It’s often said that “history is written by the victors”, but when I said in my last blog that I’ll keep a diary of my FPL progress, just in case I need it for end-of-season overall winner interviews, I was joking alright!? Well, after running good in the third session and rising through the overall ranks to a personal best of 450th, I think it’s fair enough for me to say: SHIT JUST GOT REAL!
I maintained the momentum I picked up in the second session and built my chip stack up to 699 points, and moved up 22,970 places in the overall rankings. I find myself the current Christmas Island number one, and lead the way in the Beat the General, Fplwildcards, Macmillan, and FPL Happy Hour Cup leagues, as well as my own. I’ve still not played any of my chips and my realisable team value has risen by 0.5m up to £101.1m. That’s an inflation rate currently of just over 4.7% p.a.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was languishing outside the top 2 million and still bottom of my 18 player money mini-league, which I’d run away with the season before. The first eleven gameweeks saw my respective defenders and goalkeepers keep just 4 clean sheets between them, and my title defence resembled that of Chelsea’s in 2015-16! From GW12 onwards though, I steadily climbed the rankings and completed my ‘great escape‘ from ignominy with a top 150 thousand ranking, good enough for a face-saving fifth place finish in my mini-league.
This time around, however, I’ve already banked 26 clean sheets from my defence. Indeed, this season has seen such a turnaround in my fortunes that it’s difficult to not draw parallels with Leicester City’s historic 2015-16 season!
In the absence of a Claudio Ranieri* then, what can I attribute my FPL transformation to? Two words my friends, two words: expected and goals, a.k.a. xG. Whereas last year my spreadsheets were dependent on Shots On Target data, this year they rely on expected goals instead. More about my spreadsheets later.
I said in my last blog that I was going to be making more aggressive moves, and taking more gambles. True to my word, after only taking one hit in the preceeding seven gameweeks, I took hits in three out of the next four that followed.
[*For what it’s worth, I’ve long argued against the mainstream view that a) Ranieri deserved nearly all the credit for Leicester winning the league, and b) he’d earned the right to be relegated with them.]
Calculating the net profit or loss of transfers can be a tricky business. I often see people declaring the success or failure of such moves based solely on points in the subsequent gameweek. In reality though, the effects of transfers ripple across several gameweeks, and can completely rewrite our gameweek histories, as future captain/vice captain choices and benching decisions are all impacted upon by the players we buy and sell.
As the screenshot above confirms though there was little wrong with my player recruitment during the last session. 48 points profit over 4 weeks equates to a healthy average of 12 points per gameweek transfers and, but for Mo Salah’s poor penalty miss in GW10, I could easily have been looking at 67 points profit at a near 17 points weekly average.
In tournament poker, your tournament life will often be put in jeopardy by opponents playing their ‘draws’ aggressively. And you may find yourself ‘heads up’ with an opponent you re-raised pre-flop, and you may find yourself hitting ‘top pair, top kicker’ on the flop, and you may find yourself continuation-betting the flop, only for your opponent to then check-raise you all-in for the remainder of their stack. And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?
Now this is a really uncomfortable position to be in because even if you put your opponents on a ‘big draw’, maybe a flush and straight draw combo, you may know you’re ahead and have the correct pot-odds to make the call, but you also know that a lot of the time they’re going to outdraw you, and your chip-stack will take a big hit if they do.
I had much the same feeling leading up to my big ‘showdown’ in GW11. The pre-flop action saw a Harry Kane raise on Thursday night, and a re-raise on Friday night. The stakes were high. By the time the deadline dealer ‘called the clock’ on me, there were more than 600,000 new Kane owners, and the all-in bet I faced was 1.4 million armbands. I ‘went into the tank’ and decided before my allotted time ran out to make the call with my top player, top kicker Sergio Aguero who I transferred in to captain my team.
I already had one Kane ‘blocker’ in the form of Christian Eriksen, but knew that transferring in Heung Min Son would give me extra ‘outs’. I also hoped he might be able to ‘counterfeit’ some of the hands with Kane in them if Tottenham scored big against Crystal Palace.
