NFL Expert Survey: Tournament Strategy Edition
Want to know how Notorious approaches tournaments in NFL DFS? Wondering what STLCardinals84’s GPP contest selection looks like each week? You’re in luck. Our daily fantasy sports experts will answer a handful of questions to help you become more profitable in NFL DFS tournaments.
NFL Expert Survey: Tournament Strategy
What is your favorite site to play tournaments on?
Notorious: FanDuel and DraftKings
STLCardinals84: FanDuel and DraftKings
MrTuttle: FanDuel and DraftKings
squirrelpatrol: I’ll play on four sites this season – FanDuel, DraftKings, FantasyDraft, and Yahoo
Stevietpfl: FanDuel and DraftKings
Which of these contests types do you prefer most: single-entry GPP, 3-max GPP, multi-entry GPP?
Notorious: While chasing the massive payouts are fun, I prefer the single-entry and three-max GPPs.
STLCardinals84: Multi-entry GPPs, but I’m not a huge fan of the extreme top-heavy payouts like the Millionaire Maker
MrTuttle: Any GPP type that has a decent payout structure (pays 20% + not top heavy). Nicole Valencia made an awesome browser extension you can download that details payout structure for each contest. Single-entry and 3-max typically have the better payout structure but some can still be top heavy.
squirrelpatrol: I’m all about multi-entry GPP, although I recognize that the extremely top-heavy contests such as the millionaire makers will be money-losers over the course of the season (unless you hit first place).
Stevietpfl: 3-max and single-entry
Do you consider yourself chalky, balanced, or contrarian in your GPP builds?
Notorious: In single-entry and three-max, I tend to take a more balanced approach. Some chalk mixed in with some leverage plays.
STLCardinals84: Balanced. I’m not afraid to play a few obvious chalky plays, but I’ll always throw a couple 5-7% owned guys into my lineups for some risk/reward leverage.
MrTuttle: Varies depending on slate and contest type. GPP’s that are extremely top heavy like the Milly Maker I’ll go more contrarian. Single-entry + 3-max will be chalkier – I have not problem running a cash game lineup in these types of contests.
squirrelpatrol: Contrarian – I try to have at least one lineup with every starting QB each week, which is probably against the grain of what most people do. In both my own experience and looking at our ResultsDB for last year’s contests, it’s amazing over the course of the season how often the <5% owned QBs outperform the higher-owned players.
Stevietpfl: I think it changes every slate for every sport, but I like a mix of all three to be honest. I don’t mind playing a chalky player or two if I’m playing someone completely off the board that I like.
Do you prefer to focus your effort on a single site or multiple fantasy sites per week?
Notorious: I like to play two sites, so I have that natural hedge that exists thanks to the different pricing algorithms. I’d like to play more, but spread myself thin when I try three or more sites.
STLCardinals84: Two sites is pretty good for me. It allows you to focus your attention on the pricing between those two sites and get your optimal teams based on those algorithms.
MrTuttle: This has always been a struggle for me. I’ll play both sites but have found more success in the past focusing on a single site. If playing two sites it’s important to treat each site individually and let value/pricing dictate your lineups.
squirrelpatrol: Multiple fantasy sites each week. This is difficult, and in the every-night sports like basketball and baseball I’ll generally have a handful of “disaster” nights each season where I end up with my dummy lineups in play. It’s more manageable for football though with all Sunday morning to plan ahead (although I’ll still probably screw up one week).
Stevietpfl: I put my focus on the players, and decide which site or sites they work the best on in terms of pricing.
As a general rule, what percentage of your weekly play would you suggest a beginner outlay in tournaments vs. cash game formats?
Notorious: It honestly depends on the player and what their long-term goals are. Long gone are the days when you have to play 80% of your bankroll in cash games. I’d say 50/50 is a good starting point, especially if you are playing single-entry and three-max tournaments.
STLCardinals84: The old 80%/20% rule is a thing of the past now. Cash games are full of big time competition now, and it’s hard to make a ton of money long-term in those formats. I have no problem with even a newer player playing more dollars in GPPs than cash games, but be smart about it. Stick to single entries, three-max entries, and non-top heavy tournaments to start. The worst mistake is to fire your dollars at the Millionaire Maker and hope to make a profit.
MrTuttle: This completely depends on the beginner’s goals. If they are just looking for a little bit of a sweat or to have fun, go wild. If the goal is to build up a bankroll, then get ready to grind cash games, specifically cash games that will pay you for your true outcome (i.e. head-to-head’s). If your goal is the latter, I would dedicate ~90% of my weekly play to h2h’s.
squirrelpatrol: I’ve always found cash games much more difficult than tournaments, and I’m pretty sure I’m a money-loser at cash games over the course of my DFS career, so it’s difficult for me to recommend anything other than tournaments.
