Basic DFS Strategy: 50/50s & Head To Heads

The strategies for 50/50s and head-to-head contest in daily
fantasy sports are more or less the same, so we cover them both
on this page. Look at some of the daily fantasy sports stats
sites. Notice a difference in the average number of points
required to win a 50/50 versus a head-to-head? If you do, it’s
probably small. Don’t worry too much about that point difference
when planning a strategy.

One might think that the strategy for these contests is more
or less the same as for larger tournaments, but one would be
wrong. Sure, the basics of doing research and looking for value
apply to both kinds of games. But if you took an approach that
was almost diametrically opposed to the advice on this page
about guaranteed prize pool strategy, you’d probably do alright.
In fact, some would probably excel.

The rest of this page goes into considerably more detail with
specifics about fantasy sports strategy for cash games.

Professional Fantasy Sports

Some have a goal to pursue daily fantasy sports for a living.
They need to get ready for a hard grind. It takes dedication and
work. Yeah, it’s just playing a game for money, but that doesn’t
mean it’s easy money. Like poker players or professional sports
bettors, the professional fantasy sports player is going to need
dedication to the craft.

The players who succeed do research and study the numbers.
They watch a lot of games. They think about what they’re seeing
on the television screen and on their computer monitor.
Professional fantasy sports require a combination of a strong
stomach and an analytical mind.

The gamblers who tend to do well as pro fantasy sports
players tend to be poker players and card counters—the kinds of
players who apply a tiny edge consistently and repeatedly. The
craps players who play fantasy sports tend to focus on the
tournaments. They love the adrenaline high, the risk, and the
promise of a big reward.

Our Advice

If and when you do decide to pursue this hobby as
a profession, you’re probably going to want to focus on what are
called “cash games”—50/50s and head-to-head contests. These are
the bread and butter for the professional player. These are the
games poker players love. They’re the games that bore the craps

These cash game contests pay out 50% of the time. That’s
obvious in a heads-up situation, but with a larger field, that
might warrant more explanation. A 50/50 contest is one in which
50% of the participants get paid, but the prize money for all of
them is the same.

The main aspects of these cash games that make them
attractive to the professional player are the low risk or ruin
and the steady, predictable growth in bankroll. Tournaments are
more fun for gamblers, but if you want to play for money, you’re
not looking for excitement. Instead, you just want to grind out
small wins, day after day, week after week.

Even big believers in guaranteed prize pool tournaments
(GPPs) and big payouts should diversify their bankrolls by
playing in a number of 50/50s and head-to-head contests each
week. This enables them to maintain their bankrolls while still
pursuing the big ROI potential from the GPP tournaments.

In fact, these characterizations probably aren’t entirely
fair. Smart daily fantasy sports players can achieve amazing ROI
playing in GPPs, especially if they get involved in lots of
overlay situations. Aspiring professionals should really learn
to approach both games for different reasons.

Recommended Reading

As we mentioned at the start of this
article, the required strategy for GPPs is very different from
the required strategy for cash games. We suggest learning how to
play both types of contests effectively, so you might like to
look at our article on DFS strategy for guaranteed prize pool

In finance, this kind of combination is considered
diversifying your portfolio. For example, financial planners
often suggest that you subtract your age from 100. That number
is the percentage of your money that you should invest in the
stock market. The rest should be invested in bonds.

In daily fantasy sports, cash games are like bonds. They’re
not sexy, but you can count on them. GPPs and tournaments are
like the stock market. They’re volatile and carry more risk, but
they provide potentially greater returns.

The smart investor has money in both.

Statistics, Data & Consistency

One could easily take two players with the same average score
each week and find one who’s a winner and one who’s a loser.

Player 1 is focused on consistency, and every day, every
week, he puts 150 points on the board. This might vary by five
or ten points, but for the most part, he’s consistently above
average. Not a lot above average, but above average. He wins
about 57% of the contests he enters.

Player 2 is focused on big scores. One week he puts 100
points on the board. The next week, he puts 200 points on the
board. He runs like this all season. He loses all of the games
where he scores 100 points, and he wins all of the games where
he scores 200 points. He wins about 50% of the contests he

Obviously, if the players are sticking with head-to-head and
50/50 contests, then the player who wins 57% of the time is
going to show a steady profit. But the player who only wins 50%
of the time is losing money contest after contest because of the
10% commission.

On the other hand, Player 2 might be profitable in tournament
situations. Assume that his 200 point weeks land him in the top
15% or so. He sees correspondingly higher payouts when he wins.
That can more than compensate for the lower percentage of wins.

The Key To Winning At Cash Games Is Consistency

If you want to be successful at cash games then you need to
show consistency, and that means showing a good winning

Winning Percentages

A player needs to win 55.56% of the head-to-head or 50/50
contests in order to break even. That’s because the sites keep a
10% commission when setting up the prize pools.

Here’s an example.

  • A player is playing a heads-up contest with a $100
  • The total entry fee is $200
  • The site keeps $20 commission.
  • The winner therefore gets $180.

If he wins 50% of the time and loses 50% of the time, he’s
going to be up $80 every time he wins and down $100 every time
he loses. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how a 50% win
rate loses money over the long run.

But 55.56% is the break even percentage. If a player can
increase his winning percentage beyond that, he’s going to show
a long term profit. The higher the winning percentage, the
better the return on investment (ROI).

Here’s an example.