For the record, I also thought about bringing in Dele Alli too, but there were several good reasons for not doing so. Firstly, he’d played every minute of Tottenham’s previous 3 matches in all competitions; secondly, there were rumours circulating beforehand that some players were going to be rested; and, thirdly, unlike Son, he had none of the ingredients you need for the perfect pre-wildcard recipe. Namely, he did not fit the bill as a one-week-only differential punt.
Appropriately enough, given his full name is (nearly) an anagram of MINI UNSUNG HERO, my lucky number seven scored the only goal of the game, scooping me a 10 point pot in the process. With all those captaining Kane left holding nothing but a ‘busted flush’, Aguero’s subsequent goal was the ‘rub down’ they didn’t need.
I’d not forgotten Kane’s blank when I transferred him into my team in GW8 to captain him for the supposedly plum home fixture with Bournemouth, but there were many other reasons for going against the crowd in GW11. Ultimately though, it boiled down to believing Aguero would outscore Kane, because my expected goals spreadsheet was predicting MCI would win 3-1 and that TOT would do so 2-0, and I reckoned Sergio’s share of 3 goals would be bigger than Harry’s of 2.
I said in my last blog that most of my decisions will be determined by my spreadsheets, or my ‘cheat sheets’ as I dubbed them, and here they were helping me to finally break into the top 1,000
My spreadsheet’s team goals predictions in Gameweek 11 showed a strong positive correlation with actual team goals of +0.63 (on a scale between -1.0, the minimum, and +1.0, the maximum).
The actual scores were as follows:
Thanks to my ‘cheat sheets’ then, I finally achieved a long-term goal of breaking into the top 1K rankings. The harder task now will be to remain there. There is a tendency sometimes after taking down a huge pot in a poker tournament to want to sit the next bunch of hands out, to take it easy for a while, and to think you have the luxury of simply waiting to be dealt good hands. This is nearly always a big mistake.
Poker has taught me to avoid being complacent. You cannot afford to relax until you’ve either won the tournament or been knocked out of it. And as I’m not ready to be knocked out of the running yet, I’d better stay focused!
In poker, players are responsible for protecting their hole cards. If they ‘flash’ their cards then people will look. If they don’t protect their cards then it’s their own fault if people exploit that advantage. I might need to start heeding that lesson much sooner than anticipated, and start playing my FPL cards much closer to my chest when it comes to declaring my captain picks, transfer plans, and such like. But for now, and in the spirit of the way the game is played in the FPL community, I’ll ‘advertise’ below the scorelines my spreadsheets predict to be the most likely for Gameweek 12.
The next session is a mammoth one, with ten levels over the next 6 weeks, before the next break in early January. I hope you’ll join me for the 5th session chip count then. In the meantime, may the FPL flops be with you!
Coley a.k.a. FPL Poker Player @barCOLEYna
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
‘advertise’ refers to exposing cards in such a way as to deliberately convey an impression to opponents about the advertising player’s style of play
‘blocker’ is one of the cards your opponent needs to complete their hand
‘busted flush’ is a potential flush that ultimately fails to materialise
‘call the clock’ is how you challenge a player for taking too long to act. Once challenged, a player has a set amount of time to make a decision. If the player fails to act in the allotted time, their hand is dead
‘counterfeit’ refers to situations in which a community card actually makes a player’s hand less strong even after technically improving that hand
‘flash’ refers to a card becoming briefly exposed by accident
‘outs’ are any unseen cards that, if drawn, will improve a player’s hand to one that is likely to win
‘rub down’ is a deliberate act of putting someone down
‘showdown’ is a situation when, if more than one player remains after the last betting round, remaining players expose and compare their hands to determine the winner
‘top pair, top kicker’ is when you pair the highest card on the flop with one of your hole cards, and your other card is highest possible kicker, which in most instances is an Ace, e.g., raising preflop with Ace, 10, and the flop comes 10, 4, 2.
‘went into the tank’ is to take a lot of time to think about the decision on how to play a hand