The forgotten statistic

They are just lucky

 I have just read through an interesting discussion on the FISO forums on the role of luck in Fantasy football. Some even maintaining that even those at the top of the FFS hall of fame are just lucky.

The theory is that with three million players, statistically it is to be expected that a handful of players would have had good luck for as many as five seasons on the trot. 200 odd Gameweeks isnt enough time for luck to even out. Poker studies show it can take  a 1000 or more hands before a true statistical measure of skill can be made.


According to this theory the game is simple enough that these lucky players, once they gain a good rank, put more effort in, seek out information from places like this blog and are thus able to maintain a good rank given their extra slice of luck. This theory also explains why many who read all the articles at FFS and do things properly do not receive a good rank, they have simply been unlucky.

Those at the top of the hall of fame, have merely been more lucky than their contemporaries, and there is no point studying or learning from them as they know no more than the average player.

They are better

As i am currently number two on the hall of fame i found the above theory of particular interest. Especially as i often wonder myself what it is that separates those at the very top from the rest. Every season i expect the bubble to burst, but even this season where i feel i have not played particularly well i have fallen into the top thousand almost by default.

I can’t believe its luck, most of my 50/50 decisions this season seem to have gone against me. I know this because  it is all recorded in black and white in this blog. More weeks than not when i had coin toss type decisions , i chose the wrong one.


So if it isn’t luck what is it? Because like the proponents of the luck theory say, it is a fairly simple game that probably 20,000-50,000  play to a decent standard. I have been racking my brains looking for something i do differently than other good players, The ones who finish in the 5000-10000 range.

Looking back through this seasons transfers , something dawned on me today, maybe it’s partly the answer

The forgotten statistic

When most people make their transfers, their primary goal i suspect is points, immediate points. They are greatly influenced by the players score the last week, and the opponent this week. They may use comparison tool and player statistics to give themselves even more educated opinions on the best alternative. They believe they are picking the player that is most likely to bring them points.

There is nothing wrong with the above, we all select this way, or so i thought. However looking back through my seasons transfers it turned out there was something more powerful, more important that was driving the majority of my decisions. That something was ownership. I am talking about the front eight here, the midfielders and strikers

It turns out that my prime motive wasnt to gain points , it was to cover the moves of others, reduce risks and ensure that any red arrows would be small ones. Often of course, it resulted in the same transfer as others were making, but for different reasons.


My transfer in the last week is a perfect illustration of my modus operandi

While others were bringing in the likes of Walcott , Mata and Lukaku (to gain points). I bought John Terry, it wasnt for points, i wasnt too worried whether he made points or not. The only reason i bought him was because he was the highest owned player that wasnt in my squad. He was the player who could hurt me the most. It was a purely defensive play.

Indeed , despite him only scoring two points and others having Walcott who scored a hattrick, i still received a green arrow. The reason , ownership. Having Terry score two points didnt hurt because so many others, also had Terry and two points. While Walcott and his hattrick didn’t hurt because his ownership was low. It was a low risk play.  However if i had bought  Walcott and he blanked while Terry scored and kept a clean sheet , then i wouldnt have finished in 592nd place, it would be more like 2000

This pattern of transfer was repeated time and again throughout my season, given a choice i would invariably go for the high ownership option, covering other people points rather than going for the player i felt could score the most points.

What does it all mean

This clearly indicates a very cautious, risk adverse strategy more concerned with what those around me are doing, rather than trying to use superior picking skills.  I dont have superior picking skills, and be honest, neither do most of you.


None of us know who will score on a particular week, but what we do know is what percentage of the top 10k own particular players. This is vital information and can be used to great advantage as a means of reducing risk of a really bad week. So maybe its better to stop trying to be clever, by picking who you think will score (you dont know) and instead concentrate more on what will hurt you the least


Buy quality high ownership players, and hold them until their declining ownership means they can be safely removed without them hurting you. That is basically what i do. Combine this with the other factors which i outlined in my previous post and maybe there is a plug and play solution  to high finishes. A computer could probably be programed to finish consistantly in the top 1k

The strategy basically relies on others beating themselves, chasing points, taking punts , wasting transfers, being impatient, forgetting to change captain etc etc.

To me the luck theory just does not stack up, look at most mini leagues and each season it tends to be the same players at the top and the same at the bottom, its difficult to put that down to luck.

