Mark “Hilow” Garcia
I wanted to start the article here, at the Chalk Build, this week because after re-reading last week’s article I felt it needed some more beefing up. From here on out, I’d like to do a better job explaining the thought process behind Game Theory, how it applies to DFS, how we leverage our knowledge against other people competing by the same rules and for the same money, and reverse engineer (before our opponents even know it themselves) what a good chunk of the field is likely to do with their rosters as a whole. We’ll still highlight the individual plays in the same manner as before, but I want to start big to small moving forward, hopefully doing more teaching on the theories and principles of Game Theory and why, I believe, it is one of the most pure DFS edges currently available.
Over the last six weeks, I was operating under the assumption that readers had read my course on Game Theory, but I want to somewhat flip that narrative around. Similar to how I am always tweaking my process, analyzing everything from leaks in my game, to angles I am missing, to my analysis of how not only I view a slate, but how the public is likeliest to (and if you aren’t doing this with your DFS game and process, please, and I cannot emphasize this enough, start. Like, right now!), I analyzed how I was presenting information in this series. I feel I can do a better job in certain areas moving forward! Ok, so that’s where we were and where I want us to be in the future, now let’s talk Game Theory, shall we!?
From a section of my course behind the paywall (sneak peak time, yay!):
“The idea of strategic reasoning was introduced by Andrew M. Coleman and Eva M. Knockow in their paper titled “Game Theory and Psychology.” They define this idea as “(a means) of deciding how to act to achieve desired objectives, taking into account how others will act and the fact that they will also reason strategically.” What this means is that, when factoring in common knowledge, we should understand and embrace the fact that every entry in a contest is both operating under the same contest governing rules as well as formulating their own means of mastering the contest.”
So what the hell does all this mean, Hilow, and how is it applicable to DFS? First off, it is paramount that we understand how far the masses have come with respect to standard DFS strategy (optimal roster construction, ease of information, balancing risk and reward (floor and ceiling), stacking game environments, pivots, etc etc). Once we find this truth, we can start to formulate a picture of areas of the strategy of the game that remain untapped by the masses, areas we can look to exploit to our advantage. Enter Game Theory. Game Theory is not simply an “if-then” proposition (as in, if player X is likely to be highly owned, then utilize player Y). That would be a pivot, which is now understood by the masses. What is misunderstood, or rarely thought about, is the idea of leverage. If we visualize an “if-then” statement as a four-way stop sign, leverage would be akin to a major metropolitan area’s freeway interchange, where we have off ramps, on ramps, overpasses, underpasses, big green signs telling us how to get from point A to point B. This article (and my course!) is designed to be your GPS, telling you how to navigate a complex freeway interchange. Back to leverage; leverage in DFS is the idea of using what we know, comparing it to what we think everyone knows, and hitting the off ramp that doesn’t have a big green sign telling everyone where to go. We analyze the chalk, we place labels on each chalky play (GOOD CHALK or BAD CHALK), we think about how specific players fit within the constraints of a contest structure, or more particularly, a salary cap, and we use a different off ramp (while not sacrificing any of our core DFS principles, meaning we aren’t taking shots in the dark that have very little chance at success, and are instead piecing together a similar (or better) floor and ceiling combination, but doing it in a different way than everyone else) to arrive at the destination before our competitors.
An example of what I mean by all this from the lens of Week 7 (and think to yourself whether or not I nailed your own personal thought process on the week):
Both Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been ruled out. The public has now caught onto the fact that when MT misses a game, you play Alvin Kamara. But Kamara is expensive… are there any ways to save salary to pair with Kamara so that I am not forced to sacrifice elsewhere? Enter Giovani Bernard. Gio is priced at only $4,500, and is expected to see 20-24 touches as the workhorse running back on his team with Joe Mixon ruled out. Perfect pairing! Well, maybe, maybe not, but with the abundance of high-priced wide receivers in perceived smash spots this week, people are going to want to play Kamara, but they’re not going to want to sacrifice the wide receiver position to do so. Utilizing this thinking, which is entirely rooted in Game Theory, we can be sure Kamara will see 35-40%+ ownership this week. But that’s that obvious part. What people will not think about or realize is the stone cold fact that 50-60% of every Kamara lineup in a GPP this week will also roster Gio. That’s a large portion of the field that we now know exactly how the core of their rosters will look. The generally understood method of dissecting this fact in order to differentiate would be to find another cheap running back who has a chance of outscoring Gio to pair with Kamara, or to look to fade (or be underweight) Kamara, but what if there are better options for us this week (there are!)?
What if instead of fighting the 20-25% of lineups that are built around Kamara/Gio at running back, we utilize another member of the Bengals (who have an equal chance at success-slightly lower floor, but higher ceiling). I covered the Cleveland/Cincinnati game more thoroughly than I initially thought I would have to in this week’s Edge breakdown, as the more I got into this game, the more I realized there were clear avenues to success for players not named Gio. Both AJ Green and Tee Higgins are set up wonderfully to provide the type of floor and ceiling we are looking for from the lower price tier (priced at $4,300 and $5,300, respectively) and provide unreal leverage on the field this week. So, by all means, play Kamara, but do so smartly! Wrapping this idea up, the lower games (or roster spots!) that you are playing or playing with on a slate, the higher the variance, meaning our edge that we have here at OWS decreases if we pair Kamara and Gio on rosters this week, as we are left with seven of nine roster spots to beat our opponents. One last thought: Kamara and Gio paired together is a solid play. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be chalk, but through Game Theory, we can piece together lineups with just as much if not more ceiling and floor that won’t look like a quarter of the field!
