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Game Theory: Gaining a DFS Advantage

game theory

“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t”

– Jerry Rice

Think about that quote for a second. When you want something bad enough, do you go and get it? Or do you sit around and wait for it to be handed to you? What if I said we can apply this quote to DFS to help us become more profitable? No, I don’t mean go and spend 24 hours a day in front of a computer screen trying to process stats while nobody else does. This quote is in reference to game theory.

The term “chalk” in DFS originated to label the players who were being “written” the most. Therefore all of the “chalk” was being used to write in their names. In DFS, more times than not, we can consider chalk picks to be land mines in tournaments. Game theory is going to be more applicable in tournaments than cash games — if you would like to know the difference between the two and how to approach them, head to my Cash vs. GPP strategy article.

Back to game theory. There are definitely right and wrong ways to use this great strategy.

The Game Theory Do’s

Trust your research. I know I said you don’t have to put in 24 hours of research a day, but you definitely can’t put in zero either.  There is a big edge at the beginning of the NFL season in DFS because everyone is coming off of their season long research thinking they know it all about every player in Week 1 and don’t even bother digging into the numbers and matchups. Don’t be that guy (or girl).

If your research leads you onto an island, meaning you are one of the few people to consider rostering a certain player, then trust your research and roster that player! The whole idea of game theory in DFS is to roster the low ownership players that are still in good positions to succeed. I emphasize that last piece because so many times, DFS players will roster an off the wall player just because they won’t be owned.

If you play a running back against the Seahawks, know the reason you are playing said running back that week. Maybe the Seahawks D-Line suffered some injuries in the previous week. Maybe the D-Line as a whole is losing the battle in the trenches week in and week out, allowing untouched yards for opposing running backs. Whatever it may be, just have support for why you are in favor of a low-owned player.

I can’t tell you exactly how to research and find your low-owned gems. Maybe it consists of pulling your own stats and analyzing them, or just reading your favorite analysts’ articles. It sure doesn’t hurt to hear as many opinions and points of view as possible to be able to form opinions on as many players as you can in hopes of finding that low-owned gem.

The other major factor to game theory is to know when to ignore the chalk.  Let me throw a scenario out there. Aaron Rodgers is at home against the Bears, who he owns year in and year out. Hypothetically, he is going to be 30-40% owned by the general public. Let’s say in that same week, Kirk Cousins gets a home matchup with the Browns, is going to be 10-15% owned, and we know the Redskins have zero run game. I am going to roster Cousins over Rodgers in this situation 100% of the time due to ownership and pricing. When you play a low-owned guy at a cheaper price, your goal is to have him keep pace with the high owned stud. If he can match him or even beat him, you now have a huge advantage on 30-40% of the field. So now you are competing against 60% of the field and the majority of them will have a different QB than you do.

The Game Theory Don’ts

Let’s say you do choose to eat the chalk and roster Rodgers that week, and he has a solid game. Not a great one, just a solid one. But this is not what you paid up for. You now have a disadvantage on the field because you have the same exact under-performing QB as 40% of the teams, while the 60% who went elsewhere at QB have an inherently better shot at first place because of Rodgers “under-performing.” If you are playing tournaments for anything other than first place then you are doing it wrong. Minimum-cashing tournaments is not profitable and will eat your bankroll faster than your dog ate your homework.

As previously stated, don’t just roster players at low ownership solely because of low ownership. That is the biggest game theory mistake you can make. We want to be different, but a smart different. We want good probabilities of our low-owned guys having success and the same good probabilities of the chalk plays failing to live up to their price. It takes guts to be able to fade a guy like Rodgers in a great matchup knowing he has five touchdown upside. But if he busts, your chance at taking down the Milli-Maker just got a whole lot better.


If there is one thing you can take away from this article, it should be to build a process and trust it. Implement it to lead you to an island play. An island that people want to travel to. Not a deserted one. Oh, and don’t eat chalk. It doesn’t taste good.

Sports have always been my #1 passion. I have been playing fantasy football since I was 15 years old. At the age of 5 I was known for reading box scores in the newspaper instead of watching cartoons like the 'normal' kids. I played professional baseball in an independent league. Even though I played baseball for over 20 years of my life, fantasy football is by far my biggest passion among fantasy sports. I provide insight regarding Redraft leagues and DFS here at The Fantasy Authority.

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