Stevietpfl: I would recommend any new player to focus on single entry tournaments or the smaller 3-max, 20-max tournaments. If you’re a new player, playing the $5-$10 GPP without a big bankroll is -EV. I’ve personally never been a big cash game player, and I feel like the industry is moving more towards tournaments and has been for a couple of years now.
What is your favorite field size to play: 4-10 entrants, 10-250 entrants, 250-1000 entrants, 1000-5000 entrants, 5000-20000 entrants, more than 20,000 entrants?
Notorious: My sweet spot in tournaments over the years has been the ones with 100-250 entrants.
STLCardinals84: The larger, the better.
MrTuttle: As long as payout structure is similar, the larger is better as it cuts down on the variance and rewards you more accurately based on your team’s performance. For example, a top 20% performance in a 20,000 person GPP may not cash a 10-person tournament. Likewise, a bottom 20% lineup in a 20,000 person GPP could cash a 10-person tournament if luck is on your side.
squirrelpatrol: Usually the larger tournaments, although at 20,000 or more you have to start to recognize that it will be very, very difficult to win. 5000-20000 may be more of my sweet spot.
Stevietpfl: I like the 10-250 and 250-1000 range the most and it’s been the most profitable for me.
How much rake is too much rake for you in GPPs (as a %)?
Notorious: It depends, if you like to chase live finals, then you have to eat a little more rake. I generally try to stay under 12%, but obviously the lower the rake, the better.
STLCardinals84: None of the major GPPs seem to have rake in the 15% range these days. I’m fine with that, but 17-18% is getting to be a bit too much; I’ll generally start to avoid once we get over 15 or 16%.
MrTuttle: Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of say here and even single entry GPP’s are approaching 15% rake. There are enough GPP’s offered in NFL where we can be a little picky though – try to stay under 12% where you can. Again, Nicole Valencia’s browser extension is very helpful here.
squirrelpatrol: At this point I don’t necessarily avoid any contest due to rake, although I manage my expectations of what my return will be. I’ll probably enter everything the first couple of weeks of the NFL Season, then start to be more selective as the season goes on.
Stevietpfl: I’m the worst to ask this because I really don’t look at it much. I like to play the single-entry and 3-max stuff, which usually doesn’t have that high of rake.
When the buy-in is high, do you prefer to: a) max enter always b) multi-enter but not max c) play 5 or fewer lineups D) single enter?
Notorious: C or D
STLCardinals84: C or D
squirrelpatrol: B, C, and D. I don’t have the bankroll to always max-enter high buy-in tournaments, although when I’ve had a great month and have excess bankroll I’ll sometimes give it a shot if I think I have an edge. Those attempts usually take care of my “excess bankroll” problem.
Stevietpfl: It really depends on the tournament. If it was a $444 with 70 entries, I would likely play the $150 3-max before I’d play anything less than 10 teams in the $444. I want the same amount of teams as the max amount allowed, and if I can’t do that, I don’t play.
When the buy-in is low, do you prefer to: a) max enter always b) multi-enter but not max c) play 5 or fewer lineups D) single enter?
Notorious: B or C
STLCardinals84: A or B
squirrelpatrol: A. I’ll max-enter low buy-in tournaments always, unless I’m stuck somewhere without my computer near lineup lock, in which case I consider myself to be playing for “entertainment” purposes only.
As a general rule, do you prefer to: build a tight core, use balanced exposure, or get wide exposure in NFL GPPs?
Notorious: Most successful tournament players build a tight core, but I’ve had more success going with balanced exposure in NFL.
STLCardinals84: Balanced exposure works for me. I don’t like going “all in” on a player because of injury uncertainty, but I also don’t like to play everyone, which really limits your potential upside. There’s a sweet spot in the middle somewhere.
MrTuttle: Tight core.
squirrelpatrol: Wide exposure, aiming for each lineup to be correlated with itself.
Stevietpfl: I use more of a wide exposure in football, but I do tend to use a group or core of guys at a higher % in that wide exposure.
Who do your prefer most: simple correlations (QB + WR), mini game stacks (bring it back with an opposing player), or full game stacks (multiple players from each team)?
