Okay, so we’re about to enter the third session of the 9 month long poker tournament that is FPL, and I thought I’d make a diary entry of my promising progress so far.
This post is inspired in part by poker player Gus Hansen (left), whose book Every Hand Revealed about winning the 2007 Aussie Millions World Poker Tour main event chronicled in real time his progress from the beginning of Day 1 to the end of heads-up play on the final table via notes he spoke into a handheld recorder throughout the tournament.
On the off chance that this proves to be my year in the World Series of FPL, I figure it’ll be handy to have kept a blog, because apart from anything else, it’ll make answering all those questions in end of season interviews so much easier, right?
DIARY ENTRY #1
So, what’s the story so far? Well, I had a good second session, building my chip stack up to 446 points from 170, and moving up the overall rankings from 602,989 to 23,420, placing me inside the top 0.5% of entrants. I’m yet to play any of my special chips (Bench Boost, Triple Captain, Free Hit, Wildcard), and my realisable team value is £100.6m (£101.7 at current prices).
The field is still huge, however, and there’s quite a ways to go before I can start dreaming about making the ‘final table’. As ever, it’ll only takes a few ‘bad beats’ to completely derail my attempt to go deep in this tournament.
I’ve adhered thus far to the ‘tight is right‘ philosophy subscribed to by many successful tournament players. That is to say I’ve played conservatively and avoided putting my chip stack at risk early on. I’ve been patient with my hands and kept gambles to a minimum, with only 1 hit to date. While others quickly lost confidence in their gameplans and ‘spewed chips’ in kneejerk fashion, I held my nerve and kept faith with the strategy of waiting until I got a good read of my table. As with poker tournaments, and the Premier League itself, you can’t win FPL in the first few weeks, but you can lose it.
Obviously it helped that unlike last season I’ve ‘run good’ early doors with regards to avoiding ‘coolers’ or ‘setups’ (injuries and suspensions). That said, I’ve endured a couple of injuries, a couple of penalty misses (Lukaku & Vardy) and a missed tap-in (Vardy again). Nevertheless, I’ve accumulated chips steadily with most of my captain picks, and ‘defended my blinds’ successfully with shutouts aplenty.
In fact, whereas it took me 11 gameweeks last season to muster 4 clean sheets, it only took me 4 this time around to garner 11! Contrary to received wisdom, good defence has proved to be the best offence for me (3 goals and 5 assists) and the cornerstone of my campaign so far, with 22 clean sheets banked already, including 7 out of 7 from my goalkeepers.
My progress up to now has been achieved without being dealt any of the bigger hands. I’m yet to be dealt either of the biggest pairs (A,A or K,K), more commonly known in an FPL context as Aguero(C) or Kane(C). Instead, my biggest gains so far have been courtesy of ‘medium pairs‘ like the 9, 9 (a.k.a. Captain Lukaku) I rivered a goal and an assist with against Everton, ‘small pairs‘ like 3,3 (a.k.a. Davies) with which I’ve already won three double figure pots,
and ‘small suited connectors‘ like the 2,3 (a.k.a. Eriksen) I made a straight flush with against Newcastle.
Probably the best hand I played though was during the 4th Level, when I made a disciplined fold with my DDG ‘out-of-position‘ against an aggressive opponent by the name of Stoke, and played my Elliot against a passive Swansea instead. That round of hands also saw my patience with ‘suited aces‘, De Bruyne (ace, seven) and Kolasinac (ace, three) belatedly rewarded with a couple of small pots of 9 and 11 chips respectively.
Naturally, there have been some missteps along the way, and I’ve lost some pots I should have won, most notably when I gave up on my Jesus hand too easily, folding to a bluff from Guardiola in the 3rd round of betting. Pep succeeded in putting me a little ‘on tilt’ thereafter, because I compounded my error by ‘overplaying’ Chicharito twice in the next 2 levels.
SPREADSHEETS & CHEAT SHEETS
With 7 gameweeks played, however, I now have a ‘good read’ on my table; my season-ticker spreadsheet table that is! All teams have now played at least 3 games at home and 3 away, meaning I can finally dispense with last season’s numbers. From now on my expected goals predictor will rely on adjusting and weighting this season’s results only.
