How to Beat Cash Games in DFS: What I Learned Playing Poker

One of the questions that I frequently get asked is, how does my history in poker help me in DFS? Though the gameplay of poker and fantasy sports are drastically different, the types of games available are relatively similar. Over the course of online poker, the games have become tougher, and playing large volumes of hands to earn a relatively low return on each has become the new normal. DFS is less advanced in its lifespan, which is how sites can charge relatively large fees compared to poker and still have an ecosystem where people can be winners in the long term. But that doesn’t mean every contest is a profit-making opportunity. Distinguishing between the profitable and unprofitable spots is essential to maximizing your chances of success long term and your return on investment.

The games in poker that I had the most success in were Hyper-Turbo Sit-and-Go’s and Cap No-Limit Hold ’em. Setting my sights on becoming a Supernova Elite on PokerStars, I would have to pay about $180,000 in site fees over the course of the year to earn the 60% rakeback associated with that VIP level. With more accurate reporting of results in poker, I knew that the ROI or win rate that many SuperNova Elites achieved in these games before site rewards were close to zero. But poker tables aren’t all equal. I knew that meant these players were playing in many spots where they were losing money at the tables, and that was counterbalancing the success they had in profitable spots. It was difficult to quantify, but I sought out to figure out how to estimate this information. To do so, I analyzed millions of hands in my poker database.

The win rates of players based on what percentage of hands they played vs. my win rate at that table

At the most popular forms of DFS cash games, double-ups and head-to-heads, the easiest way to estimate the strength of a player is to find the difference in your projection versus theirs. The problem with these games is that they are relatively simple at face value: They require just evaluating who the best plays are and not the strategy involved in a tournament with many more people. Many of these tournaments are likely to be negative in expectation for each participant. Very frequently, I see double-ups go off with nine of 11, or 10 of 11, people being pros. With the site taking 9% from each entry, in the case of two players being inexperienced, each would have to cash only 25% of the time for each regular to break even, while with only one player being a recreational player, it’s impossible for every regular to make a profit. You should evaluate each of these tournaments based on two factors: the number of casual players, and the strength of each (which you can determine after playing contests with them based on their lineups).

When it comes to head-to-heads, it’s even more simple to evaluate whether a tournament is profitable. The skill advantage you have must exceed the 6-10% of the prize pool that is the site fee. The calculation to determine this is a bit simpler. Here’s my estimation for NBA Head-to-Head Win Percentage based on projected point difference:

Red=losing, yellow=winning at high stakes, green=winning at low stakes

For GPP’s, it would be much more difficult to determine your ROI based on who is playing, but it’s a less important problem to solve. There are enough recreational players in most big tournaments that you have much more margin for error, and in addition, your skill advantage over the field can be greater because of increased strategy involved in tournaments with tiered payouts. Although the skill required to be an expected winner is still significant, it is attainable for most people in the large-field tournaments due to the high level of recreational interest.

For most DFS players, it’s possible to make a profit given the right game selection: the number of contests that fit this criteria just increases as your skills do. But to optimize your success, you must have a solid estimation of your own skill level and that of your opponents. Once you master these skills, you should have a solid foundation for making money at poker, as well.

Alex Baker
Alex is better known to fantasy players by his handle "Awesemo" from seeing him in every big tournament in the industry. Playing poker professionally from 2009-2015, he heard that daily fantasy was the next big game picking up steam, and he quickly saw the potential of the relatively new game. Growing his bankroll from 2015-2016, he made a big step in 2017 by claiming the #1 overall ranking on RotoGrinders for the year. After completing his primary objective, he was looking for what's next. Attending dozens of fantasy events, Alex realized that everyone was repeating the same story: wanting to be a great DFS player while holding down a full-time job. He realized that the resources available to fantasy players while great weren't enough to help hobbyists get to the level of competing with the top pros. Having met Tom Kennedy during the FanDuel Scottish Open, the two decided to take on the realm of fantasy content along with co-founder Eddie Lai. Alex creates his own projections for each sport he plays, publishing rankings derived directly from them updated for each major slate. He also writes strategy content for how to become a better DFS player in his Game Plan series. You can contact Alex by emailing [email protected].

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