Basic DFS Strategy: Guaranteed Prize Pools

One of the fun aspects of daily fantasy sports is all the
different contests you can take part in. There are several types
available, although they can broadly be divided into two main
categories. The two categories we’re talking about are cash
games and tournaments.

A lot of the strategy required for these two types is quite
different. On this page we offer some basic strategy advice for
one of the most popular forms of tournament, GPPs (Guaranteed
Prize Pools).

Some of the strategy advice we’ve provided also applies to
cash games such as 50/50s and head-to-head contests, too—at
least in a general way. We’ve taken the approach of providing
the more general advice first. The further down this page you
read, the more specific to guaranteed prize pool contests the
advice becomes.

Recommended Reading

To be a complete daily fantasy sports
player, you ideally want to be at least competent at cash games
AND tournaments. We therefore recommend that you also read our
article explaining basic strategies for playing DFS cash games

Researching the Right Way

When you’re doing research and trying to decide on a lineup,
focus on data that matters. This means knowing the rules for
each contest. It also means focusing on statistics that aren’t

Players who win guaranteed prize pools focus on doing
research via the Las Vegas sportsbooks and their betting lines.
They also focus on stats that are likely predictors of points.
No one in the world has access to more information—and more
accurate information—about upcoming sports events than the
handicappers working for the sportsbooks in Las Vegas.

One can also find information about other sports fans’
opinions on message boards and other sites on the Internet.
Following the right people on Twitter can help with research in
tremendous ways.

Data isn’t everything, though. Learn to trust your intuition,
too. The human mind notices things unconsciously that result in
leaps of intuition—don’t ignore these subconscious hints.

Understanding Your Break-Even Point

This is briefly touched upon on other pages, but calculating
the percentage of contests needed to win to break even is very
important. It’s also fairly easy. In 50/50s and head-to-heads,
with a standard 10% commission, winning 55.56% breaks even.
Winning a higher percentage of contests than that profits in the
long run. Winning a lower percentage than that loses money in
the long run.

But how does someone figure out the break-even percentage in
a tournament situation? After all, the different places offer
different payouts, and the percentage of people who get paid
vary from contest to contest.

The first step in calculating this break-even percentage is
to divide the entry fees by the total payout. Then multiply that
by the percentage of people who get paid.

Here’s an example.

  • A tournament has 100 players and a $25 entry fee.
  • The total entry fees equal $2,500 (100 x $25).
  • After the site’s commission, the prize pool is $2,250.
  • The top 12% of players get paid.
  • $2,500 divided by $2,250 is 1.11.
  • 1.11 multiplied by 12% is 13.32%.
  • The break-even percentage here is therefore $13.32.

Once you know the break-even percentages, start keeping
records of how you do in the different types of contests you
enter. Once you get a baseline for your winning percentage, work
on improving it.

Finding Overlay Situations

The best and most exciting strategy for profiting from GPPs
is finding overlay situations. These are tournaments where the
total entry fees for a contest are less than the total payouts
for the tournament. Most tournaments have a prize pool that
consists of the entry fees minus a 10% commission.

For example, someone might play in a 100 person league with a
$1 entry fee. The site puts $90 in the prize pool and keeps $10
for itself. They’re basically risking $1 to win $0.90.

But some sites offer tournaments where the prize pool is
guaranteed even if it doesn’t fill. In that example league with
the 100 players, if there were only 80 entrants, the site would
lose a little money. They took in $80 in entry fees, but they’re
paying out $90 in prize money. That extra money is positive
expected value. In this situation, they’re risking the
equivalent of 80 cents to win 90 cents.

Not all GPPs offer an overlay. In fact, at larger sites, they
usually fill up with players. But at new sites, where they’re
hoping to build a customer-base, it might be easier to find an
overlay. Any time someone can get into an overlay situation,
they’re stacking the odds in their favor just by participating.

