Ok, let’s get one thing square…. I am going to hand you the keys to a racecar that revolutionized the way many of us thought about DFS last season. I’m going to drop the bullshit of trying to be formal, and I’m just going to speak to you straight. The Ladder System is something that is already loosely used by many, but those of us in the DFS Army last year were constantly talking about the best ways to implement Kevin’s 80/20 allocation between cash games and GPPs (tournaments). When the light bulb went on, it went on in a big way for me.
I was tired of trying to build two different lineups, one for cash and one for GPPs. It was incredibly frustrating to watch my lineups make the cash lines in Head-to-Head (HTH) contests, 50/50s, Double Ups, and all the other “safe” games while frequently falling short of the cash lines in GPPs. Sure, once in awhile, I’d hit one. But, more often than not, I was maxxing out somewhere in between. If you feel at all like I did, read on.
I like looking at contest types; it’s sort of what I do. We’ll define some in a bit. But, I like looking at who and how certain contests pay. While some are top-heavy and really require you to hit nearly all of your player picks, others pay out a lot of the field and require you to only find guys having their normal day at the office. I started to notice some in between. Leagues, triple ups, double ups, and even quintuple ups were fascinating to me. I started seeing spots where the triple up line wasn’t very far off of the double up line. And, the quintuple up line wasn’t much farther past the triple up line. My mind started thinking if I could cash in a GPP, why wouldn’t I enter all these contests? I mean, I’d cruise past the double up line, then the triple up, then the quintuple up, and into the GPP if I was going to do well……and scoop all that money along the way.
However, that was going to cost some money, too. Entering all those contests was going to add up. Which were cash games? Which were more like GPPs? How was I going to put this new idea in line with the 80/20 Rule we preach in the Army?
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Defining Cash Games, Leagues, and GPPs
If you are reading this as a brand new DFS player, you need to familiarize yourself with these contest types. They form the very basis of our Ladder Strategy.
Cash games are those in which more than 25% of the field is paid out. HTHs, 50/50s, double ups, triple ups, and even some leagues like a 20 player league where the top 6 players earn money are all examples of cash games. It should be obvious you will make money more frequently in these types of contests than tournaments. They simply pay more players. However, the part of a cash game that, to me, separates it from all other types of contests is that it pays a flat rate to it’s winners. If you play in a 100-man 50/50 contest, the best 50 scores will get paid double their entry fee…..minus the house’s cut (rake/juice). It doesn’t matter if you finish 49th or 1st, your payout is the same. Triple ups behave similarly. In a 100-man field, the top 30 players receive 3X their entry fee no matter if they finish 30th or 3rd. And, quintuple ups do the same, but with the top 20 of a 100-man field receiving 5X their entry fee independent of where they rank once they pass the money line.
Leagues range in size and have different percentages they pay out. Some play more like cash games. Some play more like tournaments. But, the one thing they have in common is they are not flat pay structure contests. They still reward the 1st place player with more money than the guy that barely crosses the money line. They can be safe like cash games, but give you incentive to win them at the same time.
GPPs, or tournaments, are the big contests usually. These are the games people play when they want to turn $1 into $1000. Because these events must pay out so much to the winner, they usually don’t pay many people. And, they usually don’t pay those that get across the money line very well, either, until they get very near the top. They are the riskiest contests to play, and you will return cash much less often than you will in a game that pays out half it’s field. Satellites, qualifiers, and even the smaller Winner-Take-All (WTA) contests fall into this category, as well. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking a 3-man WTA is a GPP. It is paying out 33% of it’s players, and plays more like a cash game than most people think.
Bankroll Management Refresher
Once again, for the newer players, we need to quickly review the fundamentals before we dive into some fancy strategy. Walk before we run. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Master the playbook. All that bullshit you hear in a locker room, right?
Your bankroll is the amount of money you are willing to put into the game of DFS. It’s not the amount of money you bring to a casino to play poker on Tuesday. Most players don’t bring everything they have because they know they might have a bad run of luck that night and they want to keep something behind so they can return when their luck has turned back around. Your DFS bankroll is no different. You aren’t going to throw all you have into DFS contests in week 1 and just see what happens. You need to manage that money properly so you can come back in week 2…….or week 8…….if things don’t go your way immediately.
