“Dueling with Kings”: Lifting the Lid on DFS

There are many different approaches to the world of daily fantasy sports. For most players, DFS is a casual interest—a way of supporting your favourite players; an interesting spin on traditional sportsbook betting; a way to put your money where your mouth is in friendly disputes. For others, however, daily fantasy sports is a way to make a living. Top of the tree (or, rather, the ocean) are the shark players—the 1% who rake in 91% of all prize money.

Joining the ranks of the sharks takes time, effort, commitment, and cold, hard cash. Want to know exactly what it takes—without putting your life savings on the line? Take it from a man who’s done it: Daniel Barbarisi. Following hot on the heels of DFS films Perfect Lineup and The Big Short, Barbarisi has released one of the first DFS books: Dueling with Kings. The book tells the story of how he spent a year going from casual DFS player to consummate pro—and much more.

Barbarisi’s story

White shark swimming with fish

Barbarisi aimed to go from fish to shark

Despite having worked for five years as a beat reporter covering the New York Yankees for the Wall Street Journal, Barbarisi only heard of DFS for the first time in around May 2015. He was instantly hooked—but also intrigued. As well as enjoying the game itself, he wanted to investigate how the game’s “sharks” found it so easy to win, and why it could conversely be so difficult for a newcomer to make money playing daily fantasy sports. He decided that his best option was to try it for himself.

His objective was to go from “fish” (newbie) to “shark” (pro) in about a year. At first, he assumed that his expert baseball knowledge would give him the edge he needed. However, it quickly became apparent that knowing the sport was very different from knowing the game, and Barbarisi mostly found himself making losses at the beginning.

Turning pro

Hockey players on ice in a game between the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers

Raynor advised Barbarisi to abandon baseball in favour of hockey

Looking for a way to turn his fortunes around, he sought the advice of DFS pro Jay Raynor, who plays as BeepImaJeep. Against conventional logic, Raynor advised Barbarisi to abandon baseball in favour of hockey, a sport Barbarisi knew next to nothing about. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, competition was softer in hockey tournaments than in baseball. Secondly, Raynor felt that Barbarisi was being held back by his knowledge of baseball, and needed to switch focus.

The key to success, Barbarisi learned, was to forget insider knowledge. Instead, Raynor taught him to focus on game theory, bankroll management, linear optimisation—essentially, forget the sports, concentrate on the maths. Even armed with this knowledge, Barbarisi’s fortunes were slow to turn around: in the first half of his year, he racked up losses of around $6,500.

Over time, however, Barbarisi’s luck changed. By the spring, he’d increased his bets and optimised his player picks, and found himself in profit by $60,000. Then came his biggest opportunity yet: three entries in DraftKings’ hockey final. The dream came true: Barbarisi took home the $100,000 prize—more than his annual salary had been as a sports journalist.

Behind the curtain

Whilst Dueling with Kings focuses on Barbarisi’s personal journey, it makes sure to place it within the broader context of the tumultuous atmosphere surrounding DFS.

Like most Americans, Barbarisi first became aware of the world of DFS in 2015. The year marked the beginning of DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s “ad blitz”, which launched them squarely into public consciousness. It also saw the start of an arms race between daily fantasy’s two major players—one which would threaten to destroy them both.

Both the major companies began offering massive, million-dollar-plus prize funds for some competitions. In turn, when one of the two would offer a huge prize, the other would be forced to respond in turn. On the Tuesday following the first Sunday of the NFL season, both companies offered contests with $1.5 million prize funds—contests which failed to fill up. As such, both DraftKings and FanDuel made major losses.

Barbarisi addresses this issue in Dueling with Kings, along with several other major issues the game is facing: the power held by some of the game’s top pros, the resulting lack of protection for newcomers, and the ways in which daily fantasy sites protect their players now—including curbing multi-entry contests and banning employees from playing on other sites.

Dueling with Kings also covers the near-constant legal battles that have plagued the industry, as well as the talks that led up to the DraftKings–FanDuel merger. The book is a perfect read for anyone looking to up their game; for anyone who wants to know more about the industry; or for anyone who’s simply interested in the world of DFS. Check it out now on Amazon.

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