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Dan Podheiser

Dan  Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

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2015 NFL Betting Preview, Part 2: Top 10 tips for the novice daily fantasy football player

31 Aug 2015

By Dan Podheiser
This is part 2 of 3 of Casino City's 2015 NFL betting preview. Other articles in the series include:

Part 1: Top 10 degenerate tips for betting the NFL this season
Part 3: Top 10 futures bets for the 2015 NFL season

If you're an NFL fan and you like to gamble, chances are you have played in a fantasy football league at least once in your life.

Season-long fantasy football leagues can be a ton of fun. They're typically filled with groups of friends who play just as much for the bragging rights as they do for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I've been in a fantasy league with the same guys for the past four years — we just had our 2015 draft Sunday night, and last year's winner was still gloating.

And while season-long fantasy leagues are all about the camaraderie, daily fantasy football has a much more impersonal, analytical feel to it. You draft a new team for each contest and play against one or 100,000 anonymous (for the most part) opponents, depending on the type of contest. You can play around filling your roster or you can take a cold, calculated approach and base your strategy off algorithms and spreadsheets.

Either way, it's really, really fun.

Daily fantasy sports (DFS) has taken the world by storm over the past few years, and the industry is on the tipping point of exploding. The major operators, FanDuel and DraftKings, have attracted hundreds of thousands of players, and DraftKings is guaranteeing a $10 million prize pool in its Week 1, $20 buy-in "Millionaire Maker" contest. That means DraftKings is banking on 572,500 entries (individual players can enter multiple lineups) for that one particular tournament. That's insane.

If you've played season-long fantasy football, you'll have a head start on your newbie opponents when you take the dive into daily fantasy. But the transition to DFS is not exactly parallel, and if you want to eventually become a winning player, there's a lot to learn.

Here are 10 tips to help you get started with daily fantasy football this NFL season.

10. You are likely an underdog

DFS has been compared to poker in that it's a skill game with a sizable element of luck involved. Over large sample sizes, the luck factor decreases and skill prevails, creating an ecosystem of winning players and losing players. And because the house scoops a rake in both games, there will naturally be more players who lose than win.

If you are not taking an analytical approach to DFS — or at least watching a ton of game film to compensate — you are almost certainly going to be an underdog against more seasoned players. And that's OK, for now. This is the time to get your feet wet, understand why certain lineup structures are good or bad, and discover who the "sharks" are in the field.

You should expect to lose when you begin, or at least understand that if you do win, it's because you were lucky. And this is why my next tip is so important . . .

9. Bankroll management is key

Much like poker, there is a ton of good fortune involved in DFS, so much so that luck alone can and will determine the outcome of one hand, one tournament or even an entire week of play. Phil Ivey is one of the best poker players in the world, and if you give him enough time, he will take all the money on the table. But in an hour, even a complete novice could come out ahead against him.

The same principle holds true in DFS. If you are a winning player and you believe you have an edge in a heads-up match or a large field tournament, it's still not wise to risk a substantial portion of your bankroll on that single event. Rather, you should be well equipped to be unlucky in those tournaments, knowing that if you can play a high enough volume over a long period of time, you will turn a profit.

8. Twitter is your friend

One of the biggest mistakes beginning DFS players make — and a sure way to tell if your opponent is a "fish" — is that they build a lineup that includes players who are either injured or not playing for any particular reason. This oversight is due simply to a lack of basic research, which is understandable if you are looking to play DFS for fun with little maintenance.

But we're not in this for fun — we're trying to make a living here! Luckily, staying on top of roster updates throughout the NFL season, even minutes before kickoff, is easy thanks to Twitter. I'd recommend following as many national and local NFL beat reporters as you can if you're serious about making sure you don't miss anything.

If I had to pick a few to start with, I'd go with ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen and Fox's Jay Glazer.

7. 50/50 leagues are a great way to start

At this point, you're past the beginner stage of learning daily fantasy football. You're a season-long fantasy football veteran, you won't make silly mistakes like drafting injured players and you understand how to manage your bankroll and your expectations. You're no longer a novice.

Now it's time to pony up some cash. Do you play a heads-up match or a large field tournament? You'd probably feel more comfortable playing just one other opponent, but that almost defeats the whole purpose of DFS.

