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Considering we live in an age of instant interaction unlike any other, it always surprises me how reclusive and unsociable we are. This has been apparent to me over the years in fantasy sports. Today I’d like to discuss the idea of getting to know the owners in your league. How you do it, what you should be looking for, and how you should apply that information once you have it.
Every game of strategy is essentially a game of information. Over time, the person with the most information will win more than the person without. Whether it’s poker, Magic: The Gathering, or fantasy football, every new piece of (correct) information you have should theoretically increase your chances of winning.
We all know about stats and how numbers never lie and blah blah blah, but did you know there is an information well that is unique to each and every league just waiting to be tapped?
It’s the owners.
Do you know why poker is one of the few truly profitable games you can play when walking into a casino? It’s because you’re playing against people, not the house. People have opinions, they have varying degrees of information, they may even have incorrect or incomplete information. Nowhere is this concept truer in fantasy football than in regards to trading.
Establishing A Line of Communication
The first order of business in any league should be establishing the most effective and efficient line of communication. I prefer posting a message on the league board offering my phone number for texting and suggesting that others do the same. In some of the higher stakes leagues I’m involved with this is actually mandatory for entry. Using the messaging system on the site isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is “snail mail” in comparison to texting.
Regardless of the method of contact established by your league, your goal is, through the utility of trade offers, to decipher exactly what each owner’s player valuation is. I generally don’t send trade offers out until after week three, as there is simply not enough information. The exception to this would be if a known quantity like Wes Welker had the entire nation pushing the panic button. In those instances I’ll definitely establish a discussion with the owner and find out exactly how low he might be willing to go. If you can get 50 cents on the dollar for a known stud then you have a responsibility to work out a deal.
Once you’ve taken down everyone’s number you’ll want to start by sending out some……
In poker there is a strategic play called probe betting that helps establish exactly where you stand on any given hand. You make a probe bet when you are unsure of your current position and want to gain some information about your opponent’s possible holding. It’s generally a small (in relation to the pot) bet that you’re willing to lose in exchange for helping you determine if you want to continue on with the hand or not. It’s a play that all professionals know how to execute well and pays dividends in the long run, enabling you to aggressively pursue pots later in the hand that you might have otherwise thought lost causes.
In fantasy sports, sending out probe offers to every owner in the league is a great place to start feeling out who you’ll be focusing on for future deals. You’ll often send out a probe offer on a different player than the one you’re actually interested in, keeping the action “slow” until you’ve deciphered exactly what the owner’s valuation is. You’ll of course want to make sure it’s a deal you won’t mind making as there’s always the chance it will be accepted. Because of that, I’ll often intentionally make the deal clearly in favor of myself. Not by a huge margin, but by enough that it will most likely be declined or countered. This also serves a dual purpose in that an owner seeing a deal for one of his studs where you’re clearly getting the better half is something that can put many on the defensive and cause them to “tighten up”, feeling threatened by future offers. If they see the same type of deal but for a lesser player, they’re more likely assume you simply don’t value the player as much as them, or that you value your players a little too high. An owner who feels like someone is trying to rip him off is much less likely to be coaxed into the deal you’re orchestrating.
Once you’ve sent your first round of offers (and possibly received counter-offers) it’s time to get down to business. This is where the texting becomes so crucial. Being able to have an open, fluid conversation with the owner about what they liked or didn’t like about the deal, what players of yours they might be interested in, and who else on their roster is available becomes much easier to establish in a single night. You’ll find out if they still view underperforming players at their value from years past, or if they’re ready to jump ship after a slow start. You can establish if their opinion of a prolific PPR wideout is still the same as if it was a standard scoring or vice-versa. You’ll find all sorts of nuances that can be exposed to help you gain maximum value on your trades. In one PPR league this year I have an owner who has a few different leagues and likes to try and keep as many players uniform between them all as he can. He prefers being able to watch the games while rooting for all of the same players. There’s another owner in a different league that refuses to factor upside into any of his deals. It’s whatever this player is ranked right now that matters. Not a good guy to try and dump Hakeem Nicks or Ryan Mathews on, but great for sell-high players and your one stop shop for picking up guys like Randall Cobb and Matthew Stafford.
Once you’ve established what flavors of ownership are in your league, you’ll know almost instinctively what to do when news for a player breaks. They’ll be certain teams you go to for fair deals, others that you dump your overachievers on, and some still that you target for their high upside assets. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope you can see that the human element of the game allows for a great deal of maneuvering your team to the top.
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