DFS 101: Which Games to Play on Fanduel

DFS 101: Which Games to Play on Fanduel

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last updated Dec 21, 2015

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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One of the first questions that many new DFS players ask is, “Which games should I play and why?”

While every player's goals and game selection will (and should) vary, there are some general guidelines and specifics regarding each game type that every DFS player should understand. Before digging into each game type and its suggested weekly allocation, a good starting point for those new to DFS is to play no more than roughly 10% of your entire bankroll in any given week. With experience, playing 15% or more can be reasonable, but that can be risky in an NFL that has very few games compared to other sports, and therefore, can lead to high variance.


Game Types and Expectation

As discussed in the How to Play on FanDuel tutorial, games are generally broken up into two game types: cash games and GPPs. The foundation of every DFS player, especially new players, should be cash games. Cash games (head to heads, 50/50s, and double ups) offer the lowest amount of risk, as a whole, but within each game type lies its own pros and cons.

By comparing head to head to heads, 50/50s, and double ups, we can make informed decisions to shape our decisions on our preferred game mix.


Cash Games

Head to heads

Assuming that you are using very few lineups (one or two) each week for your cash games, head to head games offer the lowest variance of any game type, coupled with the truest reflection of the quality of your lineup, and here’s why. If you build a lineup that ranks in the 40th percentile of all head to head lineups, given enough volume, you should win about 40% of your head to head games. This can’t be said for other cash games.

The downside is that you have to play a relatively large amount of volume to recognize the true value of your head to head lineups. While a lineup entered into 1000 contests that finishes in the top 20% of entries for that week is going to win about 80% of head to heads, that same lineup entered into just one head to head contest could very well run into a lineup that finished in the top 15%, which would yield zero winnings. Compared to 50/50s, and double ups, the upside is limited, as well.



For certain players, 50/50s can be the preferred game of choice, especially if that player isn’t playing high volume. A 50/50 offers more upside than a head to head, in that a slightly above average lineup is always going to win money in a 50/50, where it can lose to a better lineup in a single head to head. Because of this, the variance of 50/50s can actually be lower than head to heads, on the weekly level, for the player that is playing in just a handful of games each week.

Unlike a head to head, results of 50/50s are not an accurate reflection of true lineup quality. Whereas a lineup that finishes in the 40th percentile will still win roughly 40% of head to head games, that lineup will never win money in a 50/50, which is why this particular game is considered much riskier and higher variance for the high volume player.

Deciding between the two is a matter of volume and risk aversion, depending on whether you want to sacrifice safety for upside, and vice versa.


Double Ups

Double ups deserve special attention because of their nuanced differences in payout structure compared to heads to heads and 50/50s. In terms of a true reflection of your lineup quality, double ups resemble 50/50s, in that a lineup that finishes above the cash line will always win, whereas a lineup below the cash line will always lose. The intrigue of the double up is that you actually double your money and win slightly more than in a 50/50. The tradeoff is that you have to beat a larger percentage of the field, and the site is taking more money out of the prizepool.

Let’s take the payouts from actual games in the FanDuel lobby to help illustrate the differences in cash games.

As we know by the definition of the game, a head to head and 50/50 requires you to finish in the top 50% of the field to win money. The percent of the field that is payed out in a double up is not explicitly stated on the site, like in a 50/50. Using the $200K Big Double Up as an example, 22,727 contests buy in for $10 and the top 10,000 entrants will win $20. Although they double their money, only 44% of players in this double up win. There is also the rake consideration, which is a major concern for most double ups.

With a prizepool of $200,000 and total buy ins equaling $227,270 (22,727 entrants * $10), FanDuel is taking a 12% rake* from their double ups. Meanwhile, only 10% of the money is being taken from head to heads and 50/50s.

* The calculation for rake is:

    Rake = (Total Buy Ins - Prize Pool)/Total Buy Ins

By recognizing the higher rake and the need to beat a larger percentage of the field, one can quickly see why double ups may be the worst cash game investment of the three games mentioned here. Even with the added upside of possibly doubling your money, the downside can be massive, even if you are a slightly above average player.

Taking all of these factors into a consideration, a new player should be able to come up with a mix that suits their situation best. As a general rule, cash games should account for 80%-90% of your weekly money in play, with newer plays favoring cash games more heavily against GPPs.

