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Andrew Swanson | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Cash vs. Tournament: Finding the Right Game For You
DFS Summer Notebook

In addition to writing for and other mainstream fantasy football websites over the past 16 years, I have had the pleasure of acting as the commissioner of a fantasy football league comprised of friends and family members that started in 2000.

It is a fairly competitive league filled with owners of various skills levels, ranging from beer drinking buds who love to play for the camaraderie and live draft festivities, to obsessed fantasy addicts like myself who take the game a bit too seriously.

Although there is a nice monetary prize given to the winner, the goal of the league is to get your name engraved next to the other 15 winners of the illustrious Marshall Faulk award, and the bragging rights that go along with beating 11 of your fellow league mates.

With a collection of competitive NFL fans like this, I assumed that recruiting my buddies to play in DFS would be an easy task. After all, who doesn’t like football and a chance to make money?

But what I found is that most of the guys in my league of record don’t play daily fantasy because they think it is too complicated, or they don’t understand the different formats offered by FanDuel, Draftkings, and other DFS providers.

If you fall into the category of a fantasy football player interested in DFS, but intimidated by the wide variety of games and contests, hopefully the following brief explanation of the different types of contests will give you confidence to give daily fantasy a shot.

I’m confident you will not regret it.

Cash vs. Tournaments: Differences Between the Formats

DFS games typically fall into two categories: Cash games and large GPP tournaments (guaranteed prize pool). Understanding the difference between the two formats and the different strategies to use is critical for new DFS players looking to get into the action.

Cash games are smaller contests with fewer players, like head-to-head matchups against one single opponent or 50/50 games where roughly half of the players in a contest receive the same, equal payout.

These games are an excellent place for rookie daily players to get their feet wet, as they have a higher probability of winning money due to the smaller pool of opponents. Unfortunately, the smaller prize pools also equate to smaller payouts compared to large tournaments.

Conversely, large tournaments and GPP games will have a large prize purse to entice entries, with the top winner receiving a six to seven figure payout. But only the top 10 to 15 percent of people win money in these games, and the fact that you are going against hundreds of thousands of other people means that you will need to have the perfect lineup to win - which is not very easy to do.

In investment terms, cash games are like conservative mutual funds that carry less risk than large tournaments, but also have less of a chance for a quick payday. You have a higher probability of making some money with these games, but their smaller payouts mean you need to be patient and allow your bankroll to grow over time.

Tournaments are flashy technology stocks that have the small chance of delivering a huge payday if all of the conditions are right, but will likely leave the investor penniless and frustrated. Although these contests can be fun and the thought of earning a life-changing payout is enticing, the vast majority of players are simply giving away their money due to the terrible odds of winning. With long shot odds and a low probability of winning, it is fairly intuitive that owners participating in GPP games need to aim for the fences by trying to identify the top breakout player for each position.

Building a Foundation for Tourneys

A decent percentage of your budget should be used on a stud wide receiver and running back who have both a high floor and an high ceiling. I like to refer to these players as foundation players that the rest of your team will be built upon. In some cases you may choose to make a quarterback one of your two or three foundation picks, but only if you identify that QB as the no-doubt top performer for that week.

After the foundation has been set for your team, the next step is looking for lower cost skill players who will have breakout performances based on their matchup, weather, recent performance, and other variables that I will cover in future articles.

These are home run plays that must hit for you to have a shot at the big payout, and will be nice compliments to your stud foundation players. The unfortunate truth is that each of these players will need to be one of the top three players at their position for the week for you to have a shot at the top payout.

If one of your home run picks turns out to be a bust you still might have enough production from the rest of your team to cash (finish in the top 10 or 15 percent), but the odds of a first place finish are slim to none.

Building a Foundation for Cash Games

For those owners scared off by my brief synopsis of large tournament games, perhaps a simple 50/50 contest is more in your risk tolerance zone.

The fact that your competition pool is small, usually 20 to 100 other players, your goal is to put together a lineup that will place you in the top 50 percent, not one that will beat all players in your pool. You need a good, strong lineup, but not a risky one where you are looking for home run plays.

In cash games, I like to identify three to four foundation players that have high floors, and will likely not deliver a stinker game. These four players do not need to be the top player in their respective position, but they need to provide the core basis of point production that will give you a shot to be in the top 50 percent.

A safe, reliable quarterback play is critical in cash games, as you will need to have a baseline production level from your QB. Quarterbacks typically score the most fantasy points each week, and you will need to build you team upon the assumption that your competition is also looking from a strong game from their signal caller.

After the foundation players and quarterback have been selected, the final step is to round out your team with cheap wide receivers, running backs, and a tight end. I like to find inexpensive players who receive multiple targets per game instead of touchdown dependent players who may give you a goose egg if they fail to catch a TD.

High volume skill position players in cash games will give you a nice compliment of points to go along with your foundation players, thus giving you a better chance of beating out half of your competition.

Pick your Poison

Cash game lineups do not need to be risky, sexy lineups that give you the highest point total in the group. High volume, safe plays are the way to go in this format. It will take you much longer to build up a sizable bankroll playing cash games, but the higher probability of winning and the smaller competition pool make them very attractive.

Conversely, if you like the thrill of risking a few bucks on a six figure payout and don’t care about terrible odds, large tournaments and GPP games are the right option for you.

Regardless of which way you go - I personally play cash games with a few GPP’s mixed in for fun, I highly recommend giving daily fantasy a shot. You will not be disappointed.