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How to Win the Millionaire Maker

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night and said to myself, “Holy crap, DraftKings is gonna make someone a millionaire on a $27 entry.” No really, I think the Millionaire Maker is about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen-cooler than wearing foam…

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Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night and said to myself, “Holy crap, DraftKings is gonna make someone a millionaire on a $27 entry.”

No really, I think the Millionaire Maker is about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen-cooler than wearing foam fingers in a nightclub-and chances are it’s going to be a single-entry user who takes home the $1 million.

Even though you’ll need to find yourself on the right side of variance to have a chance to win this thing, there are lots of little tricks you can employ to improve your chances. When I wrote my daily fantasy book Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People, I ended each chapter with certain heuristics you should use to tilt the odds in your favor when playing daily fantasy sports. I thought it would be cool to run through the ones I listed in the chapter on NFL tournament play.

Law No. 1: Don’t overlook the variance inherent to tournaments.

When you’re deciding how much cash you can plunk down into any league, the most important question to ask yourself is “How often am I going to cash?” Even in tournaments with a flatter payout structure, you’re an underdog to cash, regardless of your skills.

If you’re entering tournaments as though you’ll cash half of the time, you’re probably going to regret it. Understand variance-accept that you’re just going to get beat at times-and you’ll be able to better cope with losing and properly manage your money.

Law No. 2: Hedge against disaster by diversifying your tournament lineups.

Whereas using a single lineup or two is fine in head-to-head leagues, it’s not a smart move in tournaments. By diversifying your lineups, you’re trading in some of the upside that tournaments offer in exchange for a little safety.

Law No. 3: Draw from a larger pool of players.

I believe many daily fantasy players use an excessively small player pool in all league types, which stems from a failure to account for the fact that their projections could be wrong. Hopefully, you can create accurate projections and values over time, but you can’t make decisions as though your projections are always right.

Law No. 4: Forget about traditional projections and values.

Projecting average points and creating values off of those projections is important in many league types, but traditional projections are useless in large-field leagues. You need upside, and that’s all you need.

Law No. 5: Know when to pay for volatility.

One of the ways you can acquire a high ceiling is to pay for volatility, but you need to know when it makes sense. The data suggests paying for wide receivers and tight ends can be smart in tournaments because their points tend to come in bunches and they have the potential to really differentiate themselves from others at their position. In contrast, defenses are also volatile, but there’s little deviation in their scores; without that scarcity, there’s little reason to pay up for them.

Law No. 6: Always pair a quarterback with one of his receivers in a large GPP.

Pairing a quarterback with one of his receivers creates a dependent relationship that greatly enhances upside. You can also consider pairing your quarterback with two of his pass-catchers, but that’s probably a better move in, say, a 50-man league (when you need upside but not necessarily a jaw-dropping ceiling) than it is in a huge GPP (when you absolutely must hit a home run).

Law No. 7: Go against the grain as a contrarian thinker.

You don’t need to bypass every obvious value to go against the grain, but jumping on one or two players you know won’t be highly owned can provide you with the lineup differentiation that you’ll need in a tournament. One of the shrewd moves that I see again and again from the game’s top pros is playing elite players in tough matchups; A.J. Green can get his numbers against any defense, but he won’t necessarily be a popular choice against one of the league’s top Ds.

I think this last “law” is really important for the Millionaire Maker. With nearly 100,000 lineups, we are going to see more similar lineups than we’ve ever witnessed. Even if a player has 10 percent usage, that’s over 9,000 lineups!

It’s more important than ever to create a unique lineup, finding upside where others aren’t looking. Normally, it makes sense to try to hit on one player, maybe two, who you know will be underutilized. Well, this might be the time to load your roster with contrarian plays.

Last week, I emphasized the mathematics behind using a more balanced strategy in tournaments-as opposed to using a couple of scrubs and elite players-because it maximizes the probability of hitting on everyone.

Well, this might be a time to disregard that advice. Not only will you need to hit on every player, but you’ll need to hit on players who aren’t in a ton of lineups, too. That’s why I think a high-low strategy with maybe three or so players who are close to min-priced is the way to go. If you can identify that talent and hit on it, you’ll have 1) a unique source of points others don’t have and 2) a whole lot of cap space left to fit the elite players into your lineup.