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Extra Tournament Thoughts

JM Tohline (JMToWin)

JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.

Those cash game thoughts were fun, huh?

I wish I could tell you that tournaments are just as easy. I wish I could say, “Just make the safe, smart, obvious plays, and you’ll be absolutely fine!” I wish I could tell you it’s really all as simple as that, but —

Oh, wait. What’s that?

No — I’m kidding. I can’t tell you that. That would be a lie.

What Makes Tournaments Different?

While cash games require you to simply beat somewhere in the range of half the field, tournaments are a different animal. On the one hand — the hand many people errantly focus on — you have to finish in the top 20 percent of the field to cash in tournaments. On the other hand, however — the hand that David Copperfield or G.O.B. Bluth is apparently hiding from most people’s vision — your goal in tournaments should not be “simply cashing.” What’s the point, after all, of entering a contest where you are “hoping to finish in the top 20 percent of the field” when basically everything from around 12 percent to 20 percent only doubles their buy-in? Why not, instead, just enter double-ups if your goal in tournaments is “to just make sure I cash”?

You see?

Because tournament payout structures are usually set up so that the top one to two percent of the field will really be the only entries winning big money, your goal in tournaments should always be finishing as high as you can!

Your goal in tournaments should always be “winning that tournament.” After all, there’s really no point in entering that tournament in the first place if this is not what you are chasing.

Why “Safety and Upside” Still Matter

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes most DFSers — yes, even many seasoned DFSers — make in tournaments is assuming that this goal of “trying to win the whole freaking thing” is equivalent to “needing to make tons of risky moves in the hopes they all pay off.”

And certainly, this can be a path to tournament wins! I’m not denying that. We’ll get to the importance of ownership percentages in a moment, but think about it like this.

If you build an entire team of high-risk, high-upside players — players that most people are too afraid to risk money using — and all of these players hit their “high-upside” mark, you’ll be in tremendous shape! After all, most of these players will probably be under five percent owned — which means that each “big game” you get from one of them moves you ahead of about 95 percent of the field. (And, of course, by combining the low-owned “big games” you are getting across the board, you are absolutely soaring past the field, as most people who own one or two of these players will not own many more, and will certainly not own all of them!) In theory, in fact, this is the greatest path of all to “first place in a tournament” — especially a large-field tournament, where you are trying to take down first place out of six thousand or twenty thousand or fifty thousand entries!

But here’s the thing about these teams that consist entirely of “high-risk, high-upside” plays: FAR more often than not, a chunk of these plays will fall to their “risk” downside. And when this happens, even the guys on your team who are hitting their “upside” will not be enough to make up for all those duds that are bringing your roster down, and you will not have a shot at even cashing.

Of course, if this were the only real route to “first place in a tournament,” it would still be worth it. You would still be able to argue that the very real risk that you would go all 17 weeks of the NFL regular season and never once even cash would be a fair tradeoff for the chance these teams give you every week to take down the entire tournament (and the huge payout that comes with this).

But I firmly believe — no, scratch that — I absolutely and unequivocally know that this is not the only way to win tournaments! I absolutely know that you can give yourself a “floor” that constantly puts you in the mix to cash even when things don’t go well, while still giving yourself the ceiling of “first place in the whole darn thing.”

Let me repeat that:

You can give yourself a “floor” that constantly puts you in the mix to cash even when things don’t go well, while still giving yourself the ceiling of “first place in the whole darn thing.”

And sure, as I said already: “just cashing” is never the goal in tourneys. But if you can give yourself a high likelihood of cashing while still giving yourself the best possible shot at a first place finish — that is, if you can give yourself a great shot at doubling your entry fee even on weeks when your team falls short of competing for a huge payout — why wouldn’t you want to do that?

This is exactly why “safety and upside” still matter!

As you pay attention to cash game and tournament standings, you will actually discover that the type of score it takes to “just barely cash in cash games” is usually pretty close to the score that would leave you “just barely out of the money in tournaments.” On the surface, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, right? After all: if you “just barely cash in cash games,” this probably means you’re only scoring in the top 45 percent of the field, so how could you “just barely fail to cash in tournaments” — finishing in, say, the top 25 percent of the field — with the exact same team?

How is this possible? It’s possible for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason of all is the fact that most people are willing to throw “high-risk, high-upside teams” into tourneys. Most people think this is the only way to truly have a shot at taking down the whole thing at once. Because of this, there is almost always a good 20 percent to 25 percent of entries that end up having no shot at cashing whatsoever, due to a number of these “high-risk players” not panning out at all.

This is important to understand because it will help you realize that that the “floor” you are chasing in cash games is not all that different from the “floor” you are hoping to provide yourself with in tournaments. Quite frankly, if you simply entered top-quality cash-game teams in tournaments each and every week of the NFL season, I would expect you to, at worst, break even in tourneys, and to probably even finish with a little bit of profit.

What does this mean for your tournament teams? To put it simply, it means this:

If you can give yourself a shot at cashing “even if things go poorly,” while STILL giving yourself the best shot you can have at winning the whole tourney, don’t you think you should do this?

I strongly encourage you to still keep “safety” in mind as a core component of your tournament lineups. This will put you in position to always “still have a shot at cashing,” even when things don’t quite go as well as you were hoping — even when your players do not hit the upside you projected them to have.

Once you have committed to still looking for “safety” as your floor for each player, the only question remaining is this:

“How do I then make sure my team also has a great shot at taking down the whole tourney?”