Notorious: Mini game stacks
STLCardinals84: Mini game stacks
MrTuttle: Mini game stacks
squirrelpatrol: It depends on the games and the lineup – with running QBs I often won’t even pair with a WR, whereas sometimes I’ll go all the way to a full-game stack.
Stevietpfl: Mini game stacks
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much interest do you have in qualifying for live final events?
Notorious: Interest level is ten, but they can absolutely drain your bankroll if you don’t get a seat. As far as my level of chasing for the live finals, I’d put it at a two.
STLCardinals84: My interest level is about a five. I’ve qualified for quite a few, and they don’t have the same glitz and glamour for me anymore. I really don’t put a ton of my bankroll towards them, because the qualifiers are super top heavy, and many DFS players have gone busto chasing these things.
MrTuttle: 8. Ugh, I’m a sucker for these but would like to improve. As the other guys said, Q’s can be a massive drain on your bankroll. I would suggest avoiding altogether – get out while you can!
squirrelpatrol: 10 – I’m probably the worst person to ask this question since I just won the FanDuel Live Baseball Championship, which was my first Live Final Event, so in my mind chasing a Finals seat is a wildly profitable venture. You should check back with me on this at the end of NFL season.
Stevietpfl: I don’t chase them like I use to. I would say around 5 now, but that’s just because I realized how much money you spend trying to get a seat and would rather play that elsewhere.
How is game theory/game strategy important to your process?
Notorious: Back in the glory days of DFS, you didn’t have to worry about game theory as much. The tournaments were smaller and the fields weren’t nearly as strong. With so much information available to anyone and everyone, the skill gap has decreased in a big way. You absolutely have to use game theory in tournaments these days, while cash game contests are more about contest selection and limiting roster mistakes.
STLCardinals84: It’s massively important. What do you do with that 70% owned, minimum salary running back that becomes a surprise starter due to injury? What do you do with the chalky QB/WR combination of the week? If you don’t consider game theory, you are completely missing the boat in GPP play.
MrTuttle: It’s dependent on game type. In cash games, don’t overthink it. Just play the best lineup and don’t worry about what you think your opponent will play. In GPP’s it’s very important and importance increases the smaller the slate. Ownership becomes more predictable as slates get smaller so you’re able to play the percentages to your advantage more easily. You know Rex Burkhead is going to be extreme chalk on a Showdown slate? We know Pats RBs can be unpredictable – go heavy on James White or Jeremy Hill as their success is negatively correlated with Sexy Rexy.
squirrelpatrol: It’s very important, and has become more important to me over the years. You are only moving up the scoreboard in your contests relative to other lineups if you have a player and others don’t have him. This is why I try to cast a wide net in my player selection in NFL, to catch the overlooked players that will score big.
Stevietpfl: The DFS industry has changed a lot in 2-3 years. I think it’s very important to always consider game theory and game strategy when going into a weekend. Is that player or game worth the ownership? Just because someone is fading because of ownership doesn’t mean you have to either.
With so much information available to predict player performance, what would be the one aspect of player evaluation you find most useful in tournaments outside of game theory?
Notorious: This is going to be an obvious answer, but I will go with stacking. Correlations play a huge role in NFL. You can go with the traditional QB/WR or RB/DST pairings, or you can stack games. My favorite stack over the last two seasons has been pairing the QB/WR of one team and bringing it back with the WR1 of their opponent.
STLCardinals84: Correlation plays are big. You have to try to figure out game flow and build from there. If Team A is expected to get a big lead, stack up the RB from Team A along with a QB/WR combination of the opponent. If that game flow plays out, you get extra rushing attempts from your RB and tons of passing attempts on the other side. That equals more chances for fantasy goodness.
MrTuttle: Volume. Volume is king in the NFL and luckily also one of the more predictable aspects. A lot of players with high expected volume will see low ownership in GPPs due to a difficult matchup. We don’t want to target high volume, poor matchup players in cash games, but they can make for strong GPP options at expected low ownership as they’ll have plenty of opportunity to overcome the difficult matchup.
squirrelpatrol: I use information from Vegas as much as possible in my player evaluations – not only the Vegas lines and projected point totals for teams, but player props when they are available.
Stevietpfl: Properly using correlations and understanding how to use them when predicting game flow.
Why is predicting game flow important? (if you don’t think it’s important, please describe why)
Notorious: NFL coaches could care less about your fantasy football team. They are hired to win football games. When you have a lead in the NFL, you try to protect that lead, especially late in games. This leads to more touches for the running back. When you are trailing, you will put yourself in obvious passing situations, which can be beneficial for both the passing game and the opposing defense. Predicting game flow is half the battle of NFL DFS. If you could see the scores of each game before locking in your lineups, you would have a great idea of which players were productive that week.
