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NBA Daily Games Strategy: Bigger Isn't Always Better

Renee Miller

Neuroscientist at the University of Rochester and author of Cognitive Bias in Fantasy Sports: Is your brain sabotaging your team?. I cover daily fantasy basketball for RotoWire and write for RotoViz about fantasy football.

OK, I've beaten the cell phone commercial with the kids intro to death. I know it, but there's only one other "Is bigger better?" idea that comes to I'm sticking with the kindergarten. Yes, everyone agrees, bigger is better when it comes to cell phone coverage maps. Oh wait, here's another one. My lab does a pirate gift swap, or Yankee gift exchange -- everyone seems to know it by a different name -- but it's the holiday party where all gifts are wrapped anonymously and in the same price range. Everybody gets a number and the first person gets to open the gift of their choice. The second person can steal No. 1's gift or open a new one, and so on. Well, the biggest gifts always go first, therefore being perceived as the best. However, sometimes good things come in small packages, such as the Google ChromeCast I took away this year.

I promised I would analyze whether or not large field 50/50 games provide a better opportunity to cash than smaller 50/50's. As usual, let's start with the dogma, which is that, yes, the larger games allow you to cash with a lower score than smaller games. In fact, I believed that was true to the extent that in order to gather this data, I played just $1 50/50 games of different sizes. The following results are from 10 nights of playing $1 games of large (>100 entries) or small (<20 entries) 50/50 games on the same site over the past couple weeks. The actual number of fantasy points needed to cash in these games varies quite a bit from night to night, from the 220s to the 290s. This depends mainly on the number of NBA games being played - my data includes the three-game nights as well as the 9-to-10 game slates. I did that intentionally to ask specifically about the size of the field on any given night. Here's what I found:

SmallBigger, means that the larger field games required a lower score to cash. Equal means the same score cashed both.

Surprisingly, there was no trend at all toward the bigger field games being easier to win. In fact, it was just about equally likely that the same score took the last cash spot in both size games as for either the big or small game being easier to cash. This means that you can't play one size game (big or small) and expect a consistent, predictable advantage because of its size.

Now, the difference was never huge. At most, I found a 10-point difference in the score to cash a 10-man versus a 150- or 200-man game (using the average of that size game for that night) over the past couple weeks. Typically, the difference was between three and eight points.

I wanted to report this sooner rather than later, partly because I talked about it a while ago, and partly because I think it's useful to question preconceived notions early on. That said, there are a number of caveats with a small study like this one. Speaking of size mattering, larger studies are better powered than smaller ones - no doubt about it. This trend is encouraging enough that I'll continue to play 50/50s (large and small) every night and keep an eye on the trend. If I notice anything different with a greater sample size, I'll be sure to discuss it here. Likewise, I stayed in the cheap range for this and haven't analyzed trends in higher dollar 50/50 games, but that is something I'll pay close attention to in the future.

Another factor is that there was not a lot of choice in game size. The site I used for this study offers large field guaranteed 50/50 games with usually 100, 150, or 200 entrants (single entry), depending on the number of games on the slate (which is predictive of how many people will play on the site). However, smaller field games were either 10, 20, or 50 entrants and not guaranteed. There were a few nights that I joined these games and they were cancelled, so the average winning score for bigger guaranteed games on any night comprises more games. Other sites offer almost every size 50/50 game from four on up, which I can't comment on. If anyone has done a similar analysis on their favorite site, I'm curious to see the results.

Bigger TVs are better. Bigger cups of coffee are definitely better. Bigger field cash games for DFS may be a misconception. I love the big 50/50 games, and they make up a sizable percent of my action every night, so I'm not advocating staying away AT ALL. It's more that I'm saying, don't be afraid to enter the smaller field games as well. You won't necessarily need to put up a higher score to cash in them. Good luck in all your games this week! As always, feel free to comment below or find me on Twitter.
The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire.