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What Nietzsche Can Teach Us About DFS

I majored in Philosophy in college. I did that for the most ridiculous reason you could ever possibly imagine: I like it. Crazy, right? How in the world can someone have a successful life without majoring in Business? Please excuse me while I answer 100 angry…

I majored in Philosophy in college. I did that for the most ridiculous reason you could ever possibly imagine: I like it.

Crazy, right? How in the world can someone have a successful life without majoring in Business? Please excuse me while I answer 100 angry e-mails because everyone reading this majored in Business. No seriously, Business is a fine major, but I just really enjoyed Philosophy.

My favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche, who is famous for his thoughts on morality, existentialism, and of course daily fantasy sports.

As I wrote earlier this week in my article “5 Ways to Become a Better DFS Player,” I’m going to spend more time analyzing concepts from fields that have nothing to do with daily fantasy sports and comparing them to the game we love.

Now for an article I can’t imagine you thought you’d ever read breaking down six Nietzsche quotes and applying them to daily fantasy sports…

“No victor believes in chance.”

DFS Translation: “Winners believe their win was due to skill; losers believe their loss was bad luck.”

Analysis: I once won a tournament in which I accidentally late-swapped to the wrong player. In that case, it was very clear that I won in spite of my best efforts.

It’s natural for humans to believe that their successes are the result of their own doing and their failures are due to poor luck. And sometimes those things are true, but the key to improving as a daily fantasy sports player is to constantly question what you can do better—how you can improve by even 1% per day—regardless of whether you won or lost.

Further, don’t think that you necessarily did something wrong just because you had a bad night. I approach each night of daily fantasy sports with basically the same strategy. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. While you can start to get an idea of where you stand as a player after you accrue a sizeable game history, a single day isn’t going to tell you a whole lot.

“Whatever is well-said is believed.”

DFS Translation: “Whatever fits a particular media-driven narrative is believed.”

Analysis: Some daily fantasy experts really know what they’re doing and some don’t, but at the end of the day, you need to make your own decisions. One reason is that that’s how you’ll improve as a player; you can’t become a great fisherman if you’ve always been given free fish.

There’s also a lot of bad information floating around out there. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it in, but always question it. Think logically about the information you’re provided, particularly from beat writers when they make predictions (that are often wildly inaccurate), and use what you believe to be the most useful and actionable intel.

Lastly, note that there’s a big edge in tournaments due to “groupthink”—the tendency for people to think and act in a like-minded way. If everyone is on Player X, you probably aren’t going to find that Player X is the key to your success, at least not in daily fantasy tournaments. Your main job is to identify media-driven narratives and determine if they hold water.

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

DFS Translation: “There is no one ‘optimal’ path to DFS success.”

Analysis: This one is going to be a little more controversial. Some people really do believe in one objective truth. I’m not going to get into that argument as much as arguing that, whether or not Truth exists and there’s just one “optimal” path to success, it’s going to be really difficult for us to identify that path.

I’ve talked about this before in relation to player projections. Projections and values can be useful, but for us to trust them as “optimal,” we’d have to reach a level of accuracy that simply isn’t possible right now.

I think there are two other Nietzsche quotes that chip away at this idea a bit more…

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

DFS Translation: “DFS players who don’t constantly question their strategies will eventually be surpassed by those who evolve.”

Analysis: I get a lot of emails each week with start/sit advice, and for the most part, I think people are just looking to confirm their current beliefs. That’s fine (and smart), but what happens when I suggest something that goes against what they thought? My hunch is that most people just ask someone else until they get the answer that confirms their current view.

I think really great advice can come from lots of places—I learn all kinds of awesome stuff from novice daily fantasy players who email me with unique ideas or approaches to problems that I never considered—but the key to capitalizing on that is embracing those who don’t think like you (even over those who do).

“Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things.”

DFS Translation: “Every player/matchup needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis on some level.”

Analysis: More so than most daily fantasy players, I begin my lineup construction with general heuristics—like “I generally want to start a top quarterback in cash games”—and then work from there. I take that approach for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I think it’s difficult to accurately assess very specific situations, particularly in the NFL, with limited data.

However, every player ultimately needs to be analyzed individually, on a case-by-case basis. In general, I prefer big wide receivers over small ones, for example, but I’m probably going to start Mike Wallace this week because of his low cost. I often want to punt the tight end position in cash games, but I’m also going to play Jimmy Graham a lot this weekend given the nature of the tight end position.

I think it makes a ton of sense to side with long-term numbers in most situations—certainly when we’re uncertain which direction to go—but we can’t be blind to the fact that there are lots of variables that go into player analysis and lineup construction such that there aren’t any hard-and-fast daily fantasy “laws” that must always govern our play.

“Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even shallow.”

DFS Translation: “A DFS strategy without a scientific foundation is incapable of being tested or evolving.”

Analysis: I’m going to substitute “mystical” with “unscientific” in Nietzsche’s quote. You might say, “Well those aren’t even his words then, Jon,” and you’d be right. It’s called artistic freedom. Look it up.

Anyway, when people make decisions based on their “gut” or because they “just had a feeling,” they’re often praised as heroes when we should be questioning how often those gut-based decisions work out in the long run.

The beauty of taking a scientific, data-driven approach to daily fantasy sports is that the strategy is self-correcting; we can use data to determine which strategies are worthy of our consideration and which aren’t. Using your instincts as a daily fantasy player is fine, but the most effective way to improve those instincts is to take a scientific, testable, and evolutionary approach to the game.