In the DFS Army, we preach putting 10% of your bankroll on the line in any given day’s worth of games. Being a weekly sport, there’s some wiggle room in NFL. But, you are going to have to decide the number/percentage you are comfortable putting at risk. You need to understand by increasing that percentage, you are increasing your volatility. If you run good, you benefit in a big way. If you run poorly, you run out of money a lot faster, too.
However, it’s not just setting up a system, like 10%, to play with. It’s also knowing how to cut that 10% up when entering these types of contests. You have already heard me mention the 80/20 Rule. 80% goes to cash games, and 20% goes to the GPPs. There is a little wiggle room there, too, but you will hear us mention this rule a lot. I didn’t mention leagues in that rule, though, because they are kind of a hybrid depending on which one you choose to play. They can go into the cash portion if they pay out more than 25% of their field, or they can go into the GPP portion if they pay out less than 25% of their field.
If you have a bankroll of $1000 for your DFS play, you should be generically thinking about putting $100 at risk on this week’s games for easy math. $80 of it can go to cash and large payout leagues, and $20 of it can go to smaller payout leagues and tournaments. For a more in-depth look at managing bankroll, see our piece “Bankroll Mangement.” Let’s take a look at how these rules we put forth apply to our Ladder System.
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Setting Up Your Ladder
Now that we’ve gone over some of the basics, let’s dive in a little deeper and build a Ladder. The first thing we need to do is use our budget for the slate of games. If we had $100, we would look to play $10 today with $8 going to cash games and $2 going to GPPs. We want the foundation of our ladder to cover everything else since it’s the first money line we will cross should we build a lineup good enough win.
If a double up contest pays out double our entry fee, we simply cut the money allocated to our lineup in half. So, $10 cut in half is $5. We need to put $5 in double up contests first. (Do it in one big double up or a few smaller ones, it doesn’t much matter as long as you put a total of $5 into the double up contests.) This way, when we cross that first barrier, we unlock $10….paying for our whole $10 ladder. Next, we look for the triple up contest. We put $2 on that. Then, we go to the quintuple up and put $2 on that. ($2 happens to be the smallest amount of these contests on Fanduel) Now, we have a dollar left for a true GPP. Pick one. I prefer the 100-man leagues because they are easier to win. But, if you want a bigger payday for a great lineup, by all means…..go for it. It’s your dollar.
Looking at how this ladder is set up, we have $5 + $2 + $2 + $1 = $10. Perfect. Hopefully, you also see that the double up and triple up pay out more than 25% of the field, making them cash games. The quintuple up pays nearly 25%, so it’s sort of in the middle of cash and GPP. And, the 100-man leagues only pay 12%, so they are GPP all the way. $7 is cash game allocated. Maybe a little of the quintuple up is cash and a little is GPP-ish. So, really you can say $8 of your $10 is allocated in cash contests. The other $2 is allocated to GPP contests. This perfectly adheres to the Rule of 80/20/10 you hear us preach.
This is basically all there is to it. There are plenty of variations we can use, but the simplest version is what I just laid out for you. What if you have $300? You can start finding ways to use it very similarly.
Option 1 – $30 for the week. You can certainly fill $15 in double ups, $5 in triple ups, and $5 in quintuple ups, then $5 in GPPs. This is a little more GPP-heavy, but like I said before, there is a little wiggle room for the percentage of allocation when building your ladders.
Option 2 – $30 for the week. Why not build 3 lineups? $10 per lineup in the default ladder structure. We are here because we love playing around and building lineups, right? Why be so stuffy all the time and adhere to rules? Why not have some damned fun?! I did this quite a lot last season. I would build between one and five ladders with $10 each on them depending on how I liked the slate of games. With that comes a deeper strategy of building a pool of players. In a nutshell, we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. We want to diversify our players a little bit. Maybe we really like Antonio Brown this week. That doesn’t mean we put him in all three of our lineups. We might put him in two, but all three is begging for some random hamstring pull to completely wipe us out. We want a little insurance across multiple lineups. A neat tool for VIPs is our optimizer, Domination Station. This tool allows us to set our exposure levels to certain players and run different mixtures simply choosing the lineups we like best after the calculations are crunched.