Or maybe its just down to hard work. How many others spend two days analysing their season transfers, and recording the thoughts that led to them. Not what the proponents of the luck theory want to hear, no doubt

(Ownership = ownership in top 10k not overall fpl population)

27 thoughts on “The forgotten statistic

  1. tomoshe May 30, 2015 / 7:56 am

    Simple yet brilliant game theory idioms.
    Defender rotations, captain choice, 1 or two semi differentials and good budget management will give the edge – the rest is ownership.

    (So boring, so effective)

    Liked by 1 person

    • triggerlips May 30, 2015 / 9:35 am

      Yep , not a lot that can go wrong. Even if it does, chances are it also hits most other payers too


  2. mj6987 May 30, 2015 / 8:08 am

    As much as I wish it didn’t, everything you describe in your articles is so similar to the way I play FPL. My record isn’t quite as good as yours, but not far off. Scary. For example, on this aspect, I am naturally very risk averse. In a similar vein, when people on FFS are talking about their “differentials” I think that my differential is simply having *all* the current quality (and therefore highly owned) players – Terry, Leicester defender, Sanchez, Hazard, Silva, Aguero, Kane, Giroud, etc. My differential is having no differentials. Not all will succeed in any given week but whichever ones do, I’ve got it covered.


  3. triggerlips May 30, 2015 / 9:26 am

    Thats about the size of it, and even if one of your opponents differentials has a big week it dosent hurt much due to the low ownership, a few teams overtake you, but you overtake more teams that had other failed differentials.


  4. dod May 30, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    FPL (like poker) is a game of luck management. The more positive equity decisions you make the less luck you need.

    This was my 1st season playing FPL and like any novice I made a great many mistakes. I don’t think my luck was particularly good or bad and I think my final rank around the 29k mark was about average for someone who made as many good and bad decisions as I did.

    I think the strategy you suggest in your post is excellent if your aim is to avoid a poor rank. I don’t however think it is the optimal strategy if your aim is to be the overall winner.

    I was for many years a professional backgammon player. Like FPL it is a game of luck management. There are two forms of the game; money play where your objective is to find the play with the best equity, and match play where your aim is simply to win that particular match and progress in the tournament. Without going into details the correct play when playing for money can often be a serious blunder in a match play situation. In money play you seek to minimise risk. In match play you often need to make moves and cube decisions that are more risky in order to optimise your chances of winning the match. It makes no difference whether you win or lose a match 17-16 or 17-0.

    I would argue that in FPL you can increase your (very small) chance of becoming the overall winner by employing a more risky strategy. This increase in the chance of overall victory comes at the expense of decreasing the likelihood of attaining a high rank.


    • triggerlips May 30, 2015 / 5:41 pm

      A fellow backgammon player !!! While not a professional i made 1000s of dollars between around 1995-2003 playing backgammon at the likes of gamesgrid, netgammon, gammon empire etc,playing 5-7 point matches, so understand where you are coming from.I wasnt winning money from the top players, but grinding out wins against bored american housewives, for 5-10 dollars per match.

      As for winning the entire fpl the odds are so highly against that it isnt worth losing sleeep over.

      I will point out however that my conservative play did take me to a 35th finish a few seasons back , and with a bit more luck it could have been considerably higher. Debuchy -4 was the killer.
      35 dosent sound much but when you consider there are only 175 people in the world in the last five years managed to achieve that rank or better, it makes you realise just how hard the challenge of winning the entire thing is.

      I dont know if Simon March has read this blog, however reading his interview etc shows he too is a conservative player, who took few risks
      It is easy to point to people who have had a good season using daring , bold tactics, with so many competitors a few of them are going to score highly, however their chance of repeating the feat is far less than that of the conservative player


      • dod May 31, 2015 / 12:13 am

        Cool. Then i’ll stick with the backgammon analogy as you are familiar with the game.

        As i’m sure you are aware despite being the oldest game in the world everyone played to a very poor standard until 1976 when Paul Magriel wrote his iconic book ‘Backgammon’ which introduced a very different way of playing the game.

        Then in the mid 90s neural net computer programmes such as Jellyfish and Snowie came along and played in a different style. They quickly proved to be as strong as or stronger than the best human players.

