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Spotting a Tell

Reading your opponents is of the utmost importance in the game of poker.  In order to beat your opponents, you have to be somewhat clairvoyant and develop a plan that is four or five moves down the road.  Strategy, as well as studying your opponents every move helps you determine certain habits your opponents have making their every move somewhat predictable.  The same can be said for the other coaches in your leagues.  Every coach has a weakness or a “tell.”  The question is – have you discovered what it is yet?

If you have already discovered some of your opponents tells, you are in a position of power.  You’ve clearly identified what makes them tick and can swing a deal with these particular owners on a somewhat regular basis.  If you have discovered someone’s tell it is also obviously in your best interest to never share this information with anyone, especially that owner – that would be bad business.

If you haven’t, you may need to step back, re-assess your situation and ask yourself if you’re the guy everyone else has figured out.  Matt Damon’s character in the poker-themed movie Rounders had a line that is so true, “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half-hour at the table, then you’re the sucker.”  Are you the “sucker” of your league?  Hopefully not, but if you are, you can change your behaviors and throw the entire league for a loop.  When people think they’ve figured you out is when you’re most dangerous.  You’ve just got to be brutally honest with yourself and suck up your pride.  That’s a very hard thing for any fantasy football player to do.

Identifying tells is not an easy task.  It can take years of playing with certain owners before you can discover one.  Doing a live draft is usually the easiest way to spot a mans tell.  Owners faces light up when they are about to get the player they want, and become completely dejected when a player goes a couple of picks before their turn.  It’s just basic human reaction that nobody thinks is being watched.  Are you watching?

So how can I turn those reactions into an advantage for me?

Knowing what players league owners covet gives you a huge edge.  Pretending like your sitting at a poker table at these live drafts whether it’s a start-up or a rookie only draft, gives you a different outlook on the whole drafting process.  Be cerebral.  Take notes, not just mental notes but real actual notes you can look back on a year from now.  If a coach is visibly upset because you took Ryan Broyles at the top of the second round, make sure you remember it.  You may have a deal on the table at the trade deadline (or in the future for that matter) that could help you win a championship that season.  Broyles could be the sweetener that closes the deal.

Another way to spot tells is to figure out what your fellow coach’s tendencies are.  Usually that consists of figuring out what an owners preference is.  Does he usually seem to acquire more rookie picks within the first two rounds?  Is he always chasing young up and coming players, or is he constantly trying to trade for proven veterans?  I’d be willing to bet there are multiple owners in your league that fall into one of these categories.

On the flip side, there is always the guy you can never figure out because he seems to consistently do a little bit of everything.  Not everyone wears the answer on their forehead for the whole world to see.

Now, let’s fast forward to this upcoming off-season.  What if I told you that almost every owner wears their tell on their sleeve? I’ll explain how it happens.

During the scouting period leading up to the NFL Draft and even up to your rookie only drafts, owners seem to do a whole lot of talking.  You’d think that this would be the time of year that coaches would be very tight lipped, but to my recollection, that is most definitely not the case.  Call it what you want to, but I think it’s because we just have to talk about football.  The season never ends for us, remember?

Coaches love to talk about what position they’re drafting in, who they think will fall to them, and best of all, who they plan on drafting.  You’d think you would have to work a lot harder to get this type of information, but it’s given free of charge.  As it relates to poker, theoretically it’s like knowing what cards they hold in their hand before the flop comes out.  It’s not gambling if you know when to fold every time.  On the same note, you also know when you have them beat.

By the time my rookie draft happens, I can usually put together a mock draft through two rounds that is very accurate.  I use it to my advantage every year.  I swear if I get enough of my league mates in the same room, it’s only a matter of time before someone busts out a pen and paper.  Before I know it, a full fledged mock draft is happening.  Coaches are divulging who they are going to draft, and who they think other coaches will be drafting based on prior conversations.  I can’t be the only one that participates in leagues like this, right?  How are you turning this information into fantasy gold?

It’s getting to the point in dynasty leagues (and all fantasy football leagues for that matter) where you need to be the minority.  What I mean by that is this – you need to be doing something that nobody else is doing.  Be creative, think outside of the box.  Do you think anyone else in your leagues is practicing these types of strategies?  I would say probably not.

Being the minority isn’t always a bad thing.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Derek

    November 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Nice article Doug… I’m never talking to you pre draft again!!!

  2. Steven (changed for league security purposes)

    November 11, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I have been trying to put this into practice in my hybrid keeper league for the last several years and for the first time this year I have been able to reap the benefits. Not only was I able to predict the first 1.5 rounds to perfection, but the advantage it has given me in trading this year has been almost unfair. I would tell more people about this tactic, but then, well, we won’t talk about that, will we? I’ll just tuck you right here in my pocket…there ya go. Comfy? Good. Let’s go win some leagues.

  3. Matt Wertz

    November 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Good article.

  4. Rad_man

    May 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    I take it a step further and usually form an alliance in a league with one other smart guy. We gather intell together and draft around each other in return. We run mocks all the time together concerning the league and any new info we were able to acquire. This helps to “talk” things out of your system and then try to be tight lipped around the rest of the league……but that is sooooooo hard to do. I think its that we all want everyone to know how smart we are by talking about what we learned or seen on tape about players…..but that’s for another article! :-)

    • Doug Veatch

      May 26, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      I’m already working on a follow up article to this called “Dynasty Smokescreen”!!

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