DFS Contest Selection Primer

There are three basic criteria to evaluate the appeal of any contest: competition, variance and site fees. Here we will provide our DFS contest selection primer.

DFS Contest Selection Primer


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The weaker the competition, the higher the return. But how exactly do you evaluate a contest’s level of competition? Each site allows you to see the players signed up for a contest, so the simplest way is to let the contest fill up most of the way before entering. You will quickly recognize the names that are in every contest; you want to make sure there is a good ratio of unfamiliar names to go along with them.

If you are a relatively new player on a site, you will be eligible to play in beginner contests. The contests exclude players who have exceeded a relatively small threshold of play. If your goal is to optimize your return on investment, you ought to be playing in these contests instead of exhausting your eligibility on other contests.

The next level of games to consider are those where the highest and most successful DFS players are either excluded or don’t play in for other reasons. Both DraftKings and FanDuel limit players in the lower buy-in contests. For FanDuel, contests under $3 don’t allow most high-volume players, while DraftKings doesn’t allow experienced players to enter contests under $5 unless they have a $25,000 prize pool.

You should also play on smaller sites. Many top players don’t play on these sites because their time is consumed by DraftKings and FanDuel, or they simply don’t think it’s worth the effort. I have had a lot of success on these sites in terms of ROI, so if you can’t take advantage of the full scale of DraftKings and FanDuel, these are a good starting point. If you’re a tournament player, the smaller fields decrease the variance, allowing you to risk more of your bankroll.

Finally, focus on the contest size. All players are limited to the lesser of 150 entries or 3% of total entries. This means as contests go past 5,000 entries, they will have decreasing proportions of max entry players. In addition, single-entry tournaments will usually have a smaller proportion of skilled players.


Variance, other than being the way to explain why you don’t win every day, is a measure of the risk of different contests. Although your ROI will be higher at $5 tournaments than $300, you need a higher amount of bankroll in terms of buy-ins at the $5 level because of the much larger number of players in the tournament. On the other end of the spectrum, head-to-heads or double-ups don’t have nearly as much risk in terms of buy-ins.

I recommend entering contests from a variety of different slates instead of focusing all of your efforts on the main slate. I have had success in the smaller slates and it’s a great way to spread out your risk.

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Guaranteed Prize Pool Tournaments (GPPs)

Tournaments involve a prize pool that is heavily weighted toward the top finishers. As the size of the contest increases to 100,000 or more entries, this effect is magnified greatly. The largest contests are the best to enter in terms of ROI, but carry significant risk along with them. From my experience, I have had downswings of 5,000 buy-ins at the $3 level, 3,000 at the $25 level, and 700 at the $300 level, even though my ROI is lower as the buy-ins get higher. Despite this, I would recommend focusing on these tournaments if you have the proper resources to do so. Not only is the greatest profit potential in these tournaments, they carry the most glory as well.


Cash games are less risky than GPPs in terms of buy-ins but have a much smaller potential ROI. There is a significant difference between head-to-heads and double-ups, though. In head-to-heads, if you play a handful, you will usually cash in some and lose others; in double-ups, the cash line is usually consistent between contests. Thus the variance on a day-to-day basis is smaller in head-to-heads than other cash formats.

Site Margin

A critical aspect of profitability that is overlooked by novice players is the percentage of entry fees that go to the site fees. Although these fees are important to sustaining the economy of a site, you should shop around different sites and preferentially enter contests with lower fees. Rake changes from site to site, contest to contest, and even day to day. It’s important to keep track of rake changes in the contests you enter to make sure they are still profitable.

If you have a 2% historical ROI in a contest, you’ll start losing money if the contest rake goes from 11% to 14%. It will serve you well to sit out that contest until you can increase your skill level sufficiently to overcome the increased rake, or to look for a similar contest on another site that has a lower rake.

Putting it all together

Despite their high variance, GPPs should be your preferred format to enter. Novices are drawn toward the potential of a life-changing payout, resulting in easier fields than cash games. To make a profit, you have to have a skill advantage significant enough to overcome the site fees, so you will do best seeking out contests with a high proportion of unskilled players.

This is not to say that cash games don’t have their place in DFS. It’s not a bad strategy to start with cash games to learn the sport and refine your projections before jumping into GPPs. Cash games will give you a great idea how pros project the players before applying their tournament strategy. If you are constantly picking the same players as skilled DFS players, you’ll know you are on the right track.

The difficulty of cash games is finding ones that have weak fields. Most of the time, weaker players join H2H’s instead of creating them, but if you create your own you might get scooped by strong players. You can utilize player blocking on DraftKings and FantasyDraft to maximize your profit in this format. In small field double-ups or 50-50s, I recommend not joining until you see several unknown players entered. This approach requires vigilance but will give you the best chances to invest your bankroll.

With site fees topping 15% in some instances, you need to have a significant skill advantage to come out ahead in the long run. To maximize your chances of success, seek out the tournaments with the weakest fields using the strategies above. Good luck!

A self-proclaimed U.S. history buff, stats enthusiast, and rabid fan of anything Detroit (yes, even the Lions), Alex started playing daily fantasy sports in 2013 and never looked back. After graduating with a degree in mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008, he began developing advanced statistical models and applied his unique skill-set first to poker, then as a full-time DFS player. He has since dominated DFS, becoming a fixture on leaderboards and cementing his position as the top-ranked overall player according to RotoGrinders. Competing in most guaranteed prize pool tournaments, he has ranked in the top 3 across major sports, including NBA, NFL, NHL, PGA, and MLB. He enjoys sharing his knowledge of fantasy sports with new and experienced players alike. Career Highlights: No. 1 Overall Ranking; 14x FanDuel $100k winner, 11x DraftKings Hundred-Thousandaire; 20x Live Final qualifier. You can contact him on Twitter @awesemodfs or by emailing [email protected].

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5 thoughts on “DFS Contest Selection Primer”

  1. A lot of great information here. I play occasionally but still learning all of the abbreviations. Would be cool to have a list of them and their definitions.

    • The abbreviations in this article are as follows:
      DFS: Daily Fantasy Sports
      ROI: return on investment
      GPP: Guaranteed Prize Pool Tournament
      H2H: head-to-head competition
      Rake: money the site keeps out of the prize pool from entry fees

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