        These have since become surpassed by the latest programmes such as Gnu and Extreme Gammon.

        My point is that before each of these leaps in the level at which the game was played people thought the current standard of play was very good whereas the truth was it was terrible.

        Now FPL hasn’t been around for centuries and it is a complex game. I would conservatively estimate that 99% of the people who play the game make too many errors to have any chance of winning it. I say this because I finished in the top 1% in my debut season and I know I played dreadfully. I have a list of over 40 basic errors I made (and i’m not counting choosing the wrong players or captains as mistakes) and there are almost certainly many ways to play badly I am yet to discover.

        So just because someone regularly gets a high ranking doesn’t mean they are playing the game well but rather just not as badly as the vast majority of players. A bit like all those backgammon players in the 70s who regularly won tournaments, who wouldn’t stand a chance against today’s players because the game has moved on so much.

        As you rightly point out Simon March played very conservatively and took no hits all season. You yourself have a very fine record also with a conservative style. That doesn’t mean however that you would not do better with a more aggressive style. The sample size is simply too small and there is also a danger of confirmation bias. You may be assuming that your success is due to playing conservatively whereas it might be that you are making other decisions much better than the average player and that is the reason for your success.

        The player who won my mates mini-league this season finished well inside the top 5k overall despite taking 184 pts in hits.

        It may be that the conservative style is simply fashionable rather than good and that the players who take FPL seriously are the ones who are aware of and following the fashion. I suspect after Simon’s success this season playing conservatively will become even more fashionable.

        It may well be the right approach, but in a game as new and complex as FPL it is highly unlikely that anyone is playing it anywhere near optimally. For me the fun of the game is trying to discover game concepts that have yet to be considered and exploited.


      • triggerlips May 31, 2015 / 2:39 am

        Very interesting perspective, backgammon is purely mathematica., . In theory commputers eventually will one day always know the correct move, as they are working with dice combinations.They were always destined to make people look bad. The same can be said of chess, where the games of the old grandmsters look full of holes when opened up to scrutiny by the best engines

        We have to work with the moodswings of people like Balotelli and other largely unquantifyable factors. Conservative play takes advantage of the stuff we can quantify such as ownership, the tendency for the leader of the captains poll to score more points than the second candidate , the tendency for players to have better returns in easy fxtures etc.

        It is true that some areas of the game have hardly been looked into. How many have seriously tried to work with a 451 formation for example.
        Whatever the rights and wrongs of any particular approach i shall be adopting the “if it aint broke dont fix it” style.I will leave it to other to try and produce a new improved playing style


    • thesportsguy May 31, 2015 / 6:30 am

      as much as i find the backgammon discussion interesting, FPL is a game with significant information missing. its likely to be more like poker, or at best bridge (where the skill factor is significantly higher yet still you have to operate on limited information where deduction and probability are key).
      As i managed for several years what once was the largest online poker room in the world (party poker) i noticed two more principals that were very important to be a successful player:
      1 – play to your character – if you are a risk averse calculated player do not go into many pots (or in FPL take many hits) even if it is correct for a while – you will find yourself quickly feeling like a fish out of water (on tilt in poker terms) and start losing control and making errors.
      2 – optionality (not even sure its a word…)- when two equally strong moves present themselves, choose the one that closes the least future options – put yourself in a position to keep having a wider variaty of actions available.

      In short, the strong players not only have good theoretical knowledge (which is essential), but also have a plan that fits their style of play and try to never back themselves into a corner.


  5. adekoos1 May 30, 2015 / 7:10 pm

    Nice post. Very insughtful.
    It does seem like there is a missing ingredient to your strategy, however. It is hard to believe that a purely defensive, reactionary strategy is the way.

    (There have actually been projects where computers are programmed to play FPL, and although they did well – top 1% – they did not get near to the top 1k. Maybe the algorithm needs some tweaking…)

    Any strategy needs to be forward-looking. We all look ahead at least several gws with an eye on fixtures and our team structure (with varying amounts of success). How soon to jump on and off bandwagons should not only be a function of ownership.
    In any case, whatever the missing ingredient is, I’m quite sure I haven’t found it yet.


  6. White_Wall May 30, 2015 / 7:37 pm

    This article very much confirms my thinking about how you approach FPL.

