Applying Basic Poker Principles to Your Fantasy Football Auction Drafts

Have an auction draft coming up? Make sure you remember these simple rules in order to dominate it.

Perhaps it’s just the degenerate gambler in me speaking, but I believe the game of poker can be a very useful tool for honing the kinds of good habits that can cross over into many different areas of life - especially the fantasy realm. Patience, on-the-fly decision-making, financial discipline, the ability to tell that somebody is bluffing when their eye starts bleeding - all of these traits go hand-in-hand with fantasy football (well, except maybe that last bit), especially during the auction draft, which is arguably fantasy’s ultimate pressure-cooker.

The auction draft is not for the faint of heart. They’re longer, less-structured, and more challenging than your typical snake draft. Once it’s all over, owners often leave a competitive auction feeling mentally drained and despondent, as opposed to the giddiness you typically see at the end of a snake draft. Heck, without a proper game plan going into an auction, you’re essentially setting yourself up to get completely demolished by your league mates come draft day. So whether it’s your first time or you’re looking to brush up on the basics, here’s how you can utilize some simple poker principles to help you dominate your auction draft.

Practice Good Bankroll Management

In poker, it’s essential to have a solid overall game plan on how you want to spend your money. A fantasy auction draft is no different. Before the bright lights turn on and you sit down and start the bidding, make sure that you’re prepared for the following:

1. Crunch some numbers and make a budget. Allot certain percentages of that budget to positions in advance. For example: want to go real big on running backs this year? Dedicate 40% to 50% of your budget. Hate paying for quarterbacks? Allot 5%. It sounds simple (and it is), but knowing your budget ahead of time is a nice safety blanket to fall back on when things start to get crazy during the draft.

2. Cut the fat. Make a list of guys you want, and move the ones you don’t want way down your list. Kickers are the “junk hand” of the auction draft - don’t even think about spending more than $1 on one.

3. Don’t get caught holding the money bag. You need to factor into your budget some quality starters, preferably at a value. Don’t be afraid to overspend on someone you really want. The worst thing you can do is hoard all of your cash and get stuck with a bunch of mid-round scrubs. That's not to say that you should blow your entire stack of cash in the early stages of the draft. Don't do that. Do make sure you save some money for the latter stages of the draft. It’ll normally take more than a $1 to win a hot sleeper pick, so having a few extra bucks to help round out your bench is always something to strive towards.

4. Don't limit your options - be adaptable. As the wise orator Big Boi once said, you gotta have a backup plan to the backup plan. Because of their unpredictable nature, auction drafts will never go according to the script you carefully plotted out in advance. But that’s okay. You never want to pigeonhole yourself into getting that one specific player. You’re setting yourself up to overspend when you do that. Like any good poker player, one has to be adaptable in their fantasy draft. Having a range of team compositions that you’re okay rolling with and always having those “in case of emergency, break glass” players at the ready is a great way of doing just that.

Get a Feel For the Action

This is all about understanding the flow of the table. Even if your league mates are guys you play with regularly, every poker table is its own unique beast. By being patient and versatile at the poker table - and the auction draft - you’ll be putting yourself in a better position to succeed.

1. Know your enemy. If possible, get a feel for your league mates’ tendencies before you draft. If you’ve drafted with them before, take a look at how they constructed their teams in years past to give you a reasonable idea as to what to expect for this year.

2. Adjust to the flow of the draft. Similar to a game of Texas Hold ‘em, you need to take advantage of a tight group and let the over-aggressive bettors flame out. Hesitant betting at the start? Boom, steal a stud at a good price. Some guy is spending 40% of his bankroll on one player? By all means, let him!

3. Be wary of “natural tiers.” For example, say Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Adrian Peterson are all off the board. Matt Forte - generally the fourth guy in that first tier of running backs for 2014 - is going to have several suitors who have to have one of those top guys vying for his talents. This creates a spending logjam between owners and is definitely a scenario you want to avoid.

4. Steal a few early. A lot of the times you can sneakily nominate a solid defense, handcuff, or kicker early in the draft and get him for cheap because everybody else is worrying about securing the big guns first.

5. There's always value “after the gold rush.” About an hour or so into your auction draft, players will start to go for much, much cheaper. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of value to be had here, especially when a potential game-changer is lurking. Prepare your funds accordingly.

Vary Your Bets

You want to be as unpredictable as possible in order to keep your opponents on their toes. A player’s betting patterns are perhaps the biggest tells as to their true intentions in both poker and the auction draft. Plan to eliminate your giveaways while picking up on your league mates.'

1. Nominations do matter. Your actual nomination is moment where you get to utilize the most strategy, so it needs to be used wisely. In addition to nominating players you do like, throw in some players you don't want and nominate positions that you've already filled in order to deplete the other drafters' funds quicker. Do note, however, that it’s best to nominate guys you don’t want early in the draft - if you don't, you run the risk of getting stuck with a player you never even wanted.

2. Change up your betting patterns. Play some mind games with your buddies. Constantly hit that bid button or wait until the last second to get your bid in. As long as you’re mixing it up the other drafters won’t be able to figure out when you’re actually bowing out of a bidding war. One of my personal favorite moves is to spam the bid button nonstop before “giving up” - only to make a last second bid before the timer stops. Nothing’s more satisfying than that ensuing groan from your buddy when you swoop in at the last minute with a bid after he thought he’d gotten his man.

3. When possible, deviate from the norm. Everybody’s nominating the stud running backs and wide receivers early in the draft? Throw in a $1 quarterback that you plan on streaming or using as a backup. When you diverge from what everybody else is doing you typically will find great opportunities at obtaining a solid asset at an affordable price.

Pay Attention to the Little Things

In poker, perhaps one of the biggest mistakes a novice will consistently make is mentally shutting down as soon as they’re out of a hand, when in actuality they should continue analyzing and making mental notes that they can utilize later on. Any information is good information. Similarly, during an auction draft, it’s to your benefit to never let your guard down, as there’s always something you can be doing to better your position, even if you’re not bidding.

1. Maintain your focus. Not a fan of the player up for bid? Don't start checking your phone or watching TV - this is about the only time during the draft where you can look at how many roster slots other teams have filled up, as well as how much money they have left. Knowing what your opponents’ needs are will help you extract more value out of them later on.

2. Take notes. Just won a player in a hotly-contested bidding war? Make a mental note of that - you might be able to trade with that owner later in the season. Huge run on quarterbacks just took place? Look at who missed out.

3. Loose lips sink fantasy championships. Okay, so I’m not going to outright tell someone to not chat it up during the auction as these things are first and foremost supposed to be fun. Just be mindful of the possibility of getting distracted by chitchat, especially if it's a higher stakes league where there's no room for error.

4. Play the guys that play favorites. This requires more pre-game prep, but it’s always handy to know your league mates’ favorite teams or alma maters. Any time an applicable player is up for auction, you can typically expect an extra few bucks to be thrown their way. Use this to your advantage by nominating these players early in order to more quickly deplete their funds.

So, there you have it folks. Auction drafts are oftentimes a tricky, fickle beast to tame, and have more in common with all-out war than an actual auction. However, by utilizing some of these basic poker principles laid out here, you’ll enter the war room with a leg up on the competition come draft day.

Oh, and if you need some auction values, we've got some in our draft kit.