Through injuries and COVID, we are likely to see large ownership numbers congregate on two running backs this week. More importantly, it is likely that these two running backs are played jointly on a large number of lineups this week, as together, the salary allocated to the running back position comes out to only $12,400, or $6,200 per position (which is a lot of floor and ceiling for not a lot of salary dedicated to the running back position!). Alvin Kamara and Giovani Bernard are likely to carry the two highest pure ownership values on the slate, but more importantly, they are likely to be used together on a large portion of the lineups in GPPs this week. Both are solid-in-a-vacuum plays, but we have no shortage of plus game environments to utilize this week, and fighting against 25% of lineups that are built around the same core in GPPs is –EV.
As covered extensively across the site this week, the matchup is there, the usage is there, and MT and Sanders are both out. I’d personally rather take my stand with AK as opposed to Gio in SE/3-Max, but JM laid out very clear things to think about regarding Kamara in both the angles pod and player grid.
(GOOD CHALK with clear leverage angles as we’ve covered)
With Kamara the far superior on-paper play this week, no shortage of value available, and the idea that most Kamara ownership will likely be paired with Gio (with the high likelihood of one of Tee Higgins or AJ Green outscoring Gio at similar pricing), and I’m left with the Game Theory angle of siding with Kamara and no Gio. There are obvious clear cases to be made for “no Kamara, overweight/all-in Gio,” but in SE/3-Max I work in likeliest scenarios, which for this week has range of outcomes of “Kamara + Tee Higgins/AJ Green” higher than “Gio + a mid-tier running back.”
(GOOD CHALK with clear leverage angles as we’ve covered)
Likeliest range of outcomes approaching or surpassing double digit targets with little to no resistance from the Houston defense, in a game where Aaron Jones will either miss or be slowed by a calf injury. For SE/3-Max, DA approaches “don’t overthink things and differentiate elsewhere” territory.
I alluded to a little bit of Game Theory angles from this game in the Edge write-up, but to expound on those thoughts:
We have a Bills team coming off two losses with the Patriots on tap in Week 8 (possible “get-right” spot for the Bills). We have confirmation that Brian Daboll is still adjusting his offensive game plan to attack the deficiencies of the opposing defense, which for this week is attacking through the air. John Brown is OUT and the Bills target wide receivers 73% of the time when throwing. Both Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis will be on the field approaching 100% of the time and we should see a floor of 32 pass attempts from the Bills, with ceiling for more should the Jets pressure the Bills (which we’ll cover next!).
As for the Jets, who target wide receivers 70% of the time when throwing, we have a team that is likely to be playing from behind for the majority of the game, against a secondary decimated by injuries. The Bills utilize a heavy zone defensive scheme, and we could see communication issues develop this week with Josh Norman ruled out, Tre’Davious White questionable (Siran Neal would fill in for White on the perimeter if White can’t go), and Cam Lewis playing through an injured wrist with a club on one hand. We know the Jets target wide receivers heavily when they throw, with heavy emphasis on the slot. Taron Johnson is likely to man the slot corner position for the Bills, who has allowed 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards to be completed in his coverage on the season. Overall, the Bills have allowed a 105.8 QBR against this season, with the cornerbacks at 104.6 against and the safeties at 118.7 against, both bottom five in the league. The strength of the Bills’ defensive coverage is at the linebacker position, against a team that doesn’t utilize the tight end (or running backs, for that matter) heavily in the passing game.
Digging deep into this game has opened up very clear avenues for passing goodness from both teams, the primary players come in with easy-to-stomach prices (even better for Gabriel Davis and Braxton Berrios, should Crowder miss) and the ownership on players here shouldn’t be large. Both quarterbacks are in play at low expected ownership.
We covered the underlying ideas here heavily already. To expound on the “why behind the how,” the heavy zone nature of the Cleveland defense lends itself an edge to players with veteran savvy and the know-how to settle into zone coverage lapses. AJ Green (if the focus is there, which lowers the floor a good bit!) should have an easier time in this matchup than rookie Tee Higgins, while Higgins is seeing schemed usage in the intermediate areas of the field. All three of Green, Higgins and Tyler Boyd bring rock-solid floor to the table this week, at likely low ownership, with Green and Higgins offering the highest ceiling of Bengals pass-catchers. Burrow is in play at low expected ownership.
Likeliest range of touches landing in the 20-22 range, with clear multi-touchdown upside in a plus matchup. Ownership should be suppressed for all the reasons we’ve already discussed, but even more so with his price in close proximity to Kareem Hunt.
With the expected ownership on Cleveland tight ends (of which your guess is as good as mine as to who of Harrison Bryant or David Njoku sees the higher usage) and a pass-funnel Tampa Bay defense on the other side, another double-digit spike target performance for Waller is not out of the question this week. His price is all the way up at $6,100, making him a tough fit for rosters that play Kamara and Adams, which should lower the ownership.
Again, think through how our opponents are likely to build rosters this week and how a good chunk of rosters as a whole will choose to allocate salary. With no shortage of high total games and solid game environments, there are very clear avenues to leverage this week. I laid out the “why” we do this, now what are your leverage angles this week!?
You can catch Hilow (and Sonic, and Xandamere, and JM) on the OWS Discord server…
You can get inside Hilow’s DFS mind here.
You can also grab the first five lessons of Hilow’s Game Theory course for FREE.
You can listen to Hilow (and Lex, and JM) on Run To Daylight (hosted by TodFromPA || presented by OWS!) will be live at 8 PM Eastern Saturday nights. (Note: the podcast runs live, but it will be archived shortly after it finishes.)
We’re looking for the best game theory // leverage angles on the slate! Drop your thoughts below, and let’s see where we end up!!!
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