Chapter 1 How Daily Fantasy Sports Contests Work

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’’

As I noted in the introduction, I’m a mathematician, as was Lewis Carroll. One sometimes-infuriating habits we mathematicians have is our wish to standardize words to mean just what we choose them to mean — neither more nor less.

So, in this book, when I use the word “player”, it refers to real-world athletes or their fantasy counterparts. “Game” refers to a real-world game, for example, the Super Bowl. And the word “contest” refers to fantasy sports contests; “contestant” refers to a person who enters fantasy sports contests.

Daily fantasy contests work like this:

  1. Contestants sign up on a DFS site.

  2. Most sites have both free contests (“freerolls”) and paid ones. Contestants who wish to play the paid contests must deposit funds.

  3. Once a contestant is signed up, it’s off to the Lobby.

For a newcomer, the lobby can be quite bewildering, even though it will usually have widgets to sort and filter all the available contests. There are usually

  • multiple sports,

  • entry fees ranging from freerolls up to thousands of dollars,

  • payout structures ranging from simple head-to-head contests up to multi-player / multi-entry ones with cash or tickets to other contests as prizes, and

  • sizes ranging from two contestants up to hundreds of thousands.

Contests cover at least two real-world games, usually more. Once a contestant chooses a contest to enter, they draft a lineup with players from two or more games. The structure of a lineup usually mirrors that of a real-world team. For example, a major league baseball DFS lineup will usually have one or two pitchers, a catcher, four infielders and three outfielders.

The most common form of a DFS contest is the salary cap draft. Each player has a salary, usually given in thousands of dollars, and the sum of the salaries for drafted players must not exceed the salary cap.

Once all the contestants have drafted their lineups and the real world games start, fantasy players accrue points as their real-world counterparts play. For example

  • Pitchers get points for innings pitched and strikeouts.

  • Pitchers lose points for giving up walks, hits and runs.

  • Batters get points for walks, hits, homers, RBIs and stolen bases.

  • Batters lose points if they get caught stealing a base.

  • Basketball players get points for baskets, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, double-doubles, triple-doubles.

  • Basketball players lose points for turnovers.

When all the real-world games’ results are final, the DFS contestants’ scores are tallied. The contestants are then ranked. The payouts, if any, are decided by where a contestant ranks.

For example, in a $1 50/50 contest with 300 contestants, each contestant pays a $1 entry fee. At the end of the contest, the highest-ranking 150 contestants win $1.80 and the rest lose their dollar.