Daily fantasy is the fastest-growing sector of fantasy sports and football is, by far, the most rapidly-expanding sport within the industry. The lure of simplistic salary-based lineups and potentially life-changing prize pools continues to attract new customers and is yielding double-digit growth to sites like FanDuel and DraftKings. As NFL Opening Weekend approaches, the FootballGuys decided to reach out to some of the most successful players in the daily space to pick their brains, to see through their eyes, and to get a feel for some of the thought processes that differentiate successful players from those who continually make weekly redeposits. This series will include some of the heaviest hitters in the industry, all of whom share insight into their own success.
Today's interview is with Al Zeidenfeld, better known as "Al_Smizzle" in daily circles. Al is a 41-year old husband and father of two from the Los Angeles area; with a background in investing, Al burst onto the daily scene in 2012 and quickly established himself as one of the more formidable opponents across all daily sports, as evidenced by his current RotoGrinder rankings in NBA (9th overall), MLB (28th overall), and NFL (18th overall). Al is also currently ranked 9th in RotoGrinders' Tournament Player of the Year and is attempting to defend his 2013 title as Tournament Player of the Year. He was leading DraftKings' 2013 Fantasy Football Championship before a late touchdown by Frank Gore cost him the million dollar first prize by 0.8 points; he 'settled' for a paltry $350K. These days, you can find Smizzle serving up daily analysis all over the daily world, including Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports Radio (Channel 84) and RotoGrinders [8:00 PM Friday (EST) Friday nights on "NFL Expert Round Table" and also at 11:30 AM (EST) on "NFL Gameday" (with yours truly!)]. Join Al's 12,000-plus followers on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/AlZeidenfeld
Given Name: Alvin Zeidenfeld
Daily Alias(es): Al_Smizzle
Hometown: Los Angeles
Occupation: Investor/Entrepreneur, Fantasy sports analyst
Twitter Handle: @ALZeidenfeld
In your opinion, how does daily fantasy football compare to season-long fantasy football? Pros? Cons?
As a game, I don't know that it's better or worse, only different. That's the misconception whenever I'm asked to get into one of those, "Season long versus Daily Fantasy debates." Both have merits as their own game, but for me, it just comes down to the sheer numbers. Before I got into DFS, I was playing a lot of season long leagues from $200 to $5000 entry fees. The problem was that it takes so long (four to six months) to see any sort of return on your investment, not to mention the small sample involved. I mean how many leagues can someone REALLY play in one season of sport? It became something that, like many of the people reading this, I ended up spending an immense amount of time on something that couldn't produce the same sort of return on my time investment, let alone the money invested. When you add in that the grand prizes in Daily Fantasy have really started to dwarf the grand prizes handed out in the high stakes, nationwide season long leagues (DFS had multiple $1,000,000 winners in NFL and MLB in 2012 & 2013 versus $150,000 being the top prize in season long) it does a lot to turn heads.
Daily Fantasy allows me to really monitize my fantasy sports knowledge as well as providing such a large sample of games over one season for me to come out on the right side of variance. If two of your first four draft picks get hurt badly in season long, it's very likely that your whole year is ruined. In DFS, if you lose two players one week that lineup is very likely going to lose, but if you play multiple lineups it's only a minimal loss. Not to mention the fact that the next week, you just don't draft those players anymore.
You don't have to wait a whole year to have fun again. To me that's the biggest argument that tips the scale in favor of Daily Fantasy versus Season Long.
There are a number of daily sites available for players. Where do you play and why do you choose to play there?
It's really no secret that I play the bulk of my games on DraftKings. It's not the only place I play but in terms of my entire daily investment, 60-75% of my action on any given day is played there. I love the way the site looks and feels--they have the best interface in the industry as far as managing all of your games and lineups on the 'My Contests' and 'My Lineups' pages as well as providing some of the biggest GPP's on a daily, monthly, and seasonal basis. I'm also a big proponent of the 'late swap' option and feel it is a great way for sharp players to gain an edge in terms of the way you construct a roster. The best example of that was last football season in week 16 for the Millionaire Maker where I used a running back in my flex position (Frank Gore) and because I had optimized my lineups beforehand by putting him in the flex position instead of the RB position, it gave me the chance to swap him out for Michael Crabtree on Monday night which subsequently gave me the chance to compete for the first place prize because the guy who was in front of me also had Gore in at RB. The late swap kept me from being blocked and made for a very exciting night. Without late swap, I'd have been locked into second and never would have had a chance at first.