STLCardinals84: Predicting game flow is essential for DFS, which is why we look at Vegas lines so often. If a team is ahead by 21 points at halftime, you can kiss your QB and WR production goodbye in the second half. If your team is down by 21 points at halftime, you can kiss your non-pass-catching RB production goodbye in the second half. Predicting game flow properly gives you the most opportunities for touches, which naturally leads to more chances for yards and touchdowns.
MrTuttle: I mentioned volume, or opportunity, above and understanding game flow is key in predicting volume. Typically speaking, a team with the lead will run the ball more (to milk the clock) whereas a team playing from behind will throw the ball more (to try to catch up). It’s also important to know teams’ tendencies when the game is in a neutral environment – what is a team’s run/pass split in these scenarios?
squirrelpatrol: The more accurately you are able to predict the game flow, the more accurately you will be able to predict which players will get the offensive opportunities on a team. So if you think a team will be down big, you want the Wide Receivers and pass-catching RBs, and if you think the team will be up big you’ll want the grind-it-out RBs.
Stevietpfl: If you’re able to properly project game flow, you’re able to use game scripts to take advantage of certain plays. If you project a team down 2-3 touchdowns, you can take advantage of WRs from the team down, etc.
How do you use late swap to your advantage?
Notorious: In my opinion, late swap is one of the few big edges left in DFS. There aren’t any sites or optimizers that tell you what to do with your lineups after lock. You can use late swap to your advantage in a number of ways. The first is if your team gets off to a bad start in the early games, you can pivot off of the chalk in the afternoon games to give yourself a chance to min-cash in tournaments and finish above the cash line in cash games. Even if this only works two times all year, it will have a big impact on your ROI. If your team gets off to a hot start, you can pivot onto some of the chalky plays in order to lock in that high floor and hopefully a high cash. If you are playing H2H contests and you see that you and your opponent have the same players remaining (same roster spots and same remaining salary), you can pivot to different players if you are losing.
STLCardinals84: This is definitely relevant in GPP games, as you can pivot your lineups before the late games kick off in the afternoon. If my teams get off to a bad start, I will late swap off some of the “chalkier” plays that I have left. If you want to borrow a poker term, swapping to lower owned options gives you more “outs” in an attempt to cash with those lineups that are off to bad starts. If you are in a smaller field contest, you can also use late swap as a potential blocking mechanism if you are off to a good start by pivoting to chalkier plays, but it’s hard to do that in larger field games.
MrTuttle: Late swap is one of the few true edges left in DFS. Many players are simply too lazy to check individual head-to-head contests before the last games start and swap accordingly. If utilizing late swap correctly you can increase your probability of winning specific contests. For example, if you’re down by one point in a h2h contest and you and your opponent have the same remaining player left, you can swap to a different player – while you still may be an underdog, you go from a 0% chance of winning to a ~30% chance (% will obviously change depending on scenario) of winning. .
squirrelpatrol: One thing late swap allows is the ability to play Questionable players later in the day, if you have a back-up plan in place in case the player can’t suit up. This becomes more important as the season goes on and more players get dinged up with nagging injuries, and can be particularly useful in the Thursday – Sunday contests where a number of players may be Questionable heading into the Thursday night lock.”
Stevietpfl: I use late swap more in football than any other spot. I look through all teams I have going around 3:30 PM EST, and if I need a lot to happen, I’ll likely pivot to a very high boom or bust play. If I know I have a chance to win a tournament, I’m not afraid to make a move to win or drop down.
Discuss your position on max entering GPPs, and how you’d advise somebody who can’t afford that.
Notorious: The only time I ever max enter is for the Millionaire Maker PGA contests, so I’m not a big help when it comes to NFL. I’ve always had the most success with building 5-10 lineups each week.
STLCardinals84: I will only do this with the really low buy-in tournaments, where it’s not a massive hit to my bankroll to do it. If you can’t afford it, don’t worry! There are single entry, three max, and other contests where you can play the amount of lineups that you are comfortable with, whether that’s one or three or 20 or 50. Don’t worry about feeling the need to max enter.
MrTuttle: If you can’t afford it, don’t do it. Max entry life can be tough on the bankroll even if you have the money to do it.
squirrelpatrol: I love max-entering contests – if I see a $5 / 150 max tournament, I think of it as being a $750 buy-in, not a $5 buy-in. I can definitely see why people don’t always want to max-enter though, and there are a number of single-entry contests available (and even an entire site – Yahoo – that only allows 10-entry max in all contests).