In fact, one way to think about overlay situations is as a
commission that the site is paying you to play, instead of vice

Playing in Multi-Entry Tournaments

In some GPPs, players can enter a contest more than once.
These are called multi-entry tournaments. The advantage to these
situations is that they improve the chances of placing in the
money. In other words, you can enter multiple lineups and reduce
your risk of losing. If one lineup does really badly, one of the
other lineups still has a chance of winning some money.

Interesting Fact

If you entered 10 different lineups in a
GPP, especially one with an overlay, the odds of going broke
drop dramatically.

Think about it this way. Someone could win all of the prizes
in a tournament just by taking up all the entries. But that
wouldn’t be profitable, because they’d pay all the entry fees,
including the commission. The goal isn’t necessarily to maximize
the chances of winning. The goal is to minimize the odds of
going broke.

In fact, if someone is an above average player, there’s no
downside when entering a tournament multiple times. They might
even cash in multiple places.

Choosing Your Tournaments Intelligently

Keep in mind all these things when choosing a tournament in
which to play. Prioritize overlay situations, of course. Also
choose tournaments where you can make multiple entries a
priority. Depending on your stomach for risk, the break-even
percentage might affect your choices, too.

But consider other factors as well. For one thing, a good
rule of thumb is to realize that the bigger the tournament is,
the better score you need to win. This seems like common sense,
but a lot of people don’t think about it. Larger tournaments
have more money and more skilled players chasing after it. You
need to be correspondingly more skilled if you want to have a
chance at getting your hands on some of that prize money.

Top Tip

Individual goals should also determine your choice
of tournaments. Want to see small returns consistently, day
after day or week after week? Stick with lots of entries in
tournaments with smaller entry fees. On the other hand, if you
don’t mind the risk of going broke, entering a contest where you
have a small chance of winning a huge prize isn’t a bad play.
Basically, make sure to consider your tolerance for risk.

Making Projections & Using Multiple Lineups

Based on projections, only one lineup is going to be perfect.
In other words, everyone decides on a single mathematically best
group of players for a particular tournament. If you enter that
lineup in multiple tournaments, though, you’re going to risk
losing a lot of entry fees.

Question: What’s the reason for this? Answer: Variance

This is the mathematical concept of bad luck. Someone might
be the best fantasy sports player in the world, but they’re
still never going to win every game. That’s because sometimes
someone else will get lucky. A player might get injured. Another
player might underperform. Variance is what makes gambling

One way to hedge against this variance is to use multiple
lineups. Secondary and tertiary lineups might not be as optimal
as a main lineup, but they should still be positive expectation
situations. By entering multiple tournaments with multiple
lineups, you decrease the chances that bad luck will destroy
your bankroll.

Related Information

We cover this topic in more detail in
our article on using multiple sites and multiple lineups. This
also covers some of the advantages of signing up with more than
one daily fantasy site.

Stacking Players

In 50/50s and head-to-head tournaments, experts don’t
generally stack players—i.e. add players to a lineup from the
same team. They want to reduce variance. Often players on the
same team rely on each other to perform well.

The classic example is the quarterback/wide receiver stack in
football. If you’re in a team where you want to ensure a higher
than average score with little risk, it makes sense to choose a
quarterback from one team and a wide receiver from another. That
way if the quarterback has a bad day, it doesn’t affect the wide

But in a tournament situation, players need high ceilings. If
a quarterback/wide receiver combo has the potential to put huge
points on the board, go for it. Slightly above average isn’t
going to cut it in tournament play.

This is a great example of where using the lines from the
Vegas sportsbooks works to your advantage. The over/under
indicates how many points the handicappers think are going to be
scored in a game. If one side is a big favorite over the other
in that situation, expect them to have a big week. In that
situation, lining up the projected high scoring team’s
quarterback and wide receiver is a great move.

Stacking works differently in fantasy baseball. There isn’t
the same kind of relationship between players on a baseball team
as a quarterback/wide receiver combo. But smart players can
still increase their upside by stacking up hitters from the same
team. If the team doesn’t do well, the lineup won’t perform,
either—but when the team does well, expect to see big numbers.

