Early Season DFS Strategy: Game Selection (and why I don't play cash games)

At its most basic, game selection should be the voice in your head saying “What are the games I profit from most often, with the highest upside and the lowest buy-in?” 

In part 1 of this series, I spoke at length about the importance of self-analysis. It is not just important though, it is essential if you want be profitable and continue to improve as a player. One of the aspects I covered related to analyzing your previous results and understanding exactly where you were successful, and what you needed to do to improve in the areas where you were not profitable. Game selection is essentially a function of this research and analysis, and should dictate where you are dedicating most of your bankroll. In that respect, bankroll management and game selection go hand-in-hand, and along with self-analysis and lineup construction, should form the pillars of your DFS foundation.

At its most basic, game selection should be the voice in your head saying "What are the games I profit from most often, with the highest upside and the lowest buy-in?" If you stick to that line of thinking, you will most likely find that you are not competing in the GPP's with the biggest prize pools, but on the flipside, you will also not be competing against 500,000 other players. The key is to find your sweet spot with respect to buy-in, prize pool and player pool. This doesn't mean you have to fade the Sunday Million or Millionaire Maker, it just means you should be dedicating more of your bankroll to games you know you can beat. You gain that specific knowledge by self-analysis, so you can see how all of these disciplines are interrelated and affect one another.

I may take some flak for this, but it is a testament to analyzing my results and practicing strict game selection. I don't play cash games…yes, you read that correctly, I have eliminated cash games from my weekly game selection. Why? Well, it comes down to several factors. The first is that my results in cash games over a two year sample size yielded roughly a 60% win rate. That is enough to beat the rake of the game, but barely. The best players are in the high 60's and low 70% range, and they have a tried and true process for building cash game lineups. The effort that I put into building cash game lineups, evenly spreading out player exposure and then doing lineup review, well, it affected my ability to do the same for my GPP lineups. Something had to give, so in analyzing my results, it was apparent my results were far superior in GPP's than in cash games. My average buy-in was $4.94, and I was cashing in roughly 36% of my GPP's. For each GPP I played, I was winning on average $18.02, or 3.64 buy-ins. For each GPP I cashed in, I was winning $55.04, or just over 11 buy-ins. This was heavily skewed by several large cashes, so I eliminated my five highest cashes and then re-analyzed my results. Excluding my five largest cashes, I was winning $8.18 per GPP played, and $25.22 per GPP that I cashed in. The results I used were from the 2014 and 2015 seasons, which created a two year sample size for me to draw results and conclusions.

For the sake of argument, I am going to limit "cash games" to Double Ups and 50/50's, as they are the most popular form of cash games. To equal my GPP ROI (excluding my top five cashes), I would have to be winning 60.3% of my Double Ups, and 72% of my 50/50's (due to the rake). Suffice to say, I was not winning 72% of my 50/50's. Furthermore, if I were to be playing those cash games, I would also be severely limiting my upside and chances at a big score. My reasoning for playing GPP's is a direct result of analyzing my tournament history.

Each player is unique though. For instance, my colleague Austin Lee (@AustinNFL) is a fantastic cash game player, having won 77.3% of his cash games in 2015 (over 8,181 cash games). For him, the most profitable approach is to balance his cash games to GPP's at a ratio of 90:10. The guideline we give to new players is to balance their cash games to GPPs at an 80:20 ratio. However, once you have established a large enough sample size of games to analyze, it is important that your balance is a reflection of your most profitable results.

Now that I know what type of contest I can expect to yield the highest profitability, I have to figure out what level most suits my skillset. This is where game selection is paramount. The reason why I have such a high cash rate in GPP's, is because I play the tournaments that I feel I have an edge in, and then I attack those tournaments with multi-entries. I would much rather put 20 ($5) entries into a $200K guaranteed tournament, than put one entry into a ($100) 200K guaranteed tournament. My sweet spot ranges from $3-$12 GPPs, and I focus on those that have fewer than 50,000 entrants. I will most likely not win a tournament with a $100,000 1st prize, but I am content winning GPP's that have $5,000-$10,000 1st place prizes because they are the ones that will steadily build my bankroll. I tell my friends often, "The easiest way to win $10,000, is to first win $1,000". This relates to giving yourself more opportunities, and it is important to understand that just because you have won a large sum in a GPP, it doesn't mean you skip five levels because you are properly bankrolled for it. To succeed at GPP's, you have to look at it like a marathon, not a sprint, with many benchmarks along the way. I use a limit of 200 buy-ins to determine the levels of GPP's I play in, and when I achieve 400 buy-ins, I know it is time to move up one level. If I were to win 1,000 buy-ins, I would still move up only one level, because I know my skill-level doesn't necessarily equate to my winnings. There is a direct correlation between buy-in level and skill level, and this is where I see mistakes made constantly. Having a poker background, I can remember many players who won large tournaments, only to lose $20,000 in cash games playing against seasoned professionals. It is no different in DFS, building your bankroll steadily is the way to have consistent success, year in and year out. Is it the sexiest way to play, or how to land yourself in a commercial? No, but at the end of the year, having doubled, tripled or won ten times your initial investment, you can look back with pride knowing you have accomplished something that many of your peers have not.

I find the easiest way to achieve proper game selection is to plan out your week ahead of time. What tournaments am I properly bankrolled for, and which ones do I think I have an edge in? There is also an element of roster construction that comes into play. For instance, there are certain weeks where I have trouble identifying where the "value" is in the pricing structure. These are weeks where I may only spend 70% of my normal exposure, and there is nothing wrong with that. You should always feel as though you have an edge in the tournaments (or cash games) that you play in. Planning ahead of time will allow you to concentrate on lineup construction, balancing player exposure and lineup review. Instead of building lineups at 12:00 pm on Sunday, you can be reviewing your lineups and making sure all of your players are active, as well as looking for overlays in the tournament lobby.

Succeeding in DFS is about finding your strengths, and then sticking to them. Pay attention to the finer details of bankroll management, game selection, self-analysis and lineup construction, and you will see your results improve.

Remember, the best players are the most disciplined, they have a process and stick to it. If you can do the same, you'll be surprised at the difference it makes in your overall results, and subsequently, your profitability.

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