Stevietpfl: If you can’t afford max entering tournaments, I highly recommend playing single entry, 3-max, or 20-max tournaments. It’s also not as easy as people make it out to be when making 150 lineups. Start slowly with the MME, low stakes before the large stuff, and build a coherent strategy.
If you only had $200 to spend on daily fantasy sports and you were a casual player interested in tournaments, what type of game(s) would you play?
Notorious: Single entry tournaments that pay 25%+ of the field.
STLCardinals84: Single entry tournaments that pay 20-25%+ of the field.
MrTuttle: As many small entry fee tournaments as you can that pay deep. For example, enter all of the GPPs under $50 as opposed to one entry in a $200 GPP.
squirrelpatrol: I’d just do a couple of entries into the large contests each week, and try to get as much entertainment value as possible for the $200 over the course of the season.
Stevietpfl: Single entry and 3-entry max tournaments
For players with a bankroll or enough money to play more substantial sums, what’s the best bankroll tip you can provide them to ensure they eventually find or repeat success?
Notorious: If this was an exact science, we wouldn’t have any winners. Everyone would break even and lose to the rake. However, the tip that I would give would be to avoid chasing the big prizes that are in tournaments with bad payout structures. I would also advise everyone to follow the late-swap advice that I gave earlier in this survey.
STLCardinals84: DON’T CHASE YOUR LOSSES BY PLAYING MORE. Period. Period. Period. Also, don’t play the massively top-heavy prize pools comes in as my #2 tip.
MrTuttle: Game selection. Be smart in the types of games you enter. Get your money in good – don’t let your ego get in the way and try to beat the best.
squirrelpatrol: Assuming the player already has a good amount of contest history, my best tip would be to heavily use the DFS Analyzer tool. I think it’s one of the best tools RotoGrinders offers, allowing you to upload your contest history from both FanDuel and DraftKings. Use this to see what sports, contest types, and buy-in levels you have been profitable in, and choose your future contests accordingly.
Stevietpfl: Game selection and routine are two of the most important parts of DFS. We will all talk about it in our answers, but truly it’s one of the biggest reasons why we can continue to make money playing DFS. People don’t have a routine in researching or making lineups, and I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes for newer players.
What’s the best advice you can give all tournament players on dealing with big gaps between tournament wins – or – dealing with a lack of success in tournaments for those who haven’t yet won?
Notorious: My best piece of advice is to know that you aren’t alone. Everyone loves to post screenshots of wins, but nobody ever wants to talk about losses. No matter who you are, you are going to go through cold streaks. If you have a proven method, stick with it through the ups and down. The more you chase your losses, the quicker your bankroll will evaporate.
STLCardinals84: Variance sucks. I’ve been there. Any DFS player who has played GPPs for a long time has been there. Don’t be afraid to take a break when you need it. It’s more relevant with the daily sports like NBA or MLB, but even taking a week off in NFL can be a nice breather —- say in Week 7 or 8. You don’t have to play every slate.
MrTuttle: Most successful GPP players have the following attribute in common: short-term memory. Variance is a thing and you can’t have your lack of recent success influence your decision making.
squirrelpatrol: Don’t be afraid to try different contests or sites at a smaller buy-in and see if that brings you some success. Also don’t be afraid to take a bit of time off to clear your head.
Stevietpfl: Tournaments have become harder and harder to win. With that said, trust yourself and trust your research. If you like a play, you like it for a reason. If you’re doing all of this, try switching to a different site. Say you play mostly on FD…try going to DK, and vice versa. If you play on both, try a smaller site like FantasyDraft or Draft.
What’s the best advice you’d give to a new tournament player in two sentences or less?
Notorious: The two main areas of focus should be on contest selection and roster construction. Make sure to avoid highly raked tournaments and ones with bad payout structures (unless you are just playing for fun and want a shot at a million dollars). Then when it comes to roster construction, make sure that you are creating unique lineups that have leverage on the field.
STLCardinals84: Don’t be afraid to use the tools you have at your disposal, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some of the best information you can find will be from people who have likely been in your shoes at some point.
MrTuttle: Know the contests you are entering (single, 3-max, multi) and tailor your lineup accordingly.
squirrelpatrol: Manage and track your bankroll appropriately.
Stevietpfl: I think listening to other people is perfectly okay, but I would listen to the why and not always the who. Make sure you’re having fun. If you’re not having fun this can become miserable, and that’s the last thing you want.