    For example in mid-season you were extolling the value of Ozil compared to Sanchez. Then, a couple of weeks later, you brought in Sanchez. At the time that frustrated me. “Why won’t he back his own judgement”, I thought.

    I do believe that playing a safety, ownership based game gets good results. I have seen others do it too and I have seen how a top 10k finish can be quite easily achieved that way. Probably for someone like you who has depth knowledge of FPL mechanics and a very well sorted team structure (another skill you didn’t mention) it can guarantee top 2k.

    The trouble is, I don’t want to play FPL like that. As someone else pointed out, your approach may produce consistent high finishes but will, at the same time, make it less likely that you can finish 1st. My aim is to finish 1st and for that I think I will need to combine the conservative approach with a willingness to back my own judgement and depart from high-ownership players when I think the time is right.


    • triggerlips May 31, 2015 / 2:52 am

      Yes i sensed your frustration at various times, and i remember the Ozil part, I actually thought he was the better value of the two and more likely to gain points, however i still picked Sanchez. I can understand why that confused people.
      Hopefully now my actions are clearer.
      Despite the possibility of more points from Ozil, the risks of being wrong far ourweighed the reward of being right.
      Like i said in the article none of us are as good at knowing who will get points as we think we are. So just because i thought Ozil was a better choice dosent mean he would have been. What would have been real was the extra risk i would have exposed myself too by ignoring the highly owned Sanchez. Cant remember what happened afterwards, but i dont remember Ozil doing particularly well. Even if he had, his low ownership would have limited the damage

      That is why i was so mad at myself for selling Hazard the other week, i exposed myself to far too much risk, his ownership was huge. Had he not blanked in GW 37 it is unlikely i would have finished in the top 1k , a bad mistake. Not having him in GW 38 was not such a problem due to the big drop off in his ownership


  7. Zan Keroski May 31, 2015 / 4:11 am

    The notion that consistent good performance is luck is absurd to anyone who is actually any good at this game. Of course luck creates standard deviation in performance each week and over a season. The strategy triggerlips is describing is basically ironing out a lot of the standard deviation which will increase the chance of you getting a decent rank but give you very little chance of winning.

    To say this is the only way to be consistently successful at this game is also absurd, imo. The ffs boards are full of top players who play a less ownership focused game. That is of course different than trying to be too clever with differentials which is an inverse approach to ownership almost certainly doomed to failure.

    Imo good people can make better than average decisions through the use of stats, observations, fixtures, knowledge and prediction of impact due to a changed circumstance and other underlying factors. Sometimes this will correlate to the popular choice, sometimes not. Sometimes it will beat the masses but sometimes not. Over enough games i believe it will.

    I will always try and play the game this way, my way


    • triggerlips May 31, 2015 / 4:29 am

      To play devils advocate for a moment, proponents of the luck theory would say that those good players only downplay bad luck because they have yet to experience their fair share of it.

      I dont think i said my way was the only way, there are clearly other methods that people are succesful with. I think personality has a lot to do with it. It is probably vital to play a strategy that suits your temperament. For example a slow cautious approach would be useless for someone who was by nature impulsive and lacked patience. As would an aggressive hit based strategy be unlikely to work for a cautiously inclined manager.

      I know during my chess days i was more a Tigran Petrosian than an Alekhine and that seems to have carried over to FPL. Although to be fair i dont think my style is as boring as im making it look. Like Tigran im more than capable of switching to a more attacking style when needed.

      The article is more for the FISO readers who have been studying those in the hall of fame and are keen for insights into what makes them tick. So i am trying to figure out wha makes my record better than most others (apologies if sounds arrogant, its not meant to)


      • White_Wall May 31, 2015 / 5:04 am

        “It is probably vital to play a strategy that suits your temperament.”

        This has to be right. In chess, I always admired Lasker – “I make the move my opponent least wants me to play, whether it is the correct move or not”. He completely broke his big rival Steinitz that way, Steinitz being a proponent of the “correct chess” approach.

        What I think is that you must learn how the FPL mechanics work. It is a specific game and has its own model of risk/reward, investment strategy (squad structure, building team value), planning… It is also a peculiar game; to use the chess analogy, in FPL your knight has the capability of a queen one week and next week only performs like a pawn.

