What FPL and Poker have in common


It always makes me smile when FPL managers express the hope that others will have a good gameweek.  It reminds me of the way poker players wish each other good luck” when strictly speaking that’s the last thing they should want.  In reality, they usually don’t care much whether or not your luck is good, just as long as it doesn’t affect how much they win.  Similarly, when FPL managers say “may your arrows be green”, they usually don’t mind if they are, just so long as theirs are greener!

But that’s okay because the world is a better place for such niceties.  Less friendly are the passive aggressive congratulations given to players who have clearly ‘lucked out’.  So in poker, aggrieved players often say nice hand or well played to their arch-nemeses with barely suppressed sarcasm.  The same dynamic is also seen sometimes in replies to FPL tweets when screenshots of lucky autosub outcomes are posted.

One of the most obvious similarities between the two worlds is with the abundance of ‘bad beat’ stories.  In poker, these are told by victims of perceived misfortune.  In FPL the same kind of hardluck stories are seen all the time regarding either the big points scored by recently transferred out players, or the big points missed on a coin-flip decision.  Deep down we all know it’s wrong to inflict such self-pity onto our peers, but it’s a compulsion we find tough to resist.

The bête-noire of poker etiquette, however, is the ‘slowroll’, where someone leads you to believe that you have won a hand, but then turns over a very strong hand.  The FPL counterparts of these offenders are the grandstanders who, having amassed an impressive gameweek score, tweet to ask everyone how many points they’ve scored before then revealing their own better one.


MatrixThe correct answer to most questions posed by poker novices is “It depends.”  The same is true in FPL.  Most “Should I transfer in Joe Bloggs for John Doe?” type questions would benefit from a similar precautionary principle being applied.

For example:

Do you have more pressing problems elsewhere?

Where are you in your Mini-League(s)?

How does your squad compare to your ML rivals?

How will future transfer plans be affected?

These are all valid questions to ask before giving yes or no answers.  In poker, this is like being asked how to play a specific hand in early position in a tournament, where the comparable “It depends” type answer might include the following preliminary questions:

Are you nearing ‘the bubble‘, i.e., the prizemoney?

How many chips do you have in relation to the other players at your table?

Will you have enough chips left to make a move later if losing the hand, e.g., stealing the blinds from passive players to your left?


One hallmark of a good poker player is discipline when it comes to bankroll management, and most good FPL managers exercise budgetary discipline also.  A bad one makes kneejerk transfers to bring in premium priced players with little regard for no longer being able to afford to replace or upgrade any of their other out-of-form squad members.

Clearly, there are aspects of both games that are beyond our control.  In poker it’s the cards we are dealt, and in FPL it’s events like injuries and suspensions.  All we can do is try to play optimally in the areas within our control.

One such area is the weekly free transfer.  A FPL ‘shark‘ knows these should always be used to increase ‘expected value‘, primarily in terms of points, but also with regard to team value.  The ‘fish‘, however, is more likely to make kneejerk moves, that leave them wishing they’d hung fire, and/or maverick moves that usually share the same fate as those made by poker players guilty of ‘fancy play syndrome‘.


calculated riskThere is a tendency in the FPL community to describe any transfer not conforming to template as maverick, but there is a distinction to be made between maverick moves and calculated risks.


Few things in poker are more maddening than being ‘rivered‘ when ‘all in‘ as a massive favourite to win a hand, only for the final face-up card dealt to be the one and only card that gives your opponent a better hand.

poker skill and luck

The same frustration is felt in fantasy football when head-to-head or mini-league rivals hit the FPL equivolent of such ‘one outers‘ by having an autosub goalkeeper (Gomes in 2015-16) make two penalty saves in the same gameweek say, or an autosub outfield player score a brace on a Monday night.

Bad players of poker and FPL will frequently ‘suck out‘ on us, and be rewarded for poor game management, but the good news is that being rewarded for playing badly only encourages them to go on playing badly!

All poker players and FPL managers will experience ‘downswings‘.  What seperates the wheat from the chaff is how well they cope mentally with an inevitable aspect of the game.  In poker, most players are prone to going ‘on tilt‘ when they experience bad luck.  Such players are as a result more likely to lose money because they’ll be making decisions based on anger and frustration.  In FPL the same can be true if playing in cash prize mini-leagues.


Last season, for example, I was so filled with self-loathing about my failure to confirm activation of my Bench Boost chip in GW34, thereby costing me 43 points, that I self-destructively wasted my Triple Captain chip the next gameweek by gambling on serial cameo appearer Coutinho (1 point!).

Admittedly, I was comfortably winning my main money mini-league at the time, but my fog of despair was so dense that a few weeks passed by before I realised I’d sabotaged any prospect of cashing out in any of my other money leagues.  I’d been knocking on the door of the top one thousand club for several weeks, and those 43 points would have seen me well and truly kick the door down!


Moneymaker The way FPL has evolved over the past few years reminds me of the sea change that happened in the poker world after 2003.  There was a sudden growth in interest in poker after the $2.5 million first prize World Series of Poker Main Event was won that year by Chris Moneymaker, a 27-year-old accountant and amateur poker player from Tennessee, who had won his seat into the event through a $86 satellite tournament in a PokerStars online poker card room.  The ‘Moneymaker Effect‘ would give rise to a new breed of internet poker players who honed their skills online before facing off against old-school competitors.

Doyle v Durrr

The poker player stereotypes that had been around for an age were transformed over the course of a decade. The old-school competitors who believed in poker being an art, not a science, based on feel, instincts and reads, were quickly overrun. A new breed of math nerd, wonks using a mountain of sortable data from the millions of hands played online began to dominate the game. Math whizzes changed the game using probability theory to their advantage.

Similarly, I think the generation of fantasy football managers, who believed that football knowledge and a ‘good eye’ were the only requirements for success, are in the process of being overthrown by algorithm builders, probability theorists and statisticians.

Vanessa SelbstConsider yourself warned if you’re one of those who underestimates the relevance of maths in FPL. That geeky person who invited you to join his or her money mini-league is probably hustling you!

BlessedI think there might have been a typo in Matthew 5:5; perhaps it should have read:


Blessed are the Math gEEKs!

Good luck at the tables y’all!


FPL Poker Player @barCOLEYna

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