The thrill of the winning hand. The gut-twisting anticipation that comes along with making a tough call. That turn-on-a-dime excitement is what lured us into poker, and what keeps us coming back for more.
For many, our earliest exposure to similar thrills was watching our favorite sports team as a kid. Now that we’re adults, we need a little something extra to get that same rush from a sporting event we aren’t participating in. And for us poker enthusiasts, having some money on the line does the trick perfectly.
Some have turned to traditional sports betting, picking a winner with an odds-based payout. Others (with a lot of patience) play season-long fantasy sports. Only Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) delivers the kind of in-the-moment thrill you’ll get from poker. Coupled with the fact that DFS currently enjoys the kind of legal status online poker doesn’t, it isn’t hard to see why DFS has positively exploded in popularity.
DFS on the surface is incredibly similar to poker. The clueless sheep outside the game will scoff and tell you it’s nothing but luck. Yes, there is luck involved — enough so that any player with a basic understanding of the fundamentals can go on a run and have a big night. Sound familiar? Just like poker, it’s about the long run, skill development, and continuing to evolve your strategy and outthink your opponents to put yourself in the best position to win.
Ready to take a day off from the poker room and spend a Sunday afternoon sweating every game on the NFL slate? If so, here’s what you’re going to love about DFS, and here’s what may be challenging as you shift your paradigm.
DFS Game Selection
Much like poker, game selection is the first thing you need to consider, and will prove vital in determining your wins and losses. Start with the two major sites, FanDuel and DraftKings. Each site has a slightly different scoring method for each major sport. The subtle differences are too complex to delve into here, so visit both sites and review their scoring algorithms for your sport of choice before selecting the one that suits you better.
Next, you get to pick “Cash Games” or “GPP Tournaments”. Cash games are not like the poker cash games you’re used to. In DFS, a cash game is simply a relatively small player pool where the top half or third of the field all wins the same prize. A typical one might feature a pool of 100 players and a $5 buy in, with the top 50 scoring teams each taking home a $10 prize. You heads-up sit-and-go junkies will be right at home here.
For those of you who love big multi-table poker tournaments, you’re going to love GPPs. GPP stands for “Guaranteed Prize Pool”, and these tourneys feature big fields, small buy-ins relative to the top prizes, and an extremely top-heavy payout structure. You can play GPPs with a $3-5 buy in that feature a top prize of $10k, $20k, or even $100k. For a mere $20 entry into a PGA tourney based around one of the year’s 4 majors, you can take home a cool million if your team comes out on top. North of 50,000 teams will be entered in tourneys like these, and since there is typically no limit to the number of times you can enter, top pros are frequently running dozens of different lineups in search of the huge score.
Much like cash game poker vs tournament poker, the basic elements of the game are the same but the strategies are drastically different for each type of tourney. I suggest trying both to see where you win the most, feel the most comfortable, and get the thrill and excitement you crave.
Basic DFS Strategy
Similar to poker, DFS is all about the preparation. Studying detailed statistics, trends, and knowing each player in your sport is essential to winning. Compare it to the way a good poker player will know opening hand ranges and be able to calculate outs, pot odds, and ICM on the fly.
Also like poker, you have to be willing to accept that a certain amount of it is out of your control. Just like your pocket aces are going to get cracked by low suited connectors a certain percentage of the time, sometimes you’re going to start Tom Brady against the worst pass defense in the league and he’s going to have a bad day (or worse, leave with an injury.) You will lose sometimes. Nothing new there. You still made the right play and it was still a good play, it just didn’t work out.
Not being results oriented and being confident enough to make the same correct play again next time might be the biggest similarity between DFS and poker, and maybe the most important skill required to be a winning player at either one.
Getting a research routine down is the most basic thing you can do to get started with DFS. With football, you’ve got all week to pore over statistics and prepare for Sunday. With MLB, you’ve got less than 24 hours after the last west coast game ends, and you have to be ready to make a flurry of changes when the starting lineups are released with only a few hours until first pitch. Learn the timeline of your sport and figure out how to fit analyzing each team and player’s spot into your work/life schedule. Knowing a lot about your sport will help minimize your research time, but no matter how much you know, some detailed analysis of stats will help.
Your goal obviously is to score the most points, but with a limited budget to spend building your team you also have to maximize points per dollar, and with everyone pulling players from the same pool, you’re looking to score points in places your opponents aren’t thinking of. The magic formula for taking down those big GPP scores is having the “chalk plays” (the most obvious and popular player choices) not pan out while the underrated gems that you discovered via in-depth research come through and rack up big points for you.
You’re Either First or Last
This might be the single biggest difference for me between DFS and poker. In a poker tournament, you’re watching the money bubble. Once you make it into the money, you watch the pay-jump ladder. You weigh the value of winning the tourney vs. the value of moving up another few places. When you’re playing in a tourney with a huge field, the difference between 100th place and 63rd place might be a dozen buy-ins or more. By making it to 63rd every time and never busting without cashing, you’ll likely be more profitable than making the final table once.
You’re Always All In Pre-Flop
It’s hard to argue the fact that when you’re playing poker you have ultimate control over every decision, while when you’re playing DFS the players on the field determine the outcome and all you can do is watch. To get over that lack of control, think of each DFS tourney as a poker hand where I go all in pre-flop. Doing your research, analyzing the games and spots, and building a lineup is like sitting at a table waiting for that perfect spot to shove it in your aggressive opponent’s face. Clicking the “Submit Lineup” button is like pulling the trigger and pushing all your chips over the line knowing he’s going to call it off.
You know you picked the right hand to shove, and you know you’re in a good spot. You’re confident that you’ve made the right play. Now it’s time to sweat the run-out and see if you’re going to come out on top. A Sunday NFL slate takes a whole lot longer than a 5-card run-out, but the sweat can be every bit as exhilarating.
If you’re looking for another outlet for excitement in your life that doesn’t pit you against the house, you may find what you’re looking for with DFS. Getting started is easy, and when you apply the same concepts you apply to poker like solid bankroll management, educated game selection, quality research and game theory knowledge, you’ll already be far ahead of the masses and in a position to win some serious money while you get more enjoyment out of a sport you already love.