Profit in DFS by Employing a Smart Bankroll Strategy
Let's not sugarcoat things: the first key to being profitable in daily fantasy is being good at it. Or at least, a little better at it than your competition (and as Paul Pierce would say, that's why they got me here). But even the best players will still lose at least a third of the time in cash games, and much more in tournaments, so bankroll management is just as crucial as making the right plays.
There's no one-size-fits-all bankroll strategy, but in the following article I'll go over some general principles to intelligently manage your daily fantasy bankroll.
Before we get into bankroll specifics, it's important to understand variance. Variance is the naturally occurring, short-term up-and-down swings inherent in games like fantasy (and real) football, and is an extremely important concept to understand. Even the best players experience swings of fortune due to variance, and while they will even out over the long run, you have to still be afloat in the long-run to benefit.
In terms of the amount of games played, the NFL season is extremely short relative to other sports. There will only be 20 times to play all season (and we advise playing Week 17 and the Playoffs cautiously because some teams unpredictably rest players or pull them from games early).
Some daily fantasy players prefer to increase variance, looking for the thrill of the big score. This is a fine preference, but know that with big reward comes big risk. A player primarily playing in large-field tournaments is more likely to lose in the short-term than a player playing solely in cash games -- particularly, head-to-heads against multiple opponents.
Total Money in Play
In a given day, it is not advisable to play more than 20 percent of your bankroll. This number can be much less, especially if your bankroll is higher.
The important part with money in play is to be consistent. If you're not consistent with your percentage of money in play, you run the risk of being a winning player, yet not being profitable.
For example, assume you have a $100 bankroll and play 20 percent ($20), all in double-ups, and win them all. Now your bankroll is up to $120, and with extra confidence, you decide to play 50 percent ($60) of your bankroll the next week, but you lose all of your games. Now you're left with only $60, so the following week you get scared and go back to playing only 20 percent ($12) of your bankroll, but alas, you double up again, winning $24 to bring your bankroll to $72 after three weeks.
It's easy to see something's wrong there: you won big two out of three nights, yet your bankroll is smaller than before. Now if you had stayed consistent, playing 20 percent each week, you would have made a nice profit. You would have only lost $24 the second week if you played 20 percent of your $120, ending with $96 rather than $60. Your money in play in week 3 would have been $19.20 (20 percent of $96), and you would have ended up with $115.20. Despite having the same game results, just by being consistent with your money in play, you would have made a 15 percent gain on your bankroll instead of losing 28 percent.
When deciding on money in play, you also have to take into account how strong of a player you are. Most sites allow you to download your results, so over time you'll get an idea of your baseline winning percentage in different types of games. The better player you are, the more money in play is acceptable. For more on optimizing your wagers and using the Kelly Criterion, check out Jonathan Bales's article on optimizing your wagers.
Here's where it's crucial to understand your odds. Even if you play no more than 20 percent of your bankroll, putting the entire 20 percent in cash games is a lot different than putting the entire 20 percent into tournaments.
In terms of bankroll growth, the best way to minimize risk while giving yourself upside is to put the majority of your money in play into cash games, and using your cash game profits to "fund" entries into tournaments, where you have chances to significantly increase your bankroll with as little as one big cash.
The general idea is to allocate money in play to cash games and tournaments in a way where if you win a good amount of your cash games but don't place in any tournaments, you still profit on the day. An 80-20 or 90-10 cash game-to-tournament split is ideal.
What Type of Cash Games Should You Enter?
Different cash games have different odds of winning: head-to-heads and tournaments have a 50 percent chance of winning double your entry fee minus the rake, while double-ups usually have a 40 percent chance of winning double your entry fee.
The safest strategy for cash games is to enter head-to-heads against a diversified group of opponents. If you only played one opponent and that opponent had a great week, you could conceivably lose all your money in play. However, playing a diverse group of opponents will ensure that if you have a good score, say in the 80th percentile, you'll win somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of your games.
Similar to playing head-to-heads against only one opponent, playing 50/50s and double-ups are riskier than you might think, especially if you're using only one lineup (I'll discuss lineup diversification next). If you have say, a 49th percentile score, you could lose all your entry fees if you played all 50/50s, whereas you'd still win roughly 49 percent of your head-to-heads against diversified opponents.
How Many Lineups Should You Use?
In cash games, you should generally be opting to use the optimal values of the week with the highest floors. This dictates not diversifying too much, especially in head-to-heads. If you're playing a bunch of head-to-heads against diversified opponents, using only one cash game lineup is fine because diversification will be taken care of by the variety of opponents you're playing.
If there are multiple players valued similarly, you can diversify a bit more, but don't simply diversify just for the sake of diversifying; you always want to make the optimal plays in cash games, and being contrarian is not of much importance. You'll be hurt a lot more if you limit your exposure to a great value play in the name of diversification when that play is in the majority of others' cash game lineups.
In tournaments, both lineup and player diversification is key. For one, you need some differentiation from your competition in order to win tournaments. And two, tournaments dictate the selection of volatile players, who by nature are less predictable, which means you need to account for a greater range of outcomes.
When you do play tournaments, it's recommended to multi-enter tournaments with different lineups, including some that don't contain many (if any) of the same players, to give yourself multiple shots at a huge score and not allow one bad play in all your lineups to sink you.
Generally, the lower the buy-in level, the easier the competition. The best way to use this to your advantage is to always enter the lowest buy-in levels you can with your money in play. So if you're playing $50 worth of head-to-heads, your best chances of winning would be by entering 50 $1 games, rather than five $10 games, for example.
The safest way to grow your bankroll is to play no more than 20 percent of your bankroll in a week, in the lowest buy-in levels possible. Put no less than 80 percent of your money in play into cash games, the majority of which should be head-to-heads against diversified opponents. The rest of your money in play should be in multi-entry tournaments. Most importantly, be consistent with the percentage of your money in play from week-to-week.
I mentioned that there's no one-size-fits-all strategy; I simply described a good method to minimize risk (by playing primarily head-to-heads versus a diverse group of opponents) and still retain some upside (by supplementing your cash game entries with multi-entry tournaments using diverse lineups).
You can modify this strategy to fit your level of risk. For example, you could play 100 percent of your games in head-to-heads if you want the safest possible way to grow your bankroll. You could also be a tournament-only player, but realize that you run the risk of an extended cold steak even if you're a good player. Think of it like a good hitter in baseball: even a career .300 hitter will have stretches where they go 0-for-20, etc.