        Once you have depth understanding of the mechanics you can construct an approach that suits your personality and mindset yet makes sense against how the game actually works. That is a good starting point.


  8. FORCA INTER May 31, 2015 / 3:38 pm

    nice way to show off your 2nd hof ranking 😉

    but i agree with you , and i dont trust in fpl luck as well

    btw – brilliant blog mate , it has been nice to read all year long

    congratz on another great season , and for me you are true no 1 cause of your consinstency


  9. dod May 31, 2015 / 4:46 pm

    I tend to agree with Zan above and also with what White-Wall said about Lasker. Even in backgammon or chess a greater advantage can be had by ‘playing the man’ and exploiting their particular weaknesses. In poker even more so. The old adage of ‘play loose at a tight table and tight at a loose one’ is one of the better general pieces of advice in the game.

    In FPL you do not have a single opponent to exploit but rather many opponents but they often behave like a herd. They often have the same players and the same captains. The ‘wisdom of crowds’ applies but is exacerbated by the FPL game because of the price change system which rewards you for doing the same thing as everybody else and punishes you for going against the herd.

    For example if you chose all of the most popular players and your opponent chose 15 differentials that over a period of several weeks scored exactly the same points, you would still be better off than your opponent because you would have a higher team value. This supports Triggerlips’ theory.

    None the less if you follow the herd you are going to finish up in it. It’s a bit like the peloton in the Tour de France, it’s easy to stay in it and hard to break away from it. If, like Simon March this season, you are in the lead then having a squad full of high ownership players is probably a very good way to stay there, much like someone leading the Monaco Grand Prix.

    If your main aim is just to secure a respectable rank then it would seem that herd following is a near guaranteed way of achieving that aim. Yes it’s formulaic but it should work a large % of the time. If however you are interested in actually winning the FPL at some point you need to do something that differentiates you from the herd. Currently it seems most people wait until the last couple of GWs to do this whereas it might be better to do so at an earlier juncture. Certainly if you are not in the peloton then following the herd gives you no chance of catching up and more extreme measures are needed even if they have a high likelihood of failure.


    • White_Wall May 31, 2015 / 8:42 pm

      There are two main ways to beat the herd I think.

      One is to have different players (or the same ones at different times) or to make different captain choices. But that also carries the risk that you will lose ground.

      The other is to play the percentage game but do it better. That requires very few hits, very few mistakes and above all a really well sorted squad structure – something that TL is extremely good at. A good squad structure maximises the way you use budget and allows for fluid change at different price points – especially for midfielders and forwards.

      The difference between rank 10k and rank 1k this season was 96 points, around 2.5 points per GW. Very efficient management and a conservative game is enough to make that difference and put you ahead of the herd, especially when you consider that the average top 10k manager took 66 points in hits over the season.


      • triggerlips May 31, 2015 / 9:22 pm

        Another time to pull ahead is long term planning for the double gameweeks, as soon as they are announced you need to form a plan and stick to it.
        The DGWs are when most people make the most costly errors, they are also a great time to shake off any remaining dead teams that may have jammied their way to a good season.

        Like you say you just need to move with the herd, but be more careful than the majority of them, sooner or later most of the herd will lose concentration, make a mistake and be picked off by lions

        Good team structure is vital as it maintains maximum flexibility in terms of budget and plug and play swaps. Many with poor structure often find they cannot afford the players they want without a hit, and their teams become messy


    • zankeroski May 31, 2015 / 10:25 pm

      Tour de France is a great analogy.

      There are times when the right choice is the popular one and you just need to tuck in to the peloton and not gain or lose much ground. Aguero (c) wk 36 was one of those no matter where you were and some of those template teams around the Spurs dgws.

      Other times opportunities present where you can break from the pack and make up ground, where the right choices (in your own mind) is different from the popular one. Pick these opportunities better than average and you can get ahead.


  10. Carlos Kickaball May 31, 2015 / 9:24 pm

    Hi Triggerlips,

    I just noticed this article, and as someone who’s argument has been characterised as it’s just luck, I think you are missing the subtleties of what was actually said to make somewhat of any easy argument to push over. You talk as if luck and skill are mutually exclusive, or that having any sort of luck would make you less good, which is of course nonsense. Almost everyone agrees that the players with the best FPL records are amongst the