Back when it was legal, I used to play a lot of online poker tournaments. There was a $4 sit-n-go tourney with 180 entrants that was the stone cold nuts to me. I always loved the feel of bigger tourneys, but hated the time commitment they presented. Losing a big-field tourney might take two minutes, but winning one could take 4-5 hours or more; it’s hard to find time in a week to play a few dozen of those. These cheap 180-man tourneys were awesome to me though. They gave me that taste of big-field contests, while still keeping my time-commitment (and financial one!) to a reasonable period of time.

One thing I enjoyed about large-field tourneys was how you could leverage small amounts of money into bigger paydays.  In the case of the $4/180 person tourney, I’d pay $4 to enter (actually, $4.40 with the rake, but let’s not get hung up on details.)  However, when I won – it was a nice little $216 payout. $216 off a $4 entry?  Fine by me!

For the sake of conversation, let’s pretend that the only time I ever won money in these tourneys was if/when I took first place.  In this case, I’d have to win one tourney out of every 54 tourneys I entered to break even.  (We’re ignoring the rake here, along with the fact that you can win money by more than just winning.)

Here are a few graphs to show you what the profit and loss might look like if you won exactly two games over the span of 108 tourneys:


Click image for larger view 

Funny how different all these graphs look.  The first looks like a losing player who gets lucky on occasion. The second, in the upper right, looks like a winning player who hit a bad streak. The bottom two look like a bad player who got lucky (on the left) and a losing player improving (on the right.)  Yet all four graphs could be of the same player, given any specific 110 game stretch in that player’s career.

That’s the interesting thing about numbers. A player averaging one win every 54 games, in any given 54 or 108 game set, would probably rarely win two tourneys. They might win three, or five, or zero, or twelve.

Each “extra” win or loss over a small sample size such as posted above would make these graphs look so drastically different. Over any random 100-game sample, a highly profitable player at this game could look horrible…and a noob fish who sucks could look awesome.  That’s the problem with low-probability, high-impact games like this: One extra win or loss has such a large impact.

Personally, I averaged winning one in about every 20 or 25. I can’t quite remember, but I know it was in that neighborhood.  That may sound luxurious and awesome, but it wasn’t uncommon for me to play 50 or 100 of these tourneys (or more!) without any first place finishes. Especially as a part-time player, this was frustrating to endure. The 100-200 tourney loss streak might take me several months to cycle through.  Then one weekend, after three months of no first place finishes, you might load up a few and win 80% of the ones you play. That’s just how it went.

Managing the psychological aspect of these games is the hardest part. It’s hard not to second guess yourself in those losing streaks, or get cocky in the winning streaks. However, doing either is the best way to ensure you start or continue to lose.  Mastering your emotions in poker is just one of the many differences between winning players and breaking-even (or worse) players.

For me, and for many of us tourney players, one of the main ways we combatted the emotional swings that can come alongside the financial swings is by viewing each tourney as a small-win, as a factor of tournament entry and expected ROI.  After that, it’s just a matter of getting in enough volume to let the math sort itself out.

In other words and specifically, I figured that for each $4 tourney I entered, I made $8 total. So each $4 tourney I entered, I’d tell myself I just won $8. (Many decent ‘big-field’ tourney players average around 100% return on investment.)

It didn’t matter what the actual results were. Every tournament I entered, I told myself I won $8. Maybe I was the first guy out, but it’s okay because I won $8. Maybe I won the tourney, but I would taper my excitement and tell myself I just won $8.

As ridiculous as this may seem – if you play enough tourneys, this thinking becomes your reality. Each one became not only a small win (even if it wasn’t) but also brought me one step closer to the result I wanted.

If you’ve been following along, it should come as no surprise to you to learn that this is precisely how I am viewing these MFL10s.

For those unfamiliar, let’s review some terminology here:

1. MFL10s: offers $10 draft-only (best-ball) leagues. Obvious and easy abbreviation.

2. is a league-hosting website. The best around. They host any kind of fantasy football league you have. Very customizable. They also, now, offer leagues themselves. They actually pair you with strangers. It’s great.

3. Best-ball leagues are draft-only leagues which optimize your lineup week in and week out. After the draft, you are not allowed to touch your team again. The system automatically optimizes your lineup every-week, setting your ideal starting lineup. Typically draft-only leagues are points-only leagues that last 16 weeks. This is what MFL does, as well.

4. So MFL offers these $10 best-ball leagues. You draft 20 rounds. Then you’re done. That’s it. They pay $100 to the winner and second place gets a free entry into a future year $10 best-ball league. Easy.

Let’s dive into the math of these leagues for a minute.

What are your odds of winning them? If all 12 teams auto-picked, your odds of winning would be 1 in 12, right?  It’s roughly 8%

Since they cost $10 and payout $100 to first place, we need to win 1 in 10 to break-even.  (My goal isn’t a free entry to next year. I want the cash! The second place is just a consolation prize.)

To break even on these, we only need to win 10%. Let that sink in, only win 10%… Remember, the odds of winning if the league were truly randomized were 8%.

The next question is obvious: How much better of a drafter are you than everyone else?

To win at these MFL 10s, you don’t have to be twice or three times as good a drafter as everyone else. You only have to be a little better than everyone else. Heck, that’s not even true.

Every one of these leagues has some guy who waits until round 8 to take his first running back, or drafts three quarterbacks in the first nine rounds. In one, I just got Alfred Morris at pick 2.08.  You may be able to pick up all that little edge you need against one or two guys in your league.

Randomly, you’d win 8% of these. You only need to win 10% to break even.

Can you steal 2% of equity in a league somewhere from the remaining 11 players?  If you think the answer to that question is yes, then you need to be playing these MFL 10s.

I’ve loaded up the better part of 30 so far. I may win a couple and show a small profit, or win several and be happy. I could just as easily win zero and be upset. So much as in the poker tourneys I used to play, I’m acknowledging that I can’t control the winning or losing.

In simple terms, I’m entering a game that pays out 10:1 while I feel I am at least 1:10 likely to win. To a degenerate like myself, I view this as someone trying to hand me free money.

Who knows what money I’ll make or lose on these MFL 10s this year, but I certainly feel a few dollars richer every time I join one.