FPL psychology tips from Hub contributor Woodsy as he shares his thoughts on the comparisons of his two passions, FPL and Poker, and how we can apply learnings across the games.
The beauty of FPL is that it can suit the needs of different kinds of people. It’s a fun way to test out your football knowledge, yet you don’t need to have the footballing brain of Sir Alex to have some success. What experienced FPL managers realise is that, for the most part, it is a strategy game.
A number-cruncher with talents in statistical analysis could have great success in fantasy football, without necessarily knowing who West Ham’s second choice left-back is, or whether Liverpool are any good at breaking down a low block away from Anfield.
Likewise, an ardent Premier League fanatic who watches every minute of every game and knows all about Conor Coady’s lack of ability to play in a back four, but has no love for numbers, spreadsheets and statistics; can be perfectly capable of breaking into the top 10k whilst laughing at the ‘nerdy’ kids, Nelson Muntz-style and giving Milhouse another wedgie.
There’s more than one way to wax a monkey. I mean, there probably isn’t, but the normal analogy gets a little tiresome. Who on Earth would want to skin a cat anyway? Monkey-waxing is the future. But I digress…
One thing I have noticed is the correlation between the communities of FPL and poker. This comes as no real surprise, due to a clear overlap in certain aspects of both games. Contrary to what the uninitiated may believe (seeing the poker world as full of pure degenerate gamblers); it is predominantly a strategy game. The days of the most successful poker players being the loudest, ballsiest guys in the room – having the minerals to put it all on the line as a bluff and the acting ability to talk their opponents into making the wrong decision – are long gone.
The best poker players now are similar to the ‘nerdy’ kids of FPL. Instead of spreadsheets they have solvers. Instead of transfer planners they run sims. Instead of group chats for discussing chip strategies, they have group chats for discussing hand histories.
The crossover between the two pastimes makes sense for many different reasons:
It’s a virtue. Whether it’s waiting for that last bit of information from the Friday press conferences before making your transfer, or having the discipline to keep folding your hands when card-dead, the premise is the same. Sometimes doing nothing and waiting for a better opportunity is the right decision.
You should continue to plan your team selections objectively, in the same way that you should continue to stick to your planned hand ranges and making optimal moves.
You cannot be outcome-oriented
Judging performance based on your decisions rather than on the outcome is a massively underrated skill in both FPL and poker, but is a crucial discipline to be able to master. What makes these games so compelling is that whilst skill is the most important part of it, an element of luck is always going to be factor.
Basically, the more skill you possess, the less luck you require; but it will still play its part in your results. All you can do is use the information you have to make the best possible decisions as often as you can. After you’ve made the right transfer, chosen the right captain or got your money in with the best hand, the rest is in the hands of the Gods.
Think stoically. Just as you should not beat yourself up based on outcomes rather than the logic behind your decisions; you should also do you best to not worry about the things that will always be out of your control. This skill will serve you will in any walk of life, but is of course, much easier said than done.
And this is a big one. When things aren’t going well, it can feel like week after week after week, the luck just isn’t going in your favour. You have been making perfectly reasonable decisions, but you haven’t had a decent return from your captain in six Gameweeks, whereas your mini league rival who barely pays attention to the game is plucking doubled attacking returns out of thin air time and time again.
Variance is not linear. In poker, you will not win every alternate coin-flip. Over time, you should win roughly half of them, but there will be spells where you lose seven or eight in a row and will feel like the world is against you. It isn’t.
Most of us have been in a casino and seen the roulette wheel spinning red several times in a row. It’s human nature to think that black must be ‘due’, as we are conditioned to think this way. Our brains are biased by the fact that if you were to spin the wheel ten times, you would expect to see it land on a black number on at least a few of them. It is difficult to ignore that bias and accept that the chances of it being black in the next spin, regardless of any previous results, will always be (roughly) 50%.
How this relates to FPL is that you will see spells during a season where the variance is working against you. You’re experiencing more bad luck than you ‘should’ be, whether that’s with captaincy selections, points benched or just your rivals being in the midst of a spell of good luck themselves. There’s a tendency to start taking punts, because the sensible decisions haven’t been working, so we may as well just go for a mad one. Besides, some good luck for us is ‘due’, so it should work out anyway. To maximise your performance and results in the long-term, you have to remain objective and continue to use whatever knowledge and information you can to make the decisions most likely to yield positive outcomes.
If you are doing this, then in time, your skill will override the luck. Whereas a ‘noob’ or a ‘fish’ relies on the luck to be successful, and it will sometimes work in the short-term; variance will even itself out in the long run. A fact which is often difficult to see or admit when you’re deep in the middle of an unlucky spell or a downswing.
Whilst remaining patient is an important quality, another can be the ability to take calculated risks. And please do note the word ‘calculated’. Sticking your triple captain on John Stones and seeing him bag a brace does not make you some kind of genius. Realistically, that is just a pure punt which happens to have come off. Likewise, going on tilt and sticking 100 big blinds in with 10-Jack off, does not suddenly become a smart move or a ‘calculated’ risk just because you flopped a straight. That’s a punt. And punts are for c-… erm… dunce-s.
4-bet jamming Ace-5 suited over the guy who 3-bets too often can be considered a calculated risk. Taking a -8 to attack a Double Gameweek also qualifies. Randomly sticking it all on the line for no reason other than the pure hope in your soul is fine if that’s what you want to do, but it will mostly bring about a negative result.
I love the game of poker just as much as I love FPL. The psychological and tactical battle of sitting across from somebody with nothing but cards, chips and my brain has always been a thrill for me, and I believe it takes a certain kind of character to be a truly successful player. In cash game poker, it is vital to be able to separate yourself from the real monetary value of the chips in front of you and just play your game.
You have to stick to your strategy and use a combination of mathematics, psychology, experience and instinct to make the best decisions you possibly can. Any poker player who finds themselves in a pot with an unfavourable holding, before declaring “it’s my favourite hand”, is almost without exception, bad at the game. Just as somebody playing FPL may stick with a player from a team they support or that they hold some kind of affection for, despite them clearly being a poor selection. You must take the emotion out of the game and do what makes the most sense.
Focusing on the more positive aspects of FPL, the fact that it tends to draw in poker players is a great thing. Both communities can grow and benefit from its new members. Perhaps fantasy managers can discover the thrills of poker too, which as long as you gamble responsibly, is nothing but positive. You can learn a lot of useful skills from both games, as well as challenging your psychological and strategic abilities and feeling great reward when they improve.
We’re all nerds to a certain extent! And there’s nothing wrong with that. We simply enjoy challenging ourselves and our mates by coming up with a good strategy and trying to come out on top.
Take whatever positives you can from either game, learn from your experiences and try not to let the negatives get you down.
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