Poker Theory and Trade Strategy - Schmucks, Ducks and Hockey Pucks

Schmucks, Ducks and Hockey Pucks. That’s what winning seasons are made of!

‘’Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.’’ - Mike McDermott (Matt Damon’s character from the movie Rounders)

The movie Rounders opens with this excellent quote from Matt Damon’s character, and it helps to illustrate a very important concept in fantasy sports competition. To play out a fantasy season successfully it is important not just to know player value, but to have an understanding of how your opponents interpret player value.

In today’s column (brought to you by Amish beer. Everything you always wanted in a beer, plus butter!) I intend to provide you a model of analysis so that you can better identify trade targets during the season. It’s the Schmucks, Ducks and Hockey Pucks theory. By knowing your opponent you will be able to plan and execute trades that might have otherwise gone unexplored.

‘’Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?’’ - Mike McDermott

In David Slansky’s now famous book The Theory of Poker he identifies four types of players that gamblers invariably encounter in competition. The four types are:
Schmucks: The Loose-weak player: This player loves to be in the action, but he wants to stay around all night, and he’s happy to pay for the chance to do so. He’s the guy at your poker night that’s pretty much sober, is happy just to be with the guys, and if he’s still in the hand at the end you know you’d better watch your ass.
Ducks: The Loose-aggressive player: This player loves to gamble. And he’s great to play poker with. And he’s goddamn dangerous. He loves to see the flop (the initial cards that fall on the poker board), but unlike the loose passive player he will often raise, no matter what cards fall on the board. He can easily win, and easily lose, King Kong pots. (This is one type of player you need to identify early for future trades.)
Hockey Pucks: The Tight-weak player: This player loves to make reasoned decisions, so much so that he is predictable. He never bluffs and never risks money He is looking for the safe bet. He’s the one at the table who drives everyone else home at the end of the night, before going to make himself a beige and vanilla sandwich on tofu. (This is one type of player you need to identify early for future trades.)
Tight-aggressive: This is your buddy who can hold his smoke, at midnight starts sipping his whisky instead of shooting it, and who pays attention to what other people are doing. And he leaves with everyone’s money. This player does not often enter a hand, but when he does he attacks by betting, raising and re-raising. As he doesn’t often enter hands his opponents assume that when he does he is playing good cards, and they are usually right! Tight-aggressive is the optimal style of play at a poker table (and not surprisingly, in fantasy sports as well).
‘’We can't run from who we are Michael. Our destiny chooses us.’’ Professor Petrovsky
Identifying these types of players becomes much simpler when you know where to look for the data. And all players give data by how they play. In fantasy baseball you’re looking at 2 set’s of data to identify a persons playing style, draft results and roster moves.
Draft results = finding the loose or the tight player
When you get your draft results mailed back to you by ESPN, copy and paste them onto a word document. Then, compare the results to a mock draft or two and see if you notice anything unusual. Pay specific attention to rounds 5-10.
Does the player reach early for sleepers? This suggests a loose player.
Does the player discard position eligibility (does he ignore third base until round 9)? This suggests a loose player.
Does the player draft more than 2 starters in the first 8 rounds? This suggests a loose player.
Purple and yellow Converselys,
Does the person follow the mock draft recommendations almost to a T? This suggests a tight player.
Does the person methodically build his infield, outfield, and finally first base and starting pitching? This suggests a tight player.
Loose players are emotional, by and large (like I wish my Aunt Lorraine wasn’t), while tight players are calculating. You can use both of these styles to your advantage.
But first, are the players weak or aggressive?
Last years poster child for identifying a weak player was Alex Rios and Jason Werth – and yes, they combined to make one player. One bust of Dolly, waste of space, 6th round pick of a player, ta’boot! How long did his owner hold him? The amount of bench space varies from league to league but you get my drift. You’re trying to use actions to identify personal playing styles and this is one way to do it.
The way you can tell weak or aggressive players is by looking at the amount of roster moves a player has made in the first 2 months of the season. A lot of roster moves suggests an aggressive player, while few suggests a weak player.
Now, let’s look at your trading strategy for each type of player:
‘’You can shear a sheep many times, but skin him only once.’’ Mike McDermott: [quoting a gambling maxim]
Schmucks: Unlike in poker, this type of player is not your friend at the trading hole. By reaching early for sleepers, but by having minimal roster moves, he shows that he is calculated. He has some knowledge, he has made a plan, and he is sticking to that plan. (One thing you can anticipate though is this person not burning his waiver order so quickly, which won’t buy you the piss on a nettle, but still…)
This is not the optimal player to trade with. Move on.
Ducks: This is one of your dream opponents and the play against him is to ‘trap’. Remember, this opponent plays with a high level of emotion because he loves the action. The perfect play is to identify 2 of his players that you believe are underperforming, and then propose a 3 for 3 trade. 3 for 3’s are interesting for him and you can often get good value from him in the secondary parts of the trade. You need to get this trade done soon though, because other players are noticing him as well.
Hockey Pucks: This player is hesitant to make moves or take risks, so your play against him is to offer him name stability. Specifically, this player will happily give you Daniel Hudson and Anny-Belle Sanchez in midseason for Felix Hernandez, because he knows he can trust Felix Hernandez. So the play is to identify two of his young, up and coming players and proposing a 2 for 1, giving him a solid name in return. He is the one that will take last years Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez or Albert Pooholes in return for a whopping collection of talent. He may have even had Jason Bay still on his bench last May.
Tight-aggressive:  This player drafted pretty much by the book, considered position eligibility, and still makes his fair share of roster moves. Be careful, this can be a dangerous player to play against. Specifically, if he drafted wisely, and his roster moves are for either streaming pitchers or picking up hot hitting 4th and 5th outfielders, knows what the hell he’s is doing. (And he is probably leading your league in the standings.)
Your play is to learn from him. So that you can be like him.
As you can see, smart fantasy play doesn’t stop by knowing all the players on the field. You must know the players in your league as well. For the better you are able to identify their style of play you can use it to your advantage in trade discussions.
Happy Gambling folks.


