Dealers Choice: Poker Skills Can Help During March Madness

TAGs: dealers choice, Editorial, Jason Kirk, March Madness

poker-skills-help-during-march-madnessIf you’re a poker player who’s never previously considered using your skill set to win money playing daily fantasy sports, this is a good time to think it over. With March Madness just around the corner there’s going to be a lot of action on daily fantasy sites. Lots of other poker players are already in the game, probably because they can set lineups and then sit back and play poker while they watch basketball on the television. If more action at once sounds good to you, you’re going to want to put together some lineups for March Madness.

If you haven’t been following the college basketball season closely and just want a quick-start guide to get into the game, there are some basic rules of thumb for daily fantasy basketball that you can follow. In general, the more minutes a player is on the court, the more valuable he’s going to be. A corollary to this is that frequent foul trouble is bad for a player’s value, especially in college where five fouls is the limit. Rebounds and defensive categories like steals and blocks are worth more than points, so players who can pick up numbers across the stat sheet are usually more valuable than pure scorers.

With those things in mind, here are a few ways poker players’ skills can come in handy playing daily fantasy sports during March Madness.


The most successful poker players are the ones who keep records, analyze them, and use that information to improve their game. The same tendencies make good daily fantasy players since choosing a roster is all about being able to project player production based on past performance.

Unlike poker, there’s only one betting round in DFS – the initial buy-in. You fill your lineup with players based on a salary cap, and you get to choose whatever combination of players you want under that total. So does everybody else, which means there’s an edge to be found by rostering cheap but effective players that the masses are going to overlook. If a player the whole field has chosen has a bad game or leaves due to injury, you’re going to be glad you went with the kid from the mid-major tournament champion. Finding hidden-gem players leaves you extra salary to spend on improving the other spots on your roster and squeezing a few more fantasy points out of your budget, which can be the difference between cashing and missing out. During March Madness a little bit of inside information about the schools from smaller conferences could be a game-breaker, so putting in some time poring over statistics can make a real difference.

Beyond your initial roster set-up, the most important research you can do is keeping an eye on injury reports in the last hour leading up to tip-off. Knowing that a starter is injured allows you to roster somebody else, giving you an automatic advantage over the portion of the field that set their lineups with that starter and then forgot them. Basketball injury reports can become news up to just minutes before the game begins, and avoiding a zero in the lineup is a must if you hope to be competitive. Knowing the rules of the site you’re playing on is important here – some of them lock rosters as soon as the first game begins, and others allow late roster changes if the player in question hasn’t begun playing yet. Those late roster changes can be a lifesaver in injury situations.

Game selection

Poker players who survive over the long haul tend to be pretty good at staying away from games where they don’t have an edge. In daily fantasy sports the same concept applies in a couple of ways.

Just as a poker player can specialize in cash games or tournaments, daily fantasy sports can be broken down into “cash” and “GPP” players – and just like in poker, some people find they have a natural knack for one kind of game or the other. GPP players play in large-field tournaments with payouts structured very similarly to those in a poker tournament, making it far more important to predict which players will have huge games and make sure they’re in your lineup. Cash players focus on entering lower-variance lineups in heads-up matches and so-called “50/50” tournaments, where half of the field receives either double its money or a little bit less, depending on the site and exact tournament structure.

Game selection also applies when it comes to buy-in level. The higher buy-ins are made up mostly of players who know their way around setting a line-up (and probably use some pretty complex spreadsheets to make most of their decisions). Spreading your action around a number of sites can let you play more tournaments at a smaller buy-in against weaker opposition, giving you a better chance of making money.

Bankroll management

If you’re just looking to take a stab at one or two big fantasy tournaments during March Madness, this section doesn’t really apply to you – have fun splashing the pot! But if you’re looking to maybe start trying to make some money with daily fantasy sports, all of your poker bankroll management skills will come in very handy. Cash matches pay double your buy-in so you can put a la GPPs only pay out a fraction of the field and tend to be very top-heavy in their payouts, so playing them exclusively is a high-variance exercise. Not going broke means playing fewer of them at a time than you would if you were playing in cash matches. If you decide to play long-term you can also benefit from sign-up bonuses at most daily fantasy sports sites, which helps make the rake easier to overcome and find profitability – so it’s a good idea to make your first deposit as large as you can up to the matching limit.

If you decide to take a stab at daily fantasy basketball during March Madness, be sure to do some Googling on specific advice for bankroll guidelines. There is a lot of great content out there from bloggers and podcasters who play daily fantasy sports every day, content that could help make the difference for you at the end of the tournament.


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