To get your feet wet in a large field, give a 50/50 league a try. These tournaments have large fields, but you only need to finish in the top 50% in order to cash. And every cash is worth twice the amount of the buy-in. So it's like a heads-up match, but with much less variance. Plus, you could get stuck playing a heads-up match against a skilled, experienced player. Those same players will still probably be in your 50/50 leagues, but they'll represent a much smaller proportion of your opponents.

6. When heads up, diversify

In heads-up matches or 50/50 leagues, the key to success is roster diversification. You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket, because you simply don't need to hit the jackpot to make money. You just need to put up a solid performance and score one more point than your opponent.

For instance, let's say the Indianapolis Colts, an offensive juggernaut, are playing the Washington Redskins, who are hopeless on defense. It would therefore be wise to start one or two Colts players, because it's a pretty good bet they'll put up some good numbers that day. It's not wise, however, to start the entire Colts offense. The NFL is fluky and players are prone to injury — if Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck were to go down early in the game, you would likely be toast against your opponent.

It's better to fill your lineup with solid players from across the slate of games that week. When you're playing just one opponent (or in a 50/50 league), reducing variance is very important.

5. When heads up, don't take risks

This tip piggybacks off the previous one. There's really not much need to go looking for unknown players to fill your roster, or to try to find a sleeper who will shock the world and put up a great performance out of nowhere. In a heads-up match, you just need to beat one opponent. Much like poker, sometimes the key to winning is to simply make fewer mistakes than the players you're playing against. Don't be foolish.

4. Bum hunt

After reading those last two tips, you're now a seasoned heads-up specialist. So what do you do next? Go "bum hunting," of course.

Bum hunting goes back to the old days of online poker, when fish used to line up to the heads-up cash game tables. The professional players would sit at those tables and wait patiently for the fish, and if another skilled player sat down, they would "sit out" immediately. This was not a good look for the online poker rooms.

But who cares? In DFS, your job is to make money, and the first step in bum hunting is to identify the fish. Check the logs of the heads-up matches after Week 1 of the NFL season and try to find as many players as you can who either drafted injured players or just put together an awful lineup. Then, flag those players and keep an eye on them in the following weeks. If they start heads-up matches, join their leagues. You'll thank me later.

3. In GPPs, find the best sleepers

OK, now you're grinding heads-up leagues like the coldhearted, soulless degenerate I've taught you to be. You're making money hand over fist and taking down every bum in your path.

Now, forget all of that nonsense. Heads-up leagues are for suckers. If your life were Rounders, would you want to be Mike McDermott or would you want to be Joey Knish? That's what I thought. It's time to play for the big prizes.

As previously mentioned, DraftKings is running a $10 million guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournament in Week 1 that will pay $2 million to first place. That's the one you ideally want to win. That tournament, however, will have 572,500 entries. You're going to have to stand out if you want to have a shot.

Which is why it's absolutely crucial to fill your lineup with players that very few other rosters will employ. The value of each player in a GPP is highly dependent on how many teams own that player. For instance, in the Colts-Redskins scenario mentioned earlier, Andrew Luck would likely be the top-rated quarterback on the board. And he very likely would put up the best numbers that week.

But given Luck's price (likely the most expensive QB) and the fact that upwards of one-third of the field will take him for their rosters, he's simply not worth drafting in a GPP. When he plays well, it helps you – and 200,000 other entries.

So find the players nobody else will want, the ones you think will have the game of their lives. That's really the only shot you have to win one of these things.

2. Use "stacks" in GPPs

Unlike heads-up matches, GPPs are when you would actually want to employ the "stack" method of loading up your roster with several players from a great offensive team in a promising matchup.

Yes, others may employ this same strategy with the same team in the same tournament. But you will want to fill the rest of your roster with the sleepers I mentioned in the previous tip. If your stack and your sleepers hit, now you're really in business.

1. Keep studying

You've now learned basic strategy for daily fantasy football. You're crushing heads-up matches on a regular basis and are putting yourself in contention to win GPPs every week.

But if you want to stay at the top of your game, you have to continue to study every day. Read the forums, watch every game on Sunday, rewatch the game tape during the week and do your best to come up with a statistically sound way to win at DFS.

Hell, it may be worth it to look up that old high school friend of yours who decided, for some reason, to become an actuary. Everyone knows someone like that. Get in touch with him and have him draw up some actuarial tables for your benefit.

At this point, we're beyond fun and games. This is pure business.
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