Why “Game Theory” Matters Even a Little Bit More

The simple answer to that last question — “How do I then make sure my team also has a great shot at taking down the whole tourney?” — is that all you really need to do is maintain your strict and unwavering focus on building BOTH as much safety and upside as you can into each lineup you build. After all, that whole part about “safety” in tourneys is really just in place to help you protect your bankroll as much as possible as you chase those “high finishes” that can make your whole season at once. That part about “safety” does not help you chase that goal of “winning the whole tournament”; that part about “safety,” instead, really just falls in the category of: “If you CAN still give yourself a good chance of cashing while ALSO providing yourself with a great shot at winning the whole tourney, why shouldn’t you do this?” And you absolutely can do this… which means you absolutely should!

But it’s not the “safety” that will help you win a tourney — it’s the “upside.” This much should be obvious.

And this is where things begin to become a little bit different between cash games and tournaments — through the lens of two different “strategy” perspectives we need to explore:

1) Upside matters a bit more: In cash games, safety is the first thing you should be focused on. You want each player on your team to have a high floor first, and you want to then make sure they have as much upside as you can grab as well. If you happened to find yourself in a position in cash games where the only viable options to choose from were guys who only had safety without much upside and guys who only had upside without much safety, you would want to roster the guy(s) with safety on their side. In tourneys, however — in this same instance — you would take the guy with less safety and more upside. The same goes for a situation where you are considering two players, and one has notably more safety, but the other has substantially more upside. Remember: your goal is to win the tourney! And the best way to do this is by capturing as much upside as you can.

In cash games, you want the highest floor for your team that you can build, while also aiming to capture as much upside as possible.

In tournaments, you want the most upside you can capture, while also building in as much safety as possible.

Your priorities should always go in that order! Most weeks, you will be able to build a super-high-upside tournament team that still has a nice, solid floor for safety. But in any instances where it’s a question between “safety” and “upside,” upside should be the main thing you are attempting to capture.

2) Ownership matters: This is where “game theory” really takes off! In tournaments, a lower-owned player is always better than a highly-owned player. As I’ve said before (and as I’ll certainly say again — and again, and again): No matter how good you are at predicting how players will perform, you will always be able to predict with greater accuracy what ownership percentages are likely to look like than the accuracy with which you will be able to predict player performance! And because low-owned players are better (as a guy having a huge game at 40 percent ownership really doesn’t move you much closer to “winning the whole tournament,” whereas a guy having a huge game at five percent ownership can vault you right up near those high payouts all by himself), you should always aim to roster low-owned guys.

That is: you should always aim to roster low-owned guys, with all else being equal!

This is where most people get carried away and end up building those high-risk, high-upside teams. Teams that certainly still have as good of a shot as you will have yourself at taking down first place, but that accomplish this while throwing away any chance of cashing if things don’t go well.

And here’s why I still like to factor in “safety” before I factor in ownership percentages: you can win a tourney with a team full of high-owned guys, if all these guys have great games! Every once in a while, you will see someone who wins a tournament with a team full of 20-percent-owned guys.

Moreover, however (and something you will see far more often), you can win a tournament with only a couple low-owned guys! All the time, we see tournament-winning lineups that have mostly moderately-owned (or even highly-owned) guys, where these higher-owned guys all have good games, and where the two or three low-owned guy on this lineup go off for huge games! You don’t need an entire team of low-owned guys in order to win a tourney; oftentimes, all it takes is a few low-owned guys who have huge games to help you create separation from the field.

When I build a tournament team, the first thing I am looking for is “upside.” The second thing I am looking for is “safety.” And the third thing I am thinking about is “ownership percentage.”

What Does “Thinking about Ownership Percentage” Look Like?

I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, you need to keep in mind what I said earlier: As you start to pay attention to ownership percentages each week, you will quickly discover that you are even more capable of predicting ownership percentage than you are of predicting how various players will perform. This knowledge then becomes one of your greatest weapons!

Let’s say you are looking at a pair of wide receivers. Each is in the same price range. Each has a similar floor. Each has similar upside. You really like Option 1 between these two guys, but you also know that Option 1 is likely to be very highly-owned.

Maybe he will be highly-owned because:
• He had a huge game the week before
• He’s in a matchup everyone loves picking on
• He’s a player everyone has been talking up this week
• He is perceived to have a little bit more upside than Option 2, and they are priced similarly, so people will lean toward Option 1
• He is perceived to have the same upside as Option 2, and he is priced a decent bit lower, so people will look to save money in this spot for the same upside they could get from Option 2
• His coach talked this week about wanting to get him the ball more
• Any other reason that comes up throughout the season that leads to high ownership

In any of these instances, you would want to move toward Option 2!

These two guys have the same upside, but Option 2 is more expensive? Great! This is a perfect opportunity to “pay up to be contrarian.” You may not be able to predict with absolute accuracy which of these two will have a better game, but you will be able to say with complete certainty that Option 2 will be lower-owned because of his higher price! Take Option 2, and know this gives you a better shot at winning the whole tourney!

These two guys are priced the same, but Option 1 has a bit more upside =- or Option 1 has what is perceived to be, say, a 60 percent chance of putting up a bigger game than Option 2? Great! Take Option 2. You know he’ll be lower-owned, and even though Option 1 has a slightly better chance at a big game, Option 2 will do a whole lot more for you with a big game than Option 1 would!

When all things are equal or even close-to-equal between a pair of players and their expected performance, you should always aim to side with the guy you know will be lower-owned!

This is the main thing I mean when I talk about “game theory.”

This is the main difference between cash games and tournaments.

This is the main thing that will open a path for you to “take down the whole darn tournament,” and to notch one of those payouts that makes your entire season all at once!

About the Author

  • JM Tohline (JMToWin)

  • JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.

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