By: rkinigson
On: 3/3/2012 3:08:00 PM
If only it was that simple. Your argument is flawed, as it is based on the assumption that your opponents play consistently. However, just as in poker, the best players rarely do… they switch up play to make their game more unpredictable.
By: jdo78
On: 3/3/2012 5:23:00 PM
following mock draft recommendations to a T??

I don't think that is what you were after exactly. Especially since the tight player apparently also follows a strict playbook of position scarcity, so they have to ignore best player available if the player is a pitcher or first baseman.

There's some interesting ideas in here, but it's a bit narrow to suggest that the draft only reflects a player as tight or loose. You could argue that strict adherence to conservative draft strategy indicates a weak player, or that turning over a roster all the time indicates a loose player.

Your analogy gets in the way of your larger point about building a book on your competitors and using their tendencies to craft trades, rather than your own team's specific needs.
By: lvtdude
On: 3/3/2012 9:40:00 PM
Strange column. I don't know if I like the writing style or hate it. I don't fit any one of those models, yet I win a lot. I guess I'm an amalgam of the first and fourth with a sprinkling of the second, making me a Tight, Aggressive Schmu-duck. I am most certainly not a hockey puck, and I can't stand those types of players. I very rarely have the type of players they like, and when they do make trades, they make stupid trades with my opponents. They're they guy that will trade Mike Trout for Jason Bay and think they made a killing...
By: Thomas Callahan
On: 3/4/2012 2:54:00 AM
Kingston- You’ve obviously checked the pulse rate and ‘downward glance’ of your share of opponents across the felt. Good to be talking to a fellow Rounder.

In my experience, fantasy players don’t randomize their game nearly as much as gamblers in the fast action realm of a card table. What are they gonna do, burn a waiver pick up on a Manny Machado every once and awhile to ‘throw everyone off’? That said, yes good players change tact based on their place in the standings and the state of the season. However, when viewed within the context of their situation their moves, coupled with the information they’ve given you previously, often become pretty transparent. Does the guy rotate 5th outfielders around for little reason? He’s bored – attack!

Moves can mean a lot of things, but when looked at cumulatively they will often unveil a player’s motivation. Once you have a handle on a players motivations, you’re in the drivers seat my friend.

Jdo- Yes and no.

In my first 2 hours at a table my job is to know the range of hands my opponents will play, in early, middle and late position, will they bluff, what they look like when they miss the flop, when they hold rags on the turn and when they think they’re playing in the lead. I can usually accomplish this pretty easily.

But this information is just a basis of observation going forward. The same is true for draft results. Specific moves (taking Lawrie in the 10th round to fill a vacant middle infield spot) can mean a lot of things. But taken within a set of trends, does the player build his roster inside out? Does he draft ‘floor early, ceiling late’? Did he draft Shelby Miller, or Mike Trout? These indications can be taken together to pigeonhole a players style, to be used as a reference point later on.

Dude- I’m a strange guy. I mostly blame society, though my ex didn’t help matters much.

I know what you mean man. It seems like those guys wake up one sunny day and clear the talent off their rosters like Ronald McDonald handing out balloons. Makes me feel like ‘Johnny Day Late’.

Hey man, if you’ve got a style that works ride it. I played a fair bit with Gus Hansen who does some seriously unconventional schizz. But the guy cashes pretty regularly. There’s more than one path to the playoffs.
By: rkinigson
On: 3/4/2012 10:20:00 AM
The term “rounder” refers to a person whose sole means of earning a living is by playing cards. I wish I could say that was me, but it isn't. I'm happy to just be profitable when I play.
By: Thomas Callahan
On: 3/4/2012 12:23:00 PM
One big blind an hour my friend.

It's a grind of a job, but somebody's gotta do it:)

Take care King.
By: Zenguerrilla
On: 3/4/2012 5:31:00 PM
Every league not matter what the level has at least 1 "DUMB" guy in it. If you don't get to him with a deal first, odds are someone else will.
By: Thomas Callahan
On: 3/4/2012 9:38:00 PM
I agree man. Those guys, put yer arm around em, offer em a cold beverage and ask them what they want on yer roster. 3 for 3's usually turn out quite nice when trading with those owners.
By: gooklaw
On: 3/5/2012 2:33:00 PM
A. Trout should only be traded for Carp or Bass, not for Bay.

B. Anyone takes Lawrie in Round 10 this year - God bless 'em - real tough league they're in!

C. One dumb team out of 14 makes it pretty rough, plus they usually veto any trades I make for taking advantage of someone.

D. Nice article!
By: Thomas Callahan
On: 3/5/2012 9:40:00 PM
A. Or a signed Marlin Stuart rookie card.

B. Word.

C. 7.1% is about 2 outs on the river. That and 6 bucks'll buy ya a double latte.

D. Thanks man!
By: gooklaw
On: 3/7/2012 6:29:00 AM
ONE big blind/hour?? That means that last night I did OK, with 1760 big blinds in 6 hours??
By: Thomas Callahan
On: 3/7/2012 10:42:00 AM
Quit playing. Immediately.

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