To me, my spreadsheet feels like an FPL equivalent of the ‘push/fold’ chart I use when playing online poker tournaments. Essentially, such charts tell me mathematically whether or not going all-in with a particular hand in a specific situation has positive expectation.
By the way, these ‘cheat sheets’ are prohibited during hands in live poker tournaments such is the advantage they are deemed to bestow. See below for a very entertaining hand from last year’s World Series Of Poker Main Event for confirmation of the saying “cheaters never prosper“.
For what it’s worth, McConnon’s chip stack was a little too large in my opinion for his chart to be relevant anyhow, but certainly he was bordering shove-or-fold territory.
Thankfully, FPL decisions don’t also have to be made in a live arena without recourse to tables, tools and spreadsheets. For the remainder of this season then, the overwhelming majority of my FPL decisions will be governed by what my spreadsheets tell me with regards to how many goals teams are expected to score in forthcoming fixtures, as well as how many clean sheets teams are expected to keep.
With this better read on fixtures and form, my plan is to gradually widen my ‘open raising range’ and make more aggressive moves than hitherto in a bid to acquire a dominant position in the tournament. The aim is to reach a powerful enough position to be able to apply ‘leverage’ and force opponents to worry about my captain choices and transfers, and how best to counter them, not vice the versa.
Somewhat paradoxically, I’m willing to gamble more now in the hope of being in a position to gamble less later. After all, it is much easier to accumulate chips from a position of strength as a big stack bullying small ones, rather than from a position of weakness as a small stack.
So then, which teams does my cheat sheet recommend folding, calling or raising with during the next few levels? Extrapolating the likeliest scorelines over the next 6 gameweeks from my expected goals spreadsheet, I strongly suggest not attacking with hands that contain Brighton, Crystal Palace, WBA, Burnley and Huddersfield cards, and raising with ones that have Spurs, Man City, Everton and Leicester cards in them. At this stage, Chelsea cards are surprisingly only considered okay for raising with during the next 2 rounds, and only calling with thereafter.
Hands with ‘blockers‘ from West Ham and Man City are deemed the best with which to ‘defend blinds‘ with over the next 6 levels, while those from Bournemouth, WBA and Watford are considered the worst, spelling trouble for Foster and/or Hegazi owners. The prominence of West Ham on my clean sheet predictor will surprise most people, and does have the look of an outlier here, if not downright anomaly, but I hope not as I traded Hegazi in for Cresswell with my GW7 free transfer.
END OF BREAK
So there you have it, the third session is about to get underway and will consist of four more gameweek levels before the next international break takes place. I hope you’ll join me then for my next update. In the meantime.. may the flops be with you!
Coley a.k.a. FPL Poker Player @barCOLEYna
GLOSSARY OF POKER TERMS (FPL parallels)
bad beats – subjective term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses
blockers – holding one of the cards your opponent needs to complete their hand (goalkeepers and defenders)
cooler – situation in which a player holds the second best hand, so strong considering the circumstances, that they are apt to lose the maximum with it no matter how they play it (Mane red card, Aguero car crash, etc)
defending blinds – call or raise an opponent’s raise when in the big blind, rather than folding an otherwise weak hand, in order to exploit overly aggressive players (clean sheets)
final table – last table in a multi-table poker tournament. The final table is set when a sufficient number of people have been eliminated from the tournament leaving an exact number of players to occupy one table, typically no more than ten players
good read – expectation of what hand an opponent might have (large enough sample size of data)
leverage – the threat of facing bigger bets on later streets, which can be enough to motivate a fold right away (forcing opponents to punt on differentials)
out-of-position – players “have position” on opponents acting before them, and is “out of position” to opponents acting after them. Because players act in clockwise order, players “have position” on opponents seated to their right, except when opponents have the button (away fixture)
overplay – to invest more money in it than it is worth
push/fold – reducing pre-flop options to either moving all-in or folding your hand
setup – situation where two players had no choice but to get it all in
spewing chips – generally trying to fight for every pot, which usually doesn’t end well (jumping on and off every bandwagon and sinking ship)