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Spotlight: Daily Fantasy Sports Cash Games vs Tournaments

Long gone are the days when there was only one possible format for a fantasy sports tournament. With the advent of daily fantasy sports, a whole host of different games have come onto the market, offering players a huge number of chances to play – and win. While these formats are numerous, we can generally divide them into Cash Games vs Tournaments.

We’ve touched on the difference between these two categories of games before in our Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Playing DFS article, but in this article we’ll get to know them a little better. We’ll also talk about how you should adapt your strategy to match the game you’re playing.

Cash Games vs Tournaments: What’s the difference?

Footballer Thierry Henry shrugging in confusion.

The most commonly-found cash games on Daily Fantasy Sports sites include head-to-head contests and 50/50s. Both are pretty self explanatory:

  • 50/50 contest can involve fields of varying sizes, but the key principle is the same: the top performing 50% of players win – usually doubling their initial entry fee.
  • head-to-head has the same winning odds, with a 50% shot at winning – but the difference is that this type of contest is a battle between just two players. Whichever player puts together the strongest team wins.

Cash games might be seen as a little less glamorous than some of the big-ticket tournaments that attract many newbies to the world of DFS – there’s certainly no Millionaire Maker here. Instead, your aim when playing cash games is to rack up smaller, but more consistent wins, adding incrementally to your bank balance over a period of time.

Tournaments, also known as Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs), vary slightly from contest to contest. Generally, though, they all have one thing in common – bigger top prizes won by a smaller proportion of players than cash games. With life-changing sums on offer practically every weekend, it’s clear why people are drawn to tournaments.

You don’t have to finish first to win – around 10-20% of players make a profit – but the higher you place, the bigger the prize.

Why play a Daily Fantasy Sports cash game?

An NFL football sits with a pile of money on a green field

Many DFS beginners are tempted by the potential for huge wins in daily fantasy sports tournaments. When it comes down to cash games vs tournaments, it’s true that cash games don’t offer that potential. But in reality, your chances of winning the top prize in a tournament are pretty small. While everyone dreams of being the savant who spots the unlikely heroes of the game, the reality is that 99% of the time, this is impossible to know for sure even with the most thorough research.

You can never guarantee a win in daily fantasy sports, but cash games give you the surest shot at one. We’d say this is the biggest difference between cash games vs tournaments. Don’t expect an easy path to success – cash games are about the hard slog. Getting $40 for your $20 entry fee might not seem like a lot when the biggest winners might get $1,000,000 for the same initial outlay.

Why play a Daily Fantasy Sports tournament?

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The main benefit of Tournament (GPP) games is obvious, and that’s the humongous cash prizes that are available. Also, with Guaranteed Prize Pools the money gets paid out regardless of how many people pay in, as the website will contribute the rest. DFS players call this the overlay – read our Glossary for more on daily fantasy sports terminology. This is unlike League games, where the site returns entry fees if the game doesn’t attract enough players.

Some daily fantasy sports players enjoy the risk-taking involved with GPP games. In order to hit that winning upper percentile you can’t go for middle-of-the-road line-ups. The potential to win money on these games is less so than with cash games. However, for a more experienced player they can be a great way to win big.

Which strategies should I adopt?

Cash games and Tournaments are two very different beasts, just as games for various sports can be very different. You’ll therefore have to adapt to different strategies for Cash Games vs Tournaments. Get the lowdown on playing styles for each type of game.

Cash Games

  • Safe and steady wins the race. You won’t want to roster the surprise ‘blowout’ choice; players who smash it one day and are mediocre the next. Players with balanced track records are key to landing you in that upper 50% with ‘high floor’ overall results.
  • Don’t Sweat the Upside. It isn’t about getting the highest percentage, but about breaking into the top 50%. Cash gaming doesn’t require a skyscraper upside (the highest potential score predicted for a player/team).
  • Keep updated: Has someone got an injury? Is the weather terrible? Are your team members playing home or away? These factors can affect outcomes, so make sure to keep updated, whether by reading the news or keeping up with a team’s Twitter.
Footballer injured on field
  • Choose Head To Heads carefully. Avoid going against an experienced player in Head To Heads; 50/50s are a safer bet overall.
  • Consider site-specific rules. For example, DraftKings allows you to revise your player choices right up until the game starts, whereas FanDuel freezes a roster as soon as that day’s first game begins.
  • Avoid playing the same team in multiple leagues. This is how your bankroll gets hit, hard. Get a bit more experience under your belt with different leagues before you attempt a simultaneous multi-league run.
How to play DFS Football and play it well?


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  • Avoid the safe bet. You need to beat a larger percentage of the field in GPP games, so going for a safe team isn’t going to get you far if that’s what everyone else is going for too.
  • Look to the ceiling, not the floor. Unlike the high overall floor you want in cash games, in GPP games you want to be able to push the upside, the best possible result, as high as possible. A high floor can push you above 50%. However, only with a high ceiling can you try to get to the top.
  • Variance is one of the keys to increasing your chances of winning in GPP games. Players with less predictable track records are more welcome here. They could help you get to the upper percentiles as they often have decreased ownership (meaning they are less likely to be picked for other teams).
  • Not just the blowout picks. Don’t totally disregard consistent players in picking a GPP roster. Some high floor players have high ceilings too and can help boost your overall result.
  • Know the important player positions. This could be the Quarterback in American Football, or the Small forward in your Basketball team. Certain positions encourage a higher ceiling, so you need to consider these when picking a roster.
  • Sleeper picks: A ‘Sleeper’ is a player who is generally undervalued in a particular sport. Picking a valuable Sleeper is a tricky business, but can lead to higher gains. This is particularly true in GPP tournaments, where this is more crucial for winning.
  • Bad weather can be a good thing. Wind and rain increase variance. This gives you more of a chance for less predictable results to occur in your favour.

So, now you’re more clued up on the differences in strategy between Cash Games vs Tournaments. Find out more about the ins and outs of Daily Fantasy Sports in our regularly updated Guide section. If you have questions about DFS or stories to share you can Contact us!

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