bankroll from the lower, casual end of things to a point where I'm now able to do this for a living. I've had a 5th place finish for $30,000 (2015 WFBBC) and an 8th place finish for $75,000 (2015 WFBC), but have yet to hold up a championship belt. I'm very confident that I'll have a good shot at that this NFL season.
I get asked a lot about live finals. Why do I play so many qualifiers? How have I had so much success doing it? What sort of bankroll do you need to chase these types of tournaments?
I believe that much of my edge in qualifiers can be taught. Why would I want to do that? For one, it's extremely rewarding to have people reach out to you on Twitter or come up to you at a live final and say that you're a big reason they are there. Teachers, coaches, and people in similar positions might be the only people that can relate to that and understand why I'd be willing to give up a big edge. I've told some other DFS pros this reasoning and they think I'm insane.
I want to touch on some basic concepts that still get overlooked.
Concept 1: Being Contrarian
An example I use for people trying to grasp the value of being contrarian is this: Say you're in a room with nine other people, and I walk in with a coin offering $1,000 split among the people that guess correctly whether it lands on "heads" or "tails". Not only that, but this coin is designed specifically so that it lands on "heads" 66% of the time. Nine people knowing nothing about Game Theory all want the side of "heads" because it's more likely to win. However, you choose "tails" knowing that you're the only one betting on that side of the coin and won't have to split the potential winnings with any other people. So your upside would be a 66% chance at $100, or a 34% chance at $1,000. Anyone with half a brain would take the 34% chance at $1,000 knowing that long-term that's a far more profitable choice regardless of how the coin lands this one time. That's the same idea with using contrarian play to take advantage of Game Theory principles in DFS.
Sure, most people think of this concept simply as having low-owned players. Not exactly. There's truly an art to being contrarian the right way. Most people approach this backwards: they will look at all of the guys they think will be low-owned and then try to convince themselves that they are viable plays. Instead, go through your normal research process. I'm sure you have a list of players that you're interested in that day (maybe your top five quarterbacks, or point guards, or whatever sport applies...). Now start to look at a couple things: First, try to project actual points with the ownership percentages. And second, try to figure out the probabilities and success rates of the chalky plays and what will happen if they don't end up working out.
Concept 2: Projections, Probability, and Pivots
All projections out there have room for error, which is why having a grasp of their success/bust rates along with ownership percentages has so much value. We can get really complicated with the math of it all, but in simple terms, it's about taking advantage of the room for error. You need to be right fewer times with a 1% owned guy than a 10% owned guy when they have similar projections and bust rates.
If you can identify some chalk that is likely to fail, one of the best ways to take advantage of this is with what we call a "leverage play". If the production doesn't come from that player, and we still think the game will be high-scoring, somebody else is probably going to get that production. A common leverage play in football would be to fade a popular QB and take the RB on that team instead.
In NBA, I'll use a specific example of when I qualified for a live final. It was one of those stretches a couple years back where James Harden was 60-80% owned every night. In this matchup he was going to be facing the Clippers with a super high game total and certainly was going to be 80% owned. After doing plenty of research, I felt that the Clippers might use Chris Paul (an elite defender) on Harden that game to slow him down. So not only did I fade Harden at that extremely high ownership, but I gained leverage by rostering his teammates, knowing that others had to carry the scoring load in this fast-paced game if Harden wasn't going to be able to get any space himself. That game shot out, everyone had Harden (who busted with Paul covering him), and I cruised to victory with guys like Trevor Ariza and I think even Josh Smith (yikes)! So that story is an example of your work not stopping just at knowing to fade a guy. Figure out if you can take advantage of that fade further.
Concept 3: Overlap with Multiple Entries
Most of you know that this goes without saying, but since I still see it happening I need to bring it up here: Don't run trains (the same lineup with multiple entries) in Q's that pay out one ticket! It happens all of the time and is one reason that there is so much dead money in qualifiers. I think most people understand that one, but the less obvious mistake is regarding overlap while multi-entering these qualifiers. The approach of having a solid core to build around for your GPP teams is one that is popular and is generally really solid advice. The problem is that it doesn't work well most of the time in Q's and most people are just entering the same lineups that they put in the Slam straight into a $25 Q or whatever. Think of it in terms of spray charts: a solid core build will result in bunched up finishes. Building teams with more unique players is going to result in a wider spray with volatile results -- but that's what we want! You don't care if you finished 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 10th with your lineups in a Q. Anything after 1st doesn't matter. In order to do that, you need to get exposure to as many viable plays as possible so that you're touching on as much of the slate's range of outcomes as you can. And this is all carefully worded; I'm not saying to play random guys just in case something crazy happens. I'm saying that if your list of viable QB plays includes eight QBs and you have ten lineups in a Q, you should then probably have eight different QBs across your lineups instead of building them all around your favorite three. The best players in the world still make this mistake, and you can go look at their lineups in the next qualifier to see that it's still happening.
Is there ever an exception to this rule? Absolutely. If you're making a big stand that is already pretty contrarian, then using a small low-owned core can be +EV. Or sometimes there's just must-play value that you can't differentiate from. That's pretty much it.
Those are three tips that will definitely get you into major contention for qualifying for a live final if you can work on perfecting them. I hope it helped, and I look forward to going further in depth on this and other subjects with you in the future. I'd love to meet up with you at the next live final and have a drink, so go and grab that ticket!
There are a couple of topics that I'm considering touching on in the future: Alternative Bankroll Management and Game-Planning for Specific Live Finals. If you're interested in hearing about those topics or have suggestions for others, please let me know.