Less dramatically, it's just nice to have the option to make different decisions after lineups lock because of a pregame injury, late scratch, or whatever. It's not something I use everynight so it's not as if I'm chained to my computer or anything, but I really like having it there as an insurance policy especially in NFL and NBA.
There are a number of game types (H2H, matrix, 50/50, 3-man, 5-man, 10-man, GPP, etc.) on these sites; which of these do you most prefer and why?
I focus a lot on head-to-head, large field 50/50 games, and when I can get a variation of opponents I like the 3-man/5-man games in terms of what are considered "cash games." I'm a one lineup player and while that provides more variance and less of a hedge, it works for me.
I have always gone after the biggest prizes that the sites have offered in GPPs both in terms of the daily/weekly tournaments, as well as the season end championships where you have to qualify for a small field live final with a huge first prize. Last year, I won two of the "Majors" (tournaments with a $50,000 first prize), one in NBA and one in MLB as well as the second place finish in week 16 on Draftkings for $350,000.
For people thinking of trying daily fantasy for the first time, what type(s) of games would you recommend?
The draw of the big money is strong, but for anyone just starting out, I'd suggest trying out the cash games first before trying to delve full force into the GPP's...more specifically, large field 50/50 games.
There are some players who can be very successful as primarily tournament players, but it's WAY easier to beat 50% of the field to see a return on your investment than it is to beat 85-90% of the field to see any sort of a return in most GPP's. As well as the fact that in a GPP, you have to get into the top ten to see any sort of significant return on your investment.
Basically, no matter how much money you're going to start with in DFS, play at LEAST 90% of whatever you're going to spend in one day or one week of NFL in cash games and only 10% in tournaments.
What is the single biggest mistake a new player can make when entering the daily world?
Imagine you're just learning to swim and you head to the beach. Would you walk carefully up the edge of the water or ask someone to drag you 1000 yards out into the deepest water? The biggest mistake would be to just come in firing. There's a learning curve just like everything else.
Sourcing information is a key component in ensuring that you roster guys in optimal situations (i.e., weekly projections, health status, starter versus bench, player value, etc); where do you go to obtain the most reliable information?
I am an information junkie, so I grab information from a ton of different sources. FootballGuys, Rotogrinders, and ESPN just to name a few. At this point, I use the information differently in terms of DFS. I have my own projection system/spreadsheet to get my rankings for the week, but by canvasing all the major outlets I can get a very real gauge on what the percentages that players will be owned on the week. That allows me to figure out where I can be contrarian and where I can still go with the more favored plays.
While we can't expect you to share EVERY secret you have with regards to being a winning player, what 1 or 2 thing(s) do you think are absolutely essential for becoming a successful player in the daily space?
First, if you're someone who takes it seasonsly in your season long league, you're going to be a good Daily Fantasy player.
Secondly, trust your instincts and don't let other people talk you out of a player that you really like that day or week.
You have met and/or have personal relationships with quite a few guys who are very successful at daily fantasy--what do these players all have in common, if anything?
There are a lot of commonalities between the best players, but at the same time, there are some very distinct things that set all of them (and if I may be so bold, us) apart from one another. Sometimes it comes down to meta game theory, roster build philosophy, or game selection. Some guys are "math" players and some guys are "feel" players. In terms of how we approach the day though, it's very similar. Get your research, sort your data, identify your key players and build around them. After the lineups lock, the rest is just watching sports!
Who are the daily players you try to avoid when playing H2H games? If you're not necessarily avoiding anybody, what names do you most respect in the football space?
I'm very concious of game selection but I'm not an extremist. I don't want to butt heads against the best player in whatever sport I'm playing that day but at the same time, I'm not going to go hunting to pick out the weaker guys either. This is another reason I like DraftKings. They have Matchup blocker, so when I post my head-to-head games, I can block someone from picking them up. There are still very good players who will pick up my games, but I can avoid the best when possible.
There are a lot of people I respect in NFL. Condia obviously plays more volume than anyone else, but KillaB, Dinkpiece, Mr_Tuttle, DP47, jigandreel (David Dodds), HeadChopper, CSURam88 and a whole host of others are also very good players and put out solid lineups from one week to the next in NFL. I could probably name a hundred people who are extremely good at this and that would still be a slight on about five hundred more. That tipandpick guy is pretty good too.
Many of the more successful daily players come from a poker background, where bankroll management is absolutely essential for long-term success. What are your rules for effective bankroll management?
You can only lose what you put in the middle. Be mindful of how much of your bankroll you're putting into play on any one day.