For a player that plans on playing any significant amount of volume, a fair mix of cash games would be 70%-80% of their weekly cash game money dedicated to head to heads, with the remaining money in 50/50s. Someone that is looking to minimize risk completely could play 100% of their cash game dollars in head to heads. That player wouldn’t be losing much in terms of expected value over the course of the season, compared to if they mixed in 50/50s.

Those that plan to play just a few games a week might find it best to stick to 50/50s, as a very good lineup in just one or two head to head games could very well lose money, even over the course of an entire season.

Because double ups have so much money taken out of the prize pool, and so few entrants get paid out, relative to head to heads and 50/50s, it might be in a newer player’s best interest to avoid these games altogether. If you are smitten by the upside of doubling your money, no more than 5%-10% of your weekly cash game allocation should be dedicated to double ups.



There are so many individual GPPs in a given week, that it is impossible to run through every game offered and pick exactly which GPPs users should be playing. What those new to DFS should know is that each week you shouldn’t be looking to invest more than roughly 10% of your money in play into large field tournaments. The absolute ceiling for GPPs should be 20% of weekly money in play, and that amount of action on tournaments should be reserved for very experienced players.

When seeking out the most profitable GPPs, it’s important to always take note of the entire payout structure. While massive prize pools and huge payouts to first place look appealing, the tournaments with the highest expected value pay out the largest percent of entrants with the winnings distributed relatively evenly from top to bottom.

Also, always consider how many times you can enter a contest. When playing in GPPs where you can submit multiple lineups, it’s almost always better, in the long run, to enter more lineups into a contest with a smaller buy in, than fewer lineups into a more expensive game.

Take FanDuel’s Sunday Million from early in the season and compare it to their 5K Mini Rush.

With a $25 buy in, the Sunday Million has 229,885 entrants and a prizepool of $5,000,000. 46,000 entrants cash with $1,000,000 going to first and $40 to those that barely make the money.

The 5K Mini Rush costs $5, has just 1149 entrants, and a prizepool of $5000. 206 entrants win money, with $500 going to first and a minimum cash of $13.

As with any game selection decision, you must determine how much risk you are willing to take on in favor of upside. Both of the contests mentioned pay out roughly 20% of the entrants, but in the Sunday Million, 20% of the entire prize pool goes to first place, with 35% of all winnings going to the top three spots. If you barely get in the money, you only multiply your buy in by a factor of 1.6.

With that same $25, you can enter five lineups into the Mini Rush. In that tournament, 10% of the prize pool is given to first place, with 21% of the money going to the top 3 spots, Even if you do barely cash, your buy in is multiplied by a factor of 2.5.

For players that don’t have the bankroll to support multiple entries into large fields, single-entry tournaments should be strongly considered. Because everyone only gets one lineup, the advantage of a massive bankroll is nullified in these games.

You’re not going to get rich quick playing smaller tournaments, but it’s going to be much harder to go broke playing a more profitable game in the long term rather than chasing a large pay day.


Bonuses, Freerolls and Overlay

Whether a first time depositor, or a seasoned veteran, DFS players should always be aware of free money opportunities. The easiest, and most well-known, free money grab is the first-time depositors bonus. FanDuel will match your first deposit up to a given amount, which will vary throughout the year. If you can afford it, it’s best to deposit the maximum amount that the site will match, in order to recognize the largest bonus possible, which can be very beneficial when learning the game. This bonus is released as you enter paid games. The more you play, the faster your bonus will be released.

FanDuel also offers a variety of freerolls, contests that are free to enter and award real money to the winners. Some of these freerolls are only offered to depositors, or users that play a certain amount of games, but others are available to anyone with an account. Anytime you have an opportunity to enter a freeroll, take advantage.

Finally, a more complicated free money opportunity is overlay. Overlay is the money that is available in a contest with a guaranteed prizepool when that contest doesn’t fill and the website is required to make up the difference. In extreme situations, contests that only pay out 20% of the entrants can essentially become double ups with massive upside. The caveat with overlay, is to be careful chasing it. Just because theoretical free money is available, doesn’t mean you should play in every contest with overlay, especially if it will cause you to put significantly more money in play than you usually would.

With so many unique users, there is no one size fits all strategy to game selection or bankroll management, but this should serve as a primer to those that are considering DFS for the first time.

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