We as poker players seek out expected value (EV) as if it were a resource sustaining our very existence. For the professionals among us, it is. We seek to master a domain, such as a poker variant, game type, or even locale, and when we perceive that potential EV has been “mined out,” we often branch out and seek new frontiers in which to hunt down precious EV. For example, nosebleed cash players have been migrating more and more to super high roller tournaments as they notice the value presented by rich recreational players entering.
One area in which a veritable lush field of EV sits, waiting to be harvested, is daily fantasy sports (DFS). Plenty of poker players (including Mike Leah, pictured) have already set up shop there, erecting barns and mining the fields for the juicy resource. DraftKings, one of the leading daily fantasy sports sites, has run numerous editions of a “Millionaire Maker” – a concept taken straight from the World Series of Poker in which a reasonably affordable buy in can be turned into a guaranteed $1 million for first – and poker grinders such as Matt “SamENole” Smith and Ray Coburn have already banked first-place finishes.
There are myriad reasons poker players have been able to reap the EV from the DFS fields, but the general concept here is that the same skills and mental approaches that enable success in poker also contribute to winning in DFS.
First, the “field of play” is very familiar – firing up the software of a DFS should ring bells in every poker player's mind.
“The layout looks literally just like a poker site,” a friend of mine gushed when urging me to sign up after he made his first deposit. “You'll be right at home.”
Indeed, browsing through the lobbies of leading DFS sites FanDuel and DraftKings reveals a portal similar to a poker software client. You can sort through the various contests based on buy in, time of start, prize pool, etc., not dissimilar to navigating a virtual poker room.
This opens up another avenue to profitability through which poker players are familiar: game selection and specialization. Whether through trial and error or through a conscious decision to focus on a certain type of game, most poker players begin their journeys as generalists and then eventually realize that the key to winning at higher stakes is to specialize in something. As games continue to evolve and get tougher, it constantly takes a more specific and focused skill set to beat them.
Whereas casual players are going to deposit money and fire away at anything that looks fun and interesting, poker players will immediately have an innate sense for seeking out and finding a game where they have an edge. This includes identifying weaker opponents; in head-to-head matches, many daily fantasy sports sites allow the lobby browser to see the prospective opponent's screen name, which can then be plugged into search engines on DFS community/rankings pages. There, it doesn't take long to figure out that you should steer clear of players like "CONDIA" and "CSURAM88" if you build your bankroll.
And managing those bankrolls is another parallel between the two games. Poker players have a good feel for the type of risk and rewards present in different game types. They will know how to manage their bankroll in such a way that maximizes expected return while minimizing risk of ruin.
Furthermore, having taken up a game and taken it seriously to the point of attempted mastery, poker players possess the kind of mental approach and dedication it takes to win at high levels. They know the type of hours they have to put in, and they know what to do with those hours. They have the obsessive personalities to spend hours using forums and other resources to improve, and sometimes even the technical chops to develop mathematical models to help breakdown decisions and figure out optimal strategy.
Even getting down to the nitty gritty of the strategy, concepts that are important in DFS should translate fairly cleanly to the mind of the winning poker player. For example, the old poker axiom that you want to play the opposite of how the rest of the table is playing; if everyone's splashing around, it's best to wait for good spots, while it's best to steal like crazy if you are at a table full of rocks. That idea has a direct parallel when playing big-field DFS contests – in such cases, the grinder has to think about not just the immediate value being offered by a player relative to his salary, but the value being offered relative to how many other owners are likely to draft the player. If you find the best value in the field, it does you little good if 50 percent of the field also owns that player.
It's not hard to see that there's plenty of EV out there to be mined in DFS. Furthermore, if you love sports, there aren't many concepts that could make a more fun game (trust me, it's addicting). If you haven't tried it out for yourself, all that's left is to put on your hard hat, grab the tools and knowledge