The Psychology of Second Place

It’s December 2nd, 2018. The 49ers are trailing the Seahawks 43-16. Its 3rd and 8 with 2:37 left in the game. Jeff Wilson Jr. has just had two unsuccessful run attempts and the clock is ticking away. The 49ers seem content to lay down and end the game.

I quietly turn off my phone and my wife puts her hand on my shoulder. It’s a feeling I know all too well, and I’m sure most of you are familiar with, the moment where you choose to accept that you aren’t going to win. I start to say something along the lines of “I’m sure I’ll take one of these down someday” when, out of nowhere, Nick Mullens fires a 15 yard dart to Dante Pettis.

I jump out of my seat, flash an old school fist pump, and let out a yell that I probably shouldn’t write.

After a brief celebration dance (Orange Justice, obviously) I turn my phone back on and fire up the Fanduel app so I can see myself in 1st place and confirm what I already know. With a seemingly meaningless play, I had just qualified for the 2018 Fanduel World Fantasy Football Championship.

Let’s back up for a moment.

I’ve been playing DFS for 5 NFL seasons now. I discovered Rotogrinders in December of 2014. I went on a brief run to end the year that made me want to re-think my approach and re-invest in DFS. I read Fantasy Football for Smart People and decided to take the time to understand how to take my game to the next level.

By day I’m a television producer in the Washington D.C. metro area. I have a successful career, am awesome wife and three kids, one an infant. I coach my kids’ baseball and football teams. But at night, and on the weekends, I play fantasy sports for money.

That said, I’m not a “pro”. I don’t play all sports or all slates.

This isn’t even the first live final I’ve qualified for. Last spring, I qualified for and competed in the Fanduel Fantasy Basketball Championship in Miami (coming in 41st and 51st). But what always lured me to play DFS, was football.

There’s another story to tell about that 2nd NFL season I played in 2015 Week 1, late in the 4th quarter all I needed were 15 passing yards from Matt Ryan on MNF and I would’ve gone to Fanduel WFFC that year.

I didn’t get them.

I had many other big wins after that, but when I thought about my DFS career that moment was always one I went back to. The pain of losing or, in this case, coming in 2nd in a live final qualifier.

I think a lot of us experience that same feeling. We remember and agonize over our near misses instead of enjoying and relishing the victories. And those feelings drive us towards a future success.

I know there used to be all these frat boy style commercials for Fanduel and Draftkings on TV where drunk teenagers are holding up giant checks. That’s not really the experience I am going for. I’m taking my wife, my mom and my two-month old baby daughter with me.

Two years ago I went to Miami thinking I was along for the ride and in over my head, but I left feeling like I could hang with anyone in that room. Since then, my wife has been my biggest champion (she even tends to beat me every year in our season long league!). It’s been an awesome thing to be able to share this part of my life with my whole family. She’s most excited to go to the Jets stadium and wear her JJ Watt t-shirt!

Ultimately, moments like the moment I had last Sunday night are what makes playing DFS such a worthwhile endeavor. You make the best lineups you can. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get 2nd and it still feels like losing.

That’s such a bizarre feeling, right? It’s kind of like Talladega Nights… “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” A lot of prize structures in DFS work like this. 1st place is $100k but 10th place is $500. The edge is razor thin.

I’ve reconstructed the lineups from the live final in Miami hundreds of times. I’ve replayed the decisions I made over and over again. I’ve spent more time replaying that loss (and others) in my mind then I have ever spent thinking about the decisions that led me to make GPP winning lineups.

This week, I’m going to New York and I’ll be posting a few blogs about the experience. This isn’t a strategy series, it’s more of a thought process exercise. I have a basic lineup building strategy that I use and I will no doubt use the same one for the live final. One of the takeaways I had after the NBA live final was that I didn’t play my way. I tried to get cute and be different instead of playing the way I know how to play. I get a do-over of sorts to cast out the demons of my live final past.

Maybe I win. Maybe I don’t.

All I know is I made it. I now have a 1 in 75 chance at a half a million dollars.

Heck, I don’t even mind if I get 2nd place this time! Though, if I do, I will probably replay it over and over in my mind for years because that’s what we do.

We play. We analyze. We get better. We play again.

And sometimes, a meaningless 3rd down play in a blowout ends up being the most meaningful play of the entire season.

What are the near wins you’ve had that have changed the way you think about and play DFS? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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