Analyzing the Different Types of Games in Daily Fantasy Sports

A detailed look at the different game opportunities available in daily fantasy sports and how to strategize for each of them.

The Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) scene is currently the biggest area of growth in fantasy sports. Most DFS sites offer a large range of game opportunities each with their own strategies and points that we can exploit. In this article I am going to look at what some of these strategies are and what types of games we should be looking for. In my next article I will put these thoughts to practice and show how I plan to manage my bankroll throughout this fantasy season.

Within DFS there are primarily three different types of games, 6 different time frames and 3 different salary types at your standard DFS site. Let’s start by walking through each of these different game types as well as their sub games.

  • Head to head (H2H) – These games allow you to start a single lineup and play that lineup against another individual player. This game is the most familiar to players who have played fantasy sports for years.
  • 50/50 – In this game a large group of people sign up for the game. If you finish in the top half of the standings you win and if you finish in the bottom half you lose. Similar to 50/50’s are double ups, triple ups, and even quintuple ups. In these games you can increase your money by X amount if you fall in the top Y percentile of all players.
  • Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPP) – These are tournaments that can range from 10 people to several thousands. Unlike the first two groups the payouts are heavily skewed to the very top finishers. You will often need to finish in the top 10% before getting any type of payout. If you want a big payout you may need to finish in the top 10. But, if you win it all you may take home up to 10% of the total prize pool!

The first thing we want to think about when considering which game to play is “Who will I be playing against”? When I play in season long leagues with my friends I am looking for good owners that are active, challenging, and fun to play with. However, when I am playing a daily game with money on the line my goal shifts to playing the games that will give me the highest return on my investment. This includes playing the weakest players possible.

With this goal in mind let’s figure out which game makes sense for each type of player. First, let’s assume all players understand if they are truly good or poor players. In this case the poor players should seek out the games with the highest variance (GPP’s) where as good players should seek out the games with the lowest variance (H2H’s).

The reason why this is the case is pretty simple. If the bad players started playing the low variance games the good players would consistently beat them. However, in high variance games the poor players could hit the right combo and win a huge prize.

Even if the poor players don’t follow this rationale there is a second reason you will find a lot of poor players in GPP’s. This is because most new players are intrigued by the possibilities of hitting it big in a GPP. Think about all the people who signed up to play poker after they saw Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker in 2003 or all the people that play a lottery each week. In both cases these people know they probably aren’t going to hit it big but if they could it would make a big impact on their lives.

Now we have run into a bit of a conundrum. We started out looking for games that have a higher return on our investment but in doing so we realized that the type of players (poor players) we want to play against want to play the exact opposite game that we want to play. I will explain in more detail in my next article on bank roll management how to best reconcile this issue. But the short answer is over the long run we are going to make the highest return on investment from these poor players in the GPP’s. However, we need to play H2H’s to withstand the variances from the GPP’s since we may go a long time between GPP payouts.

The third option I haven’t even mentioned are 50/50’s. At first glance these might seem like the lowest variance group because all you have to do is beat 50% of the players. It would seem that if we are some of the best players we should consistently beat half the people. However, after playing a few weeks you will see that this is easier said than done. Even the very best players will beat half the people only about 60-65% of the time.

What happens when we only beat 20%, 30%, 40%, or even 49% of the players? We lose all of our money! Compare this to a H2H game. In the H2H game we get exactly what we deserve. If we played 1,000 games and finished with a twenty percentile score we would win 20% of the time. If we finish in the eighty percentile we would win 80% of the time.

As you can see the 50/50 is great on weeks where you do above average but awful on weeks when you do below average. Since most of the games for even the best players are close to the 50 percentile range you are introducing a lot of variance by using 50/50’s, albeit with extra upside. But if we only played 50/50’s with large chunks of our bankroll we could go broke very quickly due to variance alone.

The next thing you want to consider is what time frame to play. The main option that most people will play is the full Sunday and Monday slate since it includes all the games and is what long term fantasy owners are used to. But there are reasons that I think you should consider some of the other options as well.

The first option that holds several advantages is the Thursday through Monday option which was my most profitable time frame last year. There are several reasons why this is the case.

1) Opponents are using their own rankings only - A lot of fantasy football sites haven’t done their end of the week projections yet so many users are relying more on their own rankings instead of site rankings. This is where you get a good advantage of being a Footballguys Insider which has updated end of the week projections available in time for these games.

2) Owners like to watch their players play - What better way to watch your players than pick as many guys from the Thursday night games as possible? I have seen owners selecting full teams from just players playing on Thursday night. This leaves value on the table because these aren’t typically the best values available. We can get ahead by avoiding these players, especially in tournaments.

3) Injury Risks - Many owners will select players that are questionable to play on Sunday because they aren’t aware of the player’s status. We can capitalize on this by making sure we don’t play any of these questionable players. The last thing you want to do is to have a player score you zero because he didn’t even play.

4) Playing the odds on upside plays - DFS is all about playing the odds and we can play the odds on injury news. For example, let’s say that Darren McFadden is listed as questionable this week. Let’s also assume that we feel like Maurice Jones-Drew is fair value this week with a fully healthy McFadden. It’s pretty easy to see that Jones-Drew actually has some good upside now with little downside. This is because worst case scenario Jones-Drew is fair value but if McFadden is out he will shoot up the rankings and be great value. Most owners don’t officially move Jones-Drew up their rankings until they know McFadden is out so he won’t be on their rosters giving you the chance at free upside without your opponents taking advantage of it.

The remaining options all include much smaller player pools like Sunday early, Sunday late, and Sunday only. In general this is against what I want but there are a couple of reasons to play these games as well.

First of all they give you the chance to spread your risk around to different players without selecting suboptimal lineups. By spreading your player risk around you can play larger amounts of your bankroll without greatly increasing your risk.

The final option that I like is the primetime game. Primetime games start on Sunday night and include the Monday and Thursday games. This is another place we can take advantage of possible injuries to the players going on Thursday night. If you see that a player got injured at all during their earlier game there is a greatly enhanced chance that the player misses the Thursday game due to the short week. Many owners don’t take this extra risk into account and have no problem starting these injury risk players. We can focus our money elsewhere.

Game selection is an often overlooked aspect of the DFS scene but by taking advantage of the nuances of each of the different game types you can greatly enhance your chances of winning. In my next article I will talk about how you can manage your bankroll through these multiple options and how I would allocate my money on a weekly basis. What games do you play on DFS and why? Tell me about it on Twitter.


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