I funded my first year of college playing Texas hold ’em. Not bigtime, Late Night Poker hold ’em: Online low-stakes tables – up to eight at a time, up six hours a night. Starting off, I thought I was going to be the next Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu. Let me tell you, the novelty wears off fast and I burnt out. When it comes down to it, online poker is about grinding out a couple of big blinds/hour. But this isn’t a steady return – some nights you could get “stacked” multiple times, losing a whole buy-in in one hand and ending up down hundreds of big blinds at the end of the night. And of course, some nights you’re the beneficiary and end up stacking someone else. So how does this apply to Fantasy Football? The answer is a a simple but powerful concept: Expected Value.
Expected Value Explained
When you are experiencing swings of +/- 50 blinds/hour on a daily basis, yet your actual rate of return is only 1 or 2 blinds/hour, how can you be sure you’re making the right decisions? This kind of swing is known as variance. You’ve just lost your whole buy-in, but you had aces, and he lucked out on the river with a rubbish hand. But should you have known? Maybe you missed a tell…
Or maybe you made the correct decision with the information you had and simply lost against the odds. This is also termed “getting your money in when you’re ahead” or making a decision with positive Expected Value (+ EV)*. If you consistently make decisions with +EV, you will be successful in the long run. For example: Arsenal assets such as Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil were overwhelmingly backed to do well in the Gunner’s opening match at home to West Ham. Talk of “Walcott (C) fails”, etc. littered the match day comments. The clamouring for Dimitri Payet and kneejerk transfers began not long after.
I’ll use Hazard as an example, but this applies to every player. I gave the armband to Eden Hazard in Gameweek 1, as with the best information available I was making (in my judgement) a +EV decision. Hazard averaged 6.1 points per appearance last season; in simple terms, I’m expecting a return of 12.2 points from this fixture (for the sake of brevity I’m not going into depth on his stats here). Out of my squad, I was expecting the highest returns from Hazard, and therefore captained him.
As it panned out, Hazard blanked. I only got four points out of the 12.2 I expected. My Actual Value was four points, but my Expected Value was 12.2. I’ve attached a chart (http://i.imgur.com/uVXk6qq.png) illustrating three scenarios that could have happened (over several Gameweeks for ease of illustration).
The first is Negative Actual Value – you make decisions that over the long run are expected to return positive results. Imagine that Hazard has a 70% chance of scoring/assisting in any one match. That means that 30% of the time, he blanks. This was one of those occasions. That doesn’t mean that because he blanked, the decision was incorrect. This is a “bad beat”.
The second is Neutral Actual Value – you were expecting about 12.2 points, and Hazard bagged an assist and a BP. A return of 12 points means your Actual Value and Expected Value closely align – the decision was about as profitable as expected.
The third scenario is Positive Actual Value – Hazard goes on a rampage and comes away with a brace, an assist and maximum BP. Fantastic. However – this was not expected. There was maybe a 5% chance of this outcome. You did better than the information indicates you should have – you flopped the “nuts”, and if you’re on a streak of these results, you’re “running hot”.
Over the course of the season, you expect Actual Value and Expected Value to converge – in the long run, if you are making decisions with Positive Expected Value you will end up with a Positive Actual Value. If you are making decisions with Negative Actual Value, then vice versa.
The lesson here is to ignore the bad beats (when they are bad beats, and not the result of bad decisions), and ignore when you’re running hot (just because Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez scored twice doesn’t make captaining him a +EV decision). Points earned or missed out on don’t retrospectively justify a decision after the fact – make consistently correct decisions with the information available, and you’ll be rewarded in the long run. A word of warning though: there’s a saying in poker that “the long run is longer than you think”. Just try to strap down that knee in the mean-time.
*I’m heavily stretching the actual definition of some of these poker terms to suit FPL; poker nerds please be gentle.