Fantasy Sports

Cash Games vs. Tournaments

In daily fantasy sports, we separate the game types into two main categories: cash games (head-to-heads and 50/50s) and tournaments (aka Guaranteed Prize Pools or GPPs.) Each game type has its own unique nuances in terms of the overall goal, as well as the payout structure. Your lineup building strategy should vary based upon which game type you are playing. This guide will walk you through the differences in daily fantasy basketball strategy between cash games and GPPs.

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Cash Game Strategy

The majority of cash games consist of 50/50’s and head-to-head leagues. In a 50/50 contest, you only have to beat out half of your competition as the top half of the field wins double their entry fee while the bottom half of the field loses their entire entry fee.  Likewise, in a head-to-head league, you only need to beat one opponent. In both of these league types, 50% of the field wins.

Due to the fact that cash games are much easier to cash in, the goal is to produce a team with a very high floor. In other words, you want to construct a “safe” lineup that is well balanced and has a great chance of putting up a solid score. Cash games are not the place to target players that are “boom or bust” players because you don’t need to beat the entire field. You only need to beat 50% of the field in order to cash.

Basketball is a sport where players have very high floors. The reasoning for this is that production is directly tied to opportunity which is directly tied to minutes and minutes are very predictable in the NBA. You want to target consistent fantasy players that are going to see consistent minutes on a nightly basis. For example, let’s say that you are faced with a decision at center between Marc Gasol and Derrick Favors. In a cash game, I would lean toward Marc Gasol because he has a much higher floor and sees consistent minutes on a nightly basis.

Cash games are also more about value than they are about upside. Keep in mind that the primary goal of a cash game lineup is to have the highest floor possible, even if you have to limit your team’s upside. Targeting the cheap value plays that are expected to see a boost in opportunity thanks to injuries will allow you to fit some of the more expensive players that are both consistent and have a high floor. The key point to take for cash games is to value players with a high floor over players that are inconsistent.

GPP Strategy

GPPs are a completely different animal than cash games and your strategy should be the exact opposite in these leagues: you want to construct a team with the highest possible ceiling rather than the highest floor possible. The reasoning for this is that GPPs only pay out the very elite teams in the field. While a cash game pays out the top 50% of entrants, GPPs typically pay out to less than 20% of the field. Knowing that you need a great score to cash in GPPs, you want to target upside over players with a high floor.

One of the biggest misconceptions in daily fantasy sports is that you should only target “boom or bust” plays if you want to win GPPs. While you certainly don’t mind targeting players with a higher variance on a game by game basis, that doesn’t mean that you have to avoid the consistent players. All that matters in GPPs is a player’s upside. Even if a player has a high floor, they are still a viable GPP play as long as they have a high ceiling as well.

Another GPP strategy that is often employed by the top daily fantasy players is to target players that will have a low percentage of ownership. These are referred to as “contrarian” plays or plays that go against the grain. The reasoning for this is fairly simple: it’s easier to separate yourself from the pack when your team is constructed of players that aren’t highly owned.

Taking the contrarian approach doesn’t mean that you should target random players each night and hope that they play well. One of my favorite GPP strategies in daily fantasy basketball is to target superstar players that have tough match-ups. Superstars can have big fantasy outings regardless of the opponent and they are likely to have a low percentage of ownership on nights when they are faced with less than optimal match-ups.

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