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MFL10s, Bankroll Management, and Growing a Pair

One fantasy football format that we like around here is the MFL10: Matt Rittle describes the format and shares some of his thoughts here. He’s our resident MFL10 expert, and he shares even more insight, based on his poker background, here. I have a similar poker background, so I share a lot his sentiments. Here are the key points:

  • If you want to just play in MFL leagues for the fun of it, join as many or few as you want and be prepared to be happy with the results, win or lose.
  • If you want to play in MFL leagues for profit, it’s actually pretty easy to do. Essentially, you have a 8.33% chance to win. Your buy-in represents 10% of the prize. To make a profit, your edge simply has to push that 1 in 12 number over that 1 in 10 number, and that’s really a pretty small margin. All you have to do is be a little above average, and other drafters being below average may actually be enough to do the trick.
  • You need to take a long-view though. Don’t expect to win any given league, just expect to win on average over time. Accordingly, you should try to play in a substantial number of leagues. Matt argues you should at least play 20, and ideally play over 40. I agree. This will help reduce variance.
  • It’s also worth mentioning that 2nd place gets a free buy-in, so your odds are even better when you consider that’s essentially a $10 value.

After teasing them for a while, My Fantasy League introduced higher buy-ins. You can now play in MFL25s, MFL50s, and MFL100s, which are all exactly what they sound like. But should you? The answer is: it depends.

Shortly after I heard the news I thought of an article I had read earlier in the year. Darrel Plant wrote it for the Regressing blog and it’s called “Why You’ll Never Make A Living Playing Live Poker Tournaments“. Even if you have no interest in poker, I encourage you to read it. The gist is this: Even if you’re an excellent tournament poker player, the lack of opportunity and the time it would take to play in tournaments makes it completely unfeasible to do so professionally, unless you are playing in high-stakes tournaments, where you’ll have no consistency.

Obviously, I think this is relevant to fantasy football. The truth about the game is that you can only win at the end of the season, with the exception of daily games.1 Fantasy football by its very nature requires a huge time investment, and a lot of patience. If you want to make a profit while playing, your chief concern should not be maximizing your edge. You should simply be trying to maintain an edge, reducing variance, and maximizing your absolute, not relative, results. There’s two steps you should take to determine what buy-in you should play:

  1. Decide how many leagues you want to play in. Like I said earlier, this number should ideally be at least 20.
  2. Multiply that number by each buy-in, and then pick the highest amount you are willing to invest.

As an example, let’s say you want to play in 40 leagues. Your choices would be:

  1. 40 MFL10s: $400 cumulative buy-in.
  2. 40 MFL25s: $1,000 cumulative buy-in.
  3. 40 MFL50s: $2,000 cumulative buy-in.
  4. 40 MFL100s: $4,000 cumulative buy-in.

If you were only willing to invest $1,200 in buy-ins, then you would play MFL25s. You could either keep the extra $200, or invest in eight more MFL25s.

I do have a few warnings. One is that I believe you should try to stick to one buy-in. The reason for this is simple: When your investments aren’t uniform, you increase your volatility. You could win 50% of your leagues and still fail to turn a profit depending on how your bankroll was spread. It’s worth noting that I have no idea how many of each buy-in will occur in a given year. It’s very possible there will be less than 40 MFL100s in a given year. In that scenario, you should try to make up the difference with MFL50s, and then MFL25s if the MFL50s aren’t enough. I’ll also point out that you shouldn’t expect the players in the higher buy-in leagues to necessarily be better: In my experience, higher buy-ins attract more of the gambler and “just for fun” types.

My other warning is that everybody thinks they are a better than average driver. You should acknowledge the fact that maybe you’re not good enough to achieve the edge necessary to turn a profit, and be prepared to fail. Also note that it’s possible to be good enough to win consistently and play a large number of buy-ins, and still fail to turn a profit in a given year. It’s just considerably less likely and over time you should be able to overcome it.

MFL has also added management leagues, that eschew the best-ball format and let you set weekly lineups as well as add and drop players. There are some definite pros and cons here. The single biggest con is the time investment that would be necessary to play in a substantial number of leagues. The other big con is that trades aren’t allowed, and trades typically benefit those who make them. The biggest pro is that if you feel you are above average at setting lineups and making personnel moves, you increase your edge. It’s also more conducive to a Zero RB approach. Personally, I won’t be participating in them, but I can’t fault those who do.

Profit is definitely not the only reason to play in these MFL formats. They’re fun, and they provide valuable drafting experience. But if you want to make a profit, I suggest you treat them this way and evoke the spirit of Randy Moss: Straight cash homey.

  1. Even then, there’s only 17 weeks in the season.  (back)

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