  • Player A wins 58% of the time.
  • He starts the season playing 100 heads-up contests a week.
  • He risks $10 on each contest, investing a total of $1,000.
  • He wins 58 times each week, for $18 each time.
  • His total weekly return is $1,044 (58 x $18).
  • His profit is $44; a 4.4% return on investment.
  • Player B wins 60% of the time.
  • He enters the same contests as Player A.
  • He wins 60 times each week, for $18 each time.
  • His total weekly return is $1,080 (60 x $18).
  • His profit is $80; an 8% return on investment.

The difference might not seem a lot, but an 8% return on
investment will compound at a much faster rate than the 4.4%

Successful cash game players in daily fantasy sports track
their winning percentages. Your goal should be to increase that
winning percentage by as little as 1/10 of 1% each week. Every
tiny percentage point counts.

Top Tip

Track your winning percentage for tournaments and
cash games separately. Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
You will always miss a target you can’t see.

Tips for Stacking Players

Stacking players involves taking players from the same team
and/or the same game in a lineup. Our page about strategies for
GPP tournaments suggests taking a quarterback/wide-receiver
stack in hopes that they’ll see a breakout week. This means
risking having a bad week, because if the quarterback does
badly, the wide receiver will, too. But if one of them has a
breakout week, then odds are they’ll both have a breakout week.

In a 50/50 or head-to-head contest, players must take a very
different approach. You want consistency, right? One way to get
it is to find a football game that’s projected to be close but
high-scoring. You can find high scoring games by looking for
games with a high over/under. You can find games that are
expected to be close the same way—by researching the lines set
by the sportsbooks in Las Vegas.

Draft the #1 running back from both teams, and you’ll have
locked in a likely minimum number of points. Both teams are
expected to score a lot of points, because the high/low on the
game was high. And since neither team is a huge underdog, it’s
clear that both teams are expected to score a lot of points.

In baseball, though, a different approach becomes necessary.
Having a pitcher from one side and hitters from the other side
guarantees that one side is going to suffer and the other side
excels. That’s because there’s a direct correlation between the
opponents’ performance. In football, if a running back for one
team performs well, it has no real effect on the opposing team’s
running back’s performance.

In baseball, if a pitcher does well, the other team’s hitters
suffer. They have a direct relationship. One of the most basic
strategy tips for 50/50 and head-to-head fantasy baseball
contests is to avoid lining up a pitcher on one team while
lining up the batters from his opponents. That’s entirely
different from football, where stacking opponents makes sense a
lot of the time.

Consistency & Median Point Projections

This page hammers away at the concept of consistency, but
that’s because it’s crucial to becoming a winning player in this
type of contest. Luckily, we have a good idea of how consistent
various positions are in certain sports.

Here are some examples for football.


We know that kickers consistently score few points. Spending
a lot of a salary cap on a kicker is just foolish. (Catchers are
the baseball equivalent of kickers by the way.)

Running Backs

On the other hand, running backs are far and away the most
consistent scorers on a fantasy football team. They just plain
handle the ball more often than the wide receivers and tight

Sure, a tight end or a wide receiver might get the occasional
big play for a lot of yards, but remember—we’re not looking for
occasional big plays. We don’t want to score 200 points every
other week and 100 points every other week. We want 150 points
every week, remember?

You get that consistency, in fantasy football, by focusing on
consistent running backs with predictable performances every
week. Some running backs are more consistent than others,
too—these are the running backs that catch passes. Since they’re
versatile, they tend to have more opportunities to score fantasy


Quarterbacks are the second most important position in 50/50s
and head-to-head contests. After running backs, they’re the most
consistent players. Versatile quarterbacks perform more
consistently than specialists, too. You want quarterbacks like
Tony Romo, who carries the ball himself relatively often. This
gives him multiple opportunities to gain yards, which translate
into fantasy points.

Take the same approach to fantasy baseball contests. Draft
consistent players who are going to put a lot of points on the
board. This is true for both pitchers and hitters. Starting
pitchers are always going to be the most important players in a
fantasy baseball contest, and 50/50s and head-to-head contests
are no exception. The most important statistic to look at is how
often they throw strikes. With hitters, focus on the players’
home run stats.

Floors Versus Ceilings

On our page about GPP strategy, we suggest looking for
players with the potential to score really big. That’s called
having a high “ceiling”.

Don’t focus on a player’s ceiling in 50/50s and head-to-head
contests. Instead, focus on their “floor”. In other words, each
player in a lineup should have a high minimum score. The entire
lineup should have a high minimum score.

Instead of focusing on having a higher ceiling, set a goal to
reduce variance by having a higher floor. That change in focus
is the key to winning more often in cash games.

For example, someone might choose a wide receiver in a GPP
because he has the potential to score 40 points. That’s his
ceiling. His floor might be 5 points, though. In a 50/50 or
head-to-head contest, smart players might pass this player by in
favor of a player who has a floor of 20 points. He’s not really
concerned with his ceiling. He cares about his minimum score and
his average score.

Taking that approach with every player in a lineup results in
drafting a team with a good chance of winning a high percentage
of 50/50s and head-to-head contests.


We’ve already made the same point a few times in this
article, and we’ll make it one more time now; the key to winning
cash games is consistency. The same strategies for 50/50s work
for head-to-head contests and vice-versa. Lower risk and
maximize the lowest possible score.

It’s easiest to understand this concept by contrasting it
with the appropriate strategy for large tournaments. In those
contests, contestants embrace volatility, because it’s
impossible to win unless they have a huge score.

In GPPs, go for players with a high ceiling. Then hope to get
lucky. In 50/50s and head-to-head contests, go for players with
a high floor. Then you’re safe.

Conservative, consistent, boring players are the best friends
of the cash game specialist.