Can you briefly describe your weekly routine, in terms of preparation for daily contests, for a typical Sunday in the NFL?
I actually try not to look at anything until Wednesday at the earliest and even then, it's only glancing at prices and preliminary matchups because I have to be able to talk about them on the Grinders Live show. Friday becomes more important because that's when you find out who did and didn't practice that week so the value players come into clearer view because of the injuries on the week. I spend Friday and Saturday making different lineups so that on Sunday morning I'm doing less building and more refining if there is any last minute optimizing that needs to be done if there is late news or weather.
Roster construction for tournaments versus 'cash' games are quite different; what is your #1 piece of advice for a person constructing each type of lineup?
Cash games is about high floor players. Get as many guys as you can who will get as much of the supply (Attempts for QB's, Carries/Targets for RB/WR/TE) as you can into your lineup under the cap.
A question often asked by beginners is, "How many different rosters should I be making for my H2H games?" What is your answer?
I'm a proponent of using one lineup per game slate.
What about site-specific strategy? Are there factors that you consider when constructing lineups on FanDuel versus DraftKings?
Fanduel is pretty straightforward, there is no late swap or flex position so just build the best lineup you can. On DraftKings, you need to consider what type of player you want in the flex for that week, WR or RB? On top of that, you want to put the player from the latest game in your flex position.
The term 'variance' is thrown around quite a bit in daily circles, particularly in football. What is 'variance' and why should we be concerned with it on a weekly basis?
There are a lot of moving parts on a football team and a lot of events during a game that can affect, one way or another, the amount of supply that a player gets on that given day. So while there are a lot of places that put out statistical projections for players, the actual game numbers don't usually come close to those projections. The smaller the sample size, the greater the variance. If we could do a computer simulation of a specific game a million times, we would get an average output but you'd also see that there is a ceiling and a floor for those games as well as an expected range for them. Things like game flow, injuries, coaches' decisions, etc., can affect that player's statistical outcome on that particular day.
We're all going to have the same luck over a large enough sample size. We'll be on the right side of variance as much as we're on the wrong side. It something that will always be there lurking, but it's not something that I "worry about" on a day-to-day basis.
Is there ever a time to 'pay up' for a kicker?
I love that you put this question right after the one on Variance. No.
FanDuel's biggest event has always included a trip to Vegas for a live final event; last year, that event paid $1 million to the 1st place finisher. Have you been to a live final and, if so, how would you describe it?
I've been to many different live finals in the past three years, both as a competitor and an analyst. FanDuel puts on a fantastic live final in Las Vegas, I just got back from their Baseball championship yesterday. StarStreet has hosted theirs at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and it's a party like no other fantasy sports event. Next week I'm heading to the Bahamas for the DraftKings Championship to play for $1,000,000.
Very honestly, the live finals are fantastic. If you've never been to one, it's a great opportunity to meet all of the faces behind the screen names that you're going to be playing against and reading about all season. All the sites do a fantastic job of making the finalists feel like winners from the moment they arrive and everything the entire weekend is first class. I've heard people wonder if the rake on the events is overblown and not worth it, but I can assure you that you're more than getting your money's worth at these live finals and where else are you going to get a chance to play for that sort of life changing money in one day of Fantasy sports?
What is the future of daily fantasy football--where do you see it in 5 years?
Wow, it has grown so much since I started playing in April of 2012 that it's hard to imagine where it will be in five years. The latest statistics I saw were that there are forty million people playing Fantasy sports in the USA and Daily Fantasy players make up 1% of that pool. If we're only one percent of the entire fantasy sports pie and the prizes are this big right now, the possibilities for when its population reaches 15-30% of the total fantasy sports players are just staggering. Could we be talking about a grand prize of five million dollars? What would second place be? $2,500,000?
The thing is, as more season long players get involved in Daily Fantasy, we're going to see more new DFS superstars every season. The players who take their season long leagues more seriously than everyone else in their leagues are the next wave of DFS superstars, they just don't know it yet.
What is your favorite daily fantasy experience thus far?
Winning the 2013 Tournament Player of the Year award.
What celebrity do you get mistaken for?
Nobody, I've got a unique look. I looked like Fred Savage as a kid though.
Favorite movie of all time?
Matrix, Godfather, Pulp Fiction
Best music album of all time?
Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest.
How did you choose your daily fantasy alias?
Al Smooth, my poker screen name, was taken on XBox Live so I changed it Al Smizzle and that's been my online handle ever since.
You're on death row--what's your last meal request?
Anything that you can hide a key in.