The Ladder System 2.0 – Contest selection and maximizing upside

As a follow up to our most popular article here on DFSArmy, let’s dive into more variations on this profit-driven approach to entering contests on Fan Duel, Draft Kings, and any other site you’re considering playing on. Make sure to read the original DFS Ladder system article as everything is still applicable today. This approach is applicable to all bankroll levels. Seriously. Playing $5 a day? We got you covered. Playing $5k? Still, have you covered.


Our members and coaches create a type of bond that goes beyond fantasy sports discussion and DFS coaching. Often you’ll find members and staff sharing conversations about life in general, sports, family, work, stressors, and testimonies. It’s a really unique community and one that drove me to leave every other company I was working for at the time to focus on this one. We’ve already had a $200,000 winner in 2018 and our “Member Hall of Fame” is littered with results from the 2017 and current 2018 NFL season. I hope that we as a company and community, are able to change the life of a player or even potentially an entire family!

Contest Selection – Core

The number one question we get every day is what is a good contest to enter. The answer actually depends on multiple factors including risk tolerance, return on investment (ROI), and can you realistically win.  I’ve created a chart below for both Fan Duel and Draft Kings with common contests that span most sports with their chance to cash and for GPPs, chance to win.

  • Note many of these contests have both single and multiple entries. We always recommend single entry contests for the ladder system when applicable.
  • I’m using $1 contests as an example to show ROI
Core Ladder Contests

Universal Contests that make up the Core of any ladder

AntiFragility strategy

Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. It is a concept developed by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, Antifragile, and in technical papers

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a great read. I know, reading. It’s a pillar of getting better at anything (in my personal opinion) that I talk about in a different post here. In a nutshell, by applying Dynamic Bankroll principles plus investing the majority of your money in play into core contests, you’re risk of ruin becomes near 0 while your upside is limitless.


Nothing has changed since the original inception in 2016. My personal recommendations are below:

  • 55%-60% in the Green contests: H2H and 50/50s. The largest % chance to win and foundation of not having a complete blowout of a night. You have a solid chance of not losing all of your Head to Head matchups.
  • 10%-20% in the Gold contests: These are the bread and butter of the ladder system. Top 20% line up has a great ROI and isn’t impossible to hit on a regular basis. The bulk of my entries here will be in the 3 and 5 mans, with less in triple up and 10 mans.
  • 5%-15% in the yellow contests: Yes 10 mans are in there twice. 30% to cash out of 10 people is a safe play, but 10% to win is a little harder. The bulk of my contest selection here will be in 10 mans, followed by Quintuple Ups (QU) and finally 20 mans
  • 1%-5% in small GPP contests: These are winnable sized contests. Beating 99 other people is a lot easier than beating 20,000 people.
  • 1%-5% in Large Field GPPs and Satellites: The set it and forget it contests. Probably to win is low, but this maximizes upside. We’ll dive deeper into Satellites (my favorite contests) later.

Are you a sportsbettor?  We have added some of the best handicappers in the game to our sister site…… BeatTheBookie!  Full community chat memberships, and an immediate savings when you become a VIP on both DFS Army sites.  The sportsbetting industry is seeing a massive influx of new hobbyists as the country, and states, scramble to legalize and regulate betting on sports.  Get the education and advice you need to shorten your growth curve now!  They are routinely 4-0 on a week, and have a data-driven approach instead of hearing some bar story from your Uncle Vinny.  Get in the game!!

Sample Ladder ROI Scenarios – $20

Below is an example of possible ROI scenarios that exclude the highest level GPPs. These are real-life returns you can reach on a consistent level using just the core contests versus the GPPs. We’re going to use $20 as the amount in play for our example ladder. This is a safer ladder approach that isn’t as risk-averse.

The beauty of the ladder system lies in the fact that you can change how volatile it is based on your risk-adverseness. Feeling frisky? Add in the 20 mans, Quintuple ups,  and more 10-mans. The golden rule of the system though is to always have your base 55% contests in the Head to Head – 50/50 category. If you only have a 51% line up, you’re sure to break near-even on a bad night using this methodology.

Getting the best bang out of your buck in GPPs – Fringe contest selection

Now that we have our core set of games, what about that top 1-5% of our bankroll where we have a shot at the big scores. Here’s a quick list of contests to avoid at all costs:

  • FanDuel: Mini/Small contests. Those 297-ish man contests are a trap. In NBA they run a 297 $1 contest. 1st place is $25. The same as a 100 man contest.
    •  Triple-Double. 35% chance to cash a double up, 17.6% chance to cash the Triple Up. You’re sacrificing  11% on the double upside for the same % chance to triple up.
  • DraftKings: $1 20 max contest: Usually 40-60k people in the contest with a top prize of around $2,000 or 5% of the prize pool. Nothing like having a line up that’s once a season (usually) to take down $2k.
    • xxx to First only. Usually, 100-1000 man contests where one person wins. You can get the same odds and better upside entering a satellite
  • Both: 1st place receives more than 25 %of the prize pool. The milly maker in week 11 for NFL will award 33% of the TOTAL prize pool to first place. This is the definition of a top-heavy contest.

Here are some contests and structures I do recommend

  • All of these examples are pulled from a 8 game NBA main slate
  • for GPPs a general best practice is to max enter the contest. Reason being if you don’t, you’re already at a disadvantage versus people that do. This is why I’m not recommending 150-max entry contests for ladders. We have a whole separate guide on that type of approach here. As well as we have weekly articles on the approach with our coaches.

  • For smaller bankrolls, it’s nearly impossible to get away from the 100 man contests. They provide winnable formats with solid upside.
  • 3-max and 5-max contests provide the best bang for your buck on both sites. They are generally under 10k entrants and you have the same number of lineups as everyone else.

Satellites and moonshots

I’m a big fan of satellites. It’s the secret sauce in building my bankroll over the years. A satellite is a contest that usually awards 1 person a ticket into a higher buy-in level event. This is where your moon shots come into play. One of my favorite satellites to enter on FanDuel for NBA is the $2 satellite for the $444 contest. you can enter up to 7 entries, but often I’ll fire in 1 as part of a ladder. With 261 entrants, you have a solid shot at winning one of these. Last year I won 12 of them. Min-cashing the $444 is only $600 (not even a full double up), but that’s a solid ROI of 300x with the potential of winning $100,000 in a contest with under 5,000 people.

But UW81, you don’t win one for every $2 you enter. Seems like a bad investment. Well, I have to win one ticket per 221 entries to be profitable ($442 worth of entries). Even if I max this one 7x, I’ll have 31 slates to take a shot at it before I need a win. I’ll take those odds.

There are a lot of different satellites as well on both sites. This is just one particular example. Some are even single entry. My point is these fall into the very top of your BR 1%-5% range. Like large field contests, just assume you lit that $2 on fire until you have a great line up one night.


The Math behind Large Field GPPs

Now to really commit to these moonshot contests, you’re also entering $1,500 to max them. Let’s do some % line up comparisons.

  • 1% Line up on FanDuel in this contest: 397th place for $40
  • 0.1% Line up on FanDuel in this contest: 39th for $125
  • 1% Line Up on DraftKings in this contest: 500th place for $30
  • 0.1% Line Up on DraftKings in this contest: 50th place for $400

Comparison to a recommended and core contests

  • 2x $5 100 mans 100-man top 1%: 1st for $250
  • 2x $5 100 mans 100-man top 0.1%: 1st for $250
  • 1% Line up $10 SE on FanDuel: 14th for $75
  • 0.1% Line Up $10 SE on FanDuel: 1st for $1,200 (Technically 1.4, rounded up)
  • 1% Line up on DraftKings $20 3-max: 17th for $150
  • 0.1% Line up on DraftKings $20 3-max: 2nd for $2,000

Yes, you’re not going to win six-figures playing the recommended GPPs. On average over time you’re going to make a lot more money which in turn allows you to enter larger contests that CAN net you six-figures while reducing your risk of ruin to zero. The whole article above encompasses our approach over at DFSArmy. If you like what you’re reading here, you’re going to love our coaching first approach.

We have developed a state of the art optimization tool that’s best in class in the industry backed by top ranked projections and home grown strategies. We go beyond optimization and show you how to set your player pool exposures just the way you want them. Plus with our Research Station, Simulation Reports, Articles, and real time coaching, we have all the tools you need to win. Use code UW81 to save 10% today. 

So do you skip all those large field contests?

So you’ve seen the math and the strategy. You know that it’s super difficult to take one of these 20,000+ person tournaments. You know if you do enter it you should enter 150 lineups. Here’s the truth: I still enter them and so will you. It’s fun to dream and DFS is fun. I took 12th once in a Milly Maker during NFL and I still chase that dream every week because it’s fun. Usually with 1-10 lineups as well, not 150. Just have the right mindset going into these contests that the odds are you’re lighting your money on fire. Just assume it’s gone the second you hit enter and don’t worry about it. We have people in our community that takedown five-six figures every night. There’s no reason it can’t be you or me.