Monday, December 19, 2016

What's the Difference Between Pro Poker and Pro Daily Fantasy Sports?

The following article is a piece I had written for publication while I working a brief stint with PokerTube this past summer. Until I offered to do a random topic that their editor needed ASAP that none of their other writers wanted, I knew very little about Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and cared even less. I gave myself a weekend crash course on the subject that consisted of articles and podcasts and it turned out to be some pretty fascinating stuff. While I have no interest in pursuing any profit motive within the game, given the (hopefully) more or less accurate info I came up with below, I am certain that if I had applied myself to that endeavor with the same intensity as poker, I would have totally kicked ass at it as well....only to find myself broke and homeless again in another 11 years' time!

P.S.  Bonus points if you can spot where I whored myself out to the industry!

There's money to be made in football...
If your guy catches that pass, you be gettin' that ass

What's the Difference Between Pro Poker and Pro DFS?

The massive popularity of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) has reached the point that it is now a viable contender with poker as a career choice in professional gaming. Assuming that you have the basic understanding of the level of commitment needed to succeed in each of these options and are starting off completely from scratch (like I did in poker), there are several important differences that you need to consider with respect to each when choosing to pursue one of them as a profession.

Scheduling flexibility

Poker may allow you to escape from being oppressed by demanding bosses and a glass ceiling, but in the very short term, you are actually more tethered to your job than just about anyone else. Pro poker players may often find themselves stuck in one spot much longer than they would like, but they do have the option of sleeping in and compensating by grinding it out through the night. This means that players are not beholden to the schedules set by others. Of course, this must be done within reason, as even degenerates halfway around the world get a bit stingy with their vices after 2 AM Eastern Time.

There's a reason that pro DFS players can take a swig off a Mountain Dew bottle without sniffing it first to make sure it's not yesterday's piss. Once you have opened up Draft Kings and bought into your matches, you aren't going to be penalized if you are forced to get up and answer the door for the FedEx guy or have a sudden onset of diarrhea. Many aspiring poker players stray away from tournaments precisely because of the lack of scheduling flexibility, but even cash game players will find that spending too much time on the toilet will quickly eat into their profits.
Waiting for the blinds to come back around to restart your session, or worse, having the fish you were targeting get felted in your absence will inevitably hurt your bottom-line. Having some time being isolated in a tiny white room with no distractions can actually be beneficial to the avid DFS player, as there is no more appropriate place to pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated and stay current!
Draft Kings

The role of study

Not everyone has the stamina or patience to slog through long poker sessions and large tournament fields. Harder still is doing this while maintaining tight focus and keeping your emotions in check. Any poker pro who has had a lengthy track record of success will tell you that in order to stay competitive, time must be allotted away from the tables to study. Nevertheless, poker study is no substitute for actual play, and there are many existing superstars who have never read a book on poker, nor have any grasp of mathematics beyond the sixth grade level, yet still succeed through logical deduction and a strong awareness of psychology.
In DFS, your study time is your play, as there is no room for intuition. Confidence that the Patriots will mop up on Monday Night Football means nothing if Tom Brady slams his fingers in the car door four hours before game time and you were too sloppy to double check if he was actually starting. One hundred percent of your results are determined by your efforts prior to kickoff. Provided that you have done your due diligence in picking your lineup and do your final revisions before game time to ensure you aren't crippled by last minute player substitutions, you can apply all your efforts when you are at your sharpest.

Skill scales in DFS

If we start with the assumption that the king of the hill at Draft Kings is the site's very best player, he got there by being the consistent highest scorer. This means that the strategy he employs at the highest stakes will also be the highest scoring at every buy-in level below. This gives him the ability to click a button and enter every single contest using his top line-up at stakes so low relative to his skill level and bankroll that he is practically on a small stakes freeroll.*
This factor wildly separates DFS from poker. Barring some crazy prop bet, world class poker players have no financial incentive to play all the available high stakes games while diverting their attention to pummel microstakes minnows. When deciding whether or not to go DFS or poker, you should give serious consideration to the pros and cons of this feature. This creates a barrier of entry lower for poker players, as you won't face superior competition while building up your bankroll. However, if you possess enough skill in DFS, you can use this to your advantage as you rise through the stakes.
Poker players moving up the ranks will often experience culture shock once they reach a certain level and the general style of play diverges drastically from what they are accustomed to. This can even happen when switching to a new site with a different player pool, making it seem as if they are playing an entirely different game.

The importance of diversification

Unless you are playing very high stakes poker, it's perfectly acceptable to choose to specialize in either NLH or PLO and make a career from a single game. This is not the case in DFS, as choosing to wager on just one or two sports means that you will be spending several months driving Joey Knish's truck. Since all major sports are seasonal, you are likely to have to get out of your comfort zone if you want to stay busy 365 days a year. This could very well mean that if you want to maximize your earnings potential, you will have to start taking an interest in sports you just plain don't like. The upside of this is that it should be easy to carry on a conversation with the old barflies at your local pub on any day of the week.

Current and future markets

Lastly, and in my opinion, most importantly, before putting all your eggs in the DFS or poker basket. Poker has proven its longevity and is well established, but has suffered through many scandals and is under constant threat from regulators and legal uncertainties. DFS is decidedly legal, but relatively new, and will doubtless face its own challenges. It's very strong at the moment, but don't let the hard lessons we all learned from poker go to waste and stay vigilant!
* DFS sites are taking steps to limit this practice in the hopes that the games become less predatory and more welcoming to new, casual players.

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