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Rounding Third: Daily Games Principles

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

Daily Games Principles

One of the fasting growing categories in the fantasy sports world is the daily games category. A number of different operators have sprung up, and the numbers of those participating are exploding. It reminds me of the online poker boom fueled by Chris Moneymaker's World Series of Poker championship. I often employ poker analogies when talking about fantasy baseball, but it's even more appropriate in this instance. Ever since "Black Friday" a year ago, gamers looking for a short-term online competition have had to turn to other pursuits, and I believe that many of those that have been shut out from online poker have gravitated over to this world.

As with online poker, there are some important guiding principles that you should follow that have nothing to do with strategy or even player evaluation. There are plenty of resources out there for you to read, including our own weekly column, The Daily Duel, written by Kevin Payne. He can provide plenty of nuances and player evaluation for you to beat the game. What I want to discuss instead are basics ranging from game selection to money management, all inspired by a caller on our radio show, RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, who lamented that his deposit was nearly gone, four days into the season. If you want your money to last, no matter how skilled you are, you should heed a few basics.

Manage Your Bankroll Properly:

This is by far the most important principle in playing these or any other games, including your skill in playing the game itself. Look, we hold ourselves out as experts in this industry, and while those of us who write about fantasy sports for a living might have a certain edge in our leagues, that margin is likely smaller than you or even we think. It's a beatable game, yes, but the amount of good information out there is staggering, and the participation level in this great game is sky-high. Many of your competitors are reading the same advice both on the players and the game itself that even if you're among the best players, your win-rate isn't going to be out of this world. And it's not just other players you have to beat to become profitable, it's the game itself. In order to survive as a going concern, the game purveyor is going to have a percentage taken out of every pool, also known as the rake. Your win-rate has to exceed the amount taken out plus your buy-ins.

To handle the swings (winning and losing streaks) properly, it's important to pick the right buy-in level game. The general rule of thumb in poker used to be not to exceed 10 percent of your bankroll in any given game, with certain exceptions. That seems to be about the right level here to me, at least if you're hoping to avoid making future deposits. Most of the game providers offer a wide dollar range of games. Unless and until your bankroll dwindles downward, it shouldn't be difficult to maintain that discipline. Moreover, it's a long season - there are plenty more chances for you to play. Why blow it all in a couple of shots? There are two other reasons to avoid that threshold - if there's enough added money in a particular contest to change your odds in your favor, or if your win-rate over an extended sample is proven to be higher than average. Which lead us to the next point.

Keep Good Records:

This ties into the ego aspect of our game - we all think we know baseball better than our friends, which is one of the reasons why we continue to play, especially in leagues where we put up our own money. But do you know exactly how good you are? What exactly is your edge? What games or leagues do you have a better track record at? I know that we don't play certain types of games exclusively for their profitability - you might choose one over another because it's an easier game to play, or your friends might all play at one site, or you might just be more comfortable with one format over another. But if profitability is one of your priorities, it's best to know what your track record is. There's a sample size issue - that one time you crushed a game at Caesars doesn't mean that's necessarily an easy game, obviously. But the more you play and track yourself, the more you should know what you're better at, or at least where the weaker competition is, allowing you to act accordingly.

Shop Around:

As we mentioned in the bankroll section, most contests will take some money out of the pool - they have to, in order to survive as a company. But that doesn't mean all companies take the uniform amount out of the pool. For that matter, it doesn't necessarily mean that they take out the same percentage in each of the games that they offer. Put the time in to research what each company takes out. Moreover, many of the game providers will offer bonuses to their frequent players and their new players. The former can come in many forms, from "rakeback" (also couched as frequent player points, rebates, etc �) to free entries into frequent-player games and even cash bonuses for certain levels of achievements. It's vital that you take advantage of these perks. These games, much like casinos or online casinos, don't lose money. They're designed for the game to be profitable, and while it's possible for you to beat it, the vast majority of players will not. Not taking advantage of these perks is akin to not mailing in your rebate form when you buy an appliance or other commercial good. It happens more than you think, and in many cases, the companies are counting on you to not to act. Likewise, most places offer deposit bonuses, and there's a wide range of incentives. Shop around to find the best payoffs.

Know Your Game:

Ok, you've done the shopping around, you've found the financially optimal game to play, now it's just a matter of winning. This is the one hint that's applicable to daily games and traditional fantasy games alike. Just as we caution not to go early on catchers in leagues that require you to start just one catcher in mixed leagues, you should pay attention to the nuts and bolts of how you win this particular game. Are stolen bases devalued in the points system? Then avoid Michael Bourn and Dee Gordon. How important is starting pitching in your game? Unlike in a traditional, season-long league, chances are that it's worth putting the extra emphasis on the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay, unless their designated salaries are disproportionally expensive. A good proxy might be to take a player's projected stats and plug them into your contest's scoring system, then divide by the unit of a game. Their fantasy points per game should correspond with the player's salary in the game - if they don't, you've found an inefficiency that you can exploit.

You still have to know the player pool, figure out what sort of matchups make the most sense, and then get a little lucky. But following these rules can help lower the house's edge against you, putting your chances of taking a profit into your hands.