My experience in the main event of the Empire State Championships was eerily similar to my experience in the WSOP main event. I turned a set after the flop was checked four ways and someone else made the nuts. It doesn’t seem like I’m very good at getting away from my hand when I hit a set on the turn.
Since I got home from Turning Stone, my life has become increasingly dominated by my biggest non-poker obsession: pro football. This time of year really charges me up. While the players in the National Football League prepare for their season in training camp, I also prepare by devouring written material about the teams. As many of you know, the only serious gambling I do other than poker playing involves betting on NFL outcomes. I have been remarkably consistent in my NFL wagering and have shown a profit in almost every year over the past eight seasons. I am considering scaling the operation up a notch in 2007, but I might settle into my typical pattern of conservative, smallish wagering. I’m not sure yet.
In particular, I love betting on NFL futures, which require an analysis of season-long propositions. So I’ve been giddily cramming information into my brain for the past week or so. The most common form of betting on NFL futures is a pursuit that hundreds of thousands of Americans partake in: fantasy football. I am a long time devotee of fantasy football, which is a specific branch of football nerddom that I take a lot of pride in.
Most of the people who play fantasy football never take the time to consider the game’s framework and how it relates to succeeding at it. I don’t want to write a long boring dissertation about that framework (although I’d probably get some perverse pleasure from doing so), but here it is in a nutshell.
Fantasy football requires each participant to come up with statistical projections for individual football players. Most casual players do not take this task literally–they only decide whether a player will be better or worse than he was the prior year. More serious fantasy football players do consider the numbers more literally. Each players’ projected stats are a function of three variables: talent, opportunity and luck. Depending on a players’ position, one factor may be magnified more than another. For instance, the talent component is probably strongest for quarterbacks, while the opportunity component is very strong in running backs and especially kickers. Luck is very pervasive throughout the game, as it is the prime reason for an individual football player’s injury, and injuries are very destructive occurrences in fantasy football.
Once a player has an idea about his projections, he can rank players and participate in a draft, making minor adjustments to his rankings based on positional scarcity and positional need along the way. Creating rankings is now easier than ever because numerous websites provide player projections and rankings that have been compiled with Bill Jamesian precision, using very sound statistical analysis. Thus, any moron can now draft a decent fantasy football team by simply printing out a list and using it at his draft. This makes fantasy football a lot less interesting than it was in its formative years. In gambling terms, pre-draft studying used to create a nice edge, and it no longer does.
However, all is not lost. Adding certain variables to the fantasy football mix can recreate “edge” and once again reward the football nerd who studies up and understands the game’s framework. Typically, these variables are forming a “keeper” league (players can stay on your roster for two or more years) and/or running an auction (self explanatory) rather than a straight draft. Adding these twists to fantasy leagues increases the number of factors a player must consider on draft day. At its simplest level, fantasy football requires only contrasting player projections against positional scarcity and roster requirements. When new factors are added to the mix, that base consideration is joined by other concepts such as long term statistical projections (added in keeper leagues), manipulation of opponents, bankroll management and third level thinking, a.k.a. “thinking a few steps ahead” (all added in auctions). And that’s fantasy football, from a macro perspective, in a nutshell.
The concepts added in auction leagues are similar to many of the concepts that must be mastered in poker, which definitely accounts for my unnatural level of happiness while I’m drafting a fantasy football team, and may or may not account for my historic success at the game.
Now I must go back to studying wide receiver depth charts. Nerrrrrrd!