Diversification is a strategy used to hedge risk. That’s why
it’s so important to 50/50 players and head-to-head players.
They want to minimize risk.

But in tournaments, you can’t afford to minimize risk. The
same strategies that minimize risk limit your team to mediocre

To borrow a phrase from the poker world—go big or go home.

Knowing the Important Positions

In all fantasy games, some positions are just worth far less
than other positions. In football, that position is the kicker.
No matter how great that kicker is, he’s only going to be able
to score a limited number of points—especially when compared to
a wide receiver. In baseball, the catcher is the position that’s
worth less than all the others.

By all means, get the best value per dollar in those
positions. Just don’t overpay for them. Kickers and defenses are
generally worth no more than 5% to 8% of your salary cap. On the
other hand, you might want to spend 15% to 20% of your salary
cap on your quarterback. Wide receivers and running backs might
account for as much as 15% of your salary cap each, too.

Wide receivers are hugely important in tournaments, because
they’re the players with the biggest chance of putting a lot of
points on the board. Pitchers are hugely important to a baseball
team, too.

Going for Maximum Points

Players in 50/50 and head-to-head tournaments are more
interested in each player’s median scoring potential. That’s
because they want to maximize their chances of landing in the
top 50%.

But the top 50% isn’t good enough for GPPs. You need to land
in the top 25% or top 15% to cash in these tournaments. In order
to do that, pay less attention to a player’s likely median score
and focus on that player’s potential maximum score.

Look For The Players Who Have The Potential For A Big Point Score

Take football for example. Most running backs can be counted
on to consistently score a median number of points. They’re
going to get carries, and they’re going to get yards. But it’s
rare to see them outperform expectations by a tremendous amount.

Wide receivers, on the other hand, occasionally get into
situations where they can get an enormous number of yards and
points. But they also sometimes wind up in situations where they
don’t get to do much.

50/50 and head-to-head players would use this information to
spend more of their salary cap on running backs. The GPP player
uses this information to spend more of their salary cap on the
wide receivers.

Is that still unclear?

Think about it this way. It might be possible to land in the
top 50% with a score of 150 in a 50/50 league. But for purposes
of landing in the top 20% of a tournament, 150 just isn’t going
to cut it. You’re going to need multiple players having breakout
weeks in order to win money.

The only way to get those multiple players with breakout
weeks is to draft players who are capable of having that kind of

Those are the opposite of the kinds of players to use in a
50/50 or heads-up tournament.

Being a Contrarian

Something else to keep in mind when setting a lineup is that
the most obvious plays might already be taken by a large number
of your opponents. Have you found a really obvious
quarterback/wide receiver stack? Finding a different stack might
be a good idea. That’s because if it’s obvious, a lot of
opponents will have made that move. Making the same move
increases the likelihood of having similar performance.

Avoid that by choosing less obvious players and player
combinations. That’s the definition of being a contrarian. Make
some moves that are contrary to the conventional wisdom. When
conventional wisdom fails, contrarians profit.


Tournament strategy, especially in GPPs, is dramatically
different from cash game strategy. When playing in a game where
only the top 15% or top 25% get paid, being willing to accept
risk is a necessity. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Strategy begins with the basics of fundamental research and
understanding what it takes to be a winner in the tournament
you’re entering. Taking advantage of overlays increases expected
value. Entering a tournament multiple times hedges risk, too.

Master those basics, then start focusing on players’
potential scores instead of their median scores. Look for
players who have a shot at a huge game—not players who are
assured of a slightly above average performance. Then take
further advantage of those players by stacking them

Being a contrarian can also avoid a mediocre score. It
increases the odds of having a player who makes a big

Cash games are fun, but taking a shot at a huge prize pool is
even more fun. Some people love grinding out a 2% ROI every
week, but a lot of people prefer a shot at winning five figures
or more once in a while.

Want a shot at that big win? All it takes is a little risk

We’ll say it again – go big or go home.