Other Types of Ladders
Head-to-Head Ladders for the Larger Bankrolls
What if you have a bankroll much bigger than $100 or $300? Can you still use the Ladder System? Yes. The options are limitless.
If you had $2000 in your bankroll, you would be playing roughly $200 per week. I’m not going to suggest you build 20 ladders. I mean, you could. But, I think at some point you start diluting your player pool and picking crappy players just for the sake of diversification. What we want to do is intelligently allocate these resources.
One way to go is to allocate a large part of the cash portion to head-to-head contests. For smaller bankroll guys, I’m not a big fan of these HTH contests. I would rather you concentrate your money a little tighter. But, there is no doubt the safest contests are HTH contests…..provided you enter enough to smooth out the variance. Entering only three HTHs is not going to reflect the strength of your lineup. You might draw three awesome opponents and lose everything. You also might get really lucky with a crap lineup and still beat them all. Variance is significantly present in small sample sizes. Would you say Mike Trout is a .667 hitter after his first 20 at bats in April? Similarly, you can’t trust just three HTH opponents to show you how your lineup would perform against the masses? But, would you trust Mike Trout as a .330 hitter in 300 at bats? Similarly, you can trust your lineup beat 75% of the field if you played 300 opponents.
You will rarely win all your HTH contests, but you will also rarely lose them all. In bad weeks, you will still get something back. Maybe 25%, maybe 40%, who knows. But, unlike the double up formats, you will get something back in a bad week. It’s just the HTH contests require putting more of your bankroll in play than a double up. The Ladder System gets you around that bankroll issue in a way.
If you had $200 to put into play for the week, roughly $150 of it needs to go into cash games. Remember, the cash portion is for safely grinding up a bankroll and protecting against losses. Perhaps $100 of that money should go into HTH formats. The other $50 can be used in double up, triple up, and quintuple up games. The other $50 of the original $200, though, can go into GPPs trying to really make something happen. This method, however, isn’t going to work exactly like the default ladder structure. Your double ups won’t cover everything because some of the cash portion is allocated to HTH contests. Understand this is a more defensive ladder because if you don’t win half your HTH contests, there’s hardly any way you are cashing your double ups. Instead of losing everything for the week, you will get some of it back. Consequently, if you hit your double ups and triple ups, you might only win 65% of your HTHs, which won’t provide the profit had you not incorporated them. HTHs will limit the ceiling to your profitability, but their strength is dramatically limiting your downside in bad weeks.
Earlier, we spoke of leagues being contests that sort of bridge the gap between cash games and GPPs. Well, we can use these contests in our ladders, too.
Take an example of a $250 bankroll where we plan to play $25 this week. $20 to cash/leagues and $5 to GPPs. There are many different sizes of leagues from which to choose. You still should start with the base of your ladder/pyramid being double up contests. $25 cut in half is $12.50. Put about $10 into double ups, then start adding some leagues instead of triple ups or quintuple ups. Or, mix and match both. It’s your ladder. But, with the proper leagues (as you will see in a minute), you could almost go entirely league play with the whole ladder.
League Examples for Ladders
The idea here is to use the wider payout structure of some leagues to make some profit, but capitalize on the upside of an advancing lineup to pay more than just triple. Like everything, you give a little to get a little. Let’s look at some leagues and how they might apply.
You have to watch these leagues when you pick them. They aren’t all built the same. Some are Winner Take All (WTA) and some only pay a couple spots. To differentiate, you need to see the prize payouts specifically because you won’t see it on the main page. Don’t get tricked by incomplete information. Make the extra click and take a peek. If you choose to play the WTAs, you fund them from the GPP portion of your budget. We want to focus on the cash portion right now.
20pay6 – Perhaps my favorite size with enough paid to play safer lineups, but enough paid at the top to reward something nice. It’s far easier to win a 20-man event than a 1000 man event.
12pay4 – A little smaller, but same basic structure. Cash game with a smidge of upside to it.
5pay3 – VERY safe league structure. More than half paid. As a result, not a lot of upside. But, this structure can be used like HTHs since you don’t need to cash in them 65% of the time to show overall profit, provided you occasionally win them. Beating 5 players is going to happen more often than beating 20 players, too.
4pay3 – Safest of all the leagues. Before you scoff at the stupidity, think about what you are doing. You are building ladders in such a way you are protected from complete busto most times, but have exposure to upside and profit. This is the grind. Most DFS pros are thrilled with $25000 bankrolls and a 10% profit on the week. Learn to think like them. Play the safest games you can find with the majority of your budget, as long as there is some upside at the end of the rainbow.
You will also see the WTA contests in 3-man an 5-man sizes. These are like triple up and quintuple up contests. Bear in mind though, like HTHs, your player pool of opponents is much smaller and more volatile. These are great for larger bankrolls where you can open up 25 of the 3-man contests. Not so great for the little guy that has only $4 to allocate towards them.
Hopefully, you are beginning to see the endless possibilities for playing within The Ladder System. The main thing to grasp is the budget allocation. The rest is completely flexible to your style of play. If you like leagues, play those. If you like HTH contests, put some of those in there. If you like big payouts and big tournaments, jump in some of those. Just don’t overdo it in any one area, especially the tournaments. You want to preserve your bankroll as long as possible, grind it up with safe contests that are easy to win, and just wait your turn until the perfect lineup hits you in the face………..where you are exposed to enough of the bigger payouts to really make some cash.
What if I don’t have enough in my bankroll to play even $10 every week? What do I do then?
Well, if you adhere to the 80/20 Rule, you will find you can still play. You only need to put a couple of bucks out there per week. Let’s say you want to play $5 per week. How about a $2 double up, a $2 league with 15 players that pays the top 5, and a $1 tournament of your choosing? You have $2 + $2 + $1 = $5 with it split up about $4 going to safer investments that should frequently pay, some upside with them, and $1 exposed to bigger payouts. 80/20 Rule in effect. If you cash that GPP with the $1 side, I can 99% guarantee you your score was good enough to profit off the other $4.
What about only $3? How about a $2 league that has 20 players and pays top 6 followed by a $1 GPP? It’s not exactly following our 80/20 Rule, but it’s damned close. Or, perhaps you like it a bit safer and play a $2 double up and a $1 small league like a 10-man event where the top 3 pay with the winner getting $4.50. Hit your double up and $2 becomes $4. Beat 9 players and win another $4.5o, and you just put in $3 and came out with $8.50…..almost triple. And, you are going to do that quite a bit in that 10-man league. Maybe you want to take a bigger shot and play $2 in the double up for safety, yet you want to put the $1 in a satellite contest where the top 2 guys get a ticket to a $10 GPP the following week. This stuff exists. You just have to find it. You could take that $1, turn it into a $10 ticket, and find yourself with a great lineup and win $100 the next week. Even more miraculous stories than this have happened.
How about $2? Can I do anything with that? Sure, you can play exclusively the league format. The 20pay6 contest pays $12 to the winner and $2.50 to 6th place. You could also use $1 to play a double up, and the other dollar for a league or a GPP. Really the choice is yours. Sure, it might be safer to play with $50 a week, build several lineups so one will cash, and spread your contests all over like peanut butter on bread. But, you have to work your way up to that. I did. How? By following the advice I just laid out to you right here, and by following the fundamentals put forth in the DFS Army when it was just a guy’s blog. Speaking of the guy and the fundamentals, you want to read some good stuff about building lineups instead of contests? Read our Training Camp Series on the website. There are several articles from which to choose, all focusing on specific fundamentals to make you a better, more competitive player.
Proof is in the Pudding
If you look at the above image, you see how it visually climbs the ladder. At the bottom, we have our double up contests. The money line was 90 pts this week and we crossed that (little blue marker) with our score of 97. We also got across the triple up line of 96. We missed our quintuple up and failed to cash in our GPP. So, this lineup maxxed out after the triple up. However, because of our allocation, we showed a solid profit after putting in $9 and cashing out $14. As you can see, we didn’t fall into the abyss between the double ups and the GPP. We still had potential to unlock profit the whole way up the ladder. A few more points and we unlock $10 of profit and only a couple more points later we are on our way to winning that 100-man league. I show this because it’s the most visually appealing way to show how the ladder works for you.
Here, you can see by the contest selection, we did another ladder. However, in this one, we hit everything. We put in $6.25 and pulled out $19. Not a bad return on investment for watching some football games and shooting the shit in Slack with a bunch of guys doing the same.
Another ladder example. In $5.25 and out with $14.30. Sure, now I’m just bragging a little. But, I want you to see how steady the returns are. If you choose some bigger GPPs than I do, you might really slam some bank when you hit the right week. Most importantly, I want you to see that the double ups are forming the foundation of everything, and all we really have to do is cross that line and the rest is literally house money.
A Little Philosophy
Before we wrap this novel up, I’d like to share with you a little more about contest selection and specifically contest size. You will hear people ask if they should play in a 10 player double up or a 5000 player double up. They will ask “what’s the difference?” Maybe you believe it’s easier to beat 5 people than 2500. I’m going to tell you there is more volatility in the 10 player tourney.
Just like our discussion on HTH contests needing sample size or volume to smooth out the variance and freak occurrences, so does the size of your double up contest. I like to focus on the larger fields where possible because if I truly produce a lineup that only beats 54% of the field, I want it in a contest where I can’t get beat by 5 lucky guys. There won’t be 2500 lucky guys posting dominant scores. The true strength of my lineup will normalize in larger contests because of the sample size of the event.
I also like the idea that I double my money in one shot if I just cross the 50% line. I quickly accepted the fact I like this more than getting back 40% of my money in HTH contests. Why? Because that also works against me. I can play 1000 HTH players and to beat them all, I need to produce a top 0.001% lineup. If I produce a lineup that close to perfect, I had better be getting paid on it! If I stick that in 1000 HTH contests, and beat everyone, I only get double? As Cris Carter says, “C’mon, man.”
Now, I realize that when you carry a stick for a bankroll the size of a Giant Sequoya you need to put that money to work. That’s why HTHs exist. It’s also why you see the bigger pros, for the most part, using them. Our own Ffootballgeek uses them as the very base to everything he does. There just aren’t enough contests running to chew up how large their bankrolls have become. Putting the money to work is better than leaving it under your mattress. Also, they need to hedge against bad weeks and get some money back to keep their GPP budgets up. But, for the smaller guy, it just makes more sense to me when we focus on the double ups and what not. That’s why you hear me preach them so much.
Another thing to mention is the size of the site you play on. Many of us think the pros must be all over the smaller sites because they have the bankroll to cover every site out there. That’s not what I’ve found. Since signing up with FantasyDraft (use code CHIEFST as referrer), I have found fewer bigger names. They simply don’t have the time to waste on the smaller sites. To them, time is money. They need to stick where the contests are large and the volume is biggest. Will you avoid all of them? No. But, you won’t see nearly as many. As a result, Army members have found these games significantly softer and easier to beat. Put the odds in your favor and give that site a shot, too.
Hopefully, by now, you have an idea of what I call a revolutionary system in organizing your contests. I hope you are excited to try it out. You can always ask us questions in our Slack Channels, and you can always tag me (@choppodong) with specific questions you want clarified. But, you can also respect the answers of many other Army members because they know the system as well as I do at this point. For many, it saved their bankrolls last year and turned modest seasons into solid ones.
Remember, coupon code CHOP gets you 10% all content, picks, cheatsheets, optimizer, everything inside dfsarmy.com. The 10% off is yours to keep as long as you remain a member. You really have no reason not to try us out. You likely spend more at Starbucks. Why not invest in yourself?
Now, it’s off to prep for my next assignment……………week 1 is here!! It’s time to start thinking FOOOOTBAAAAALL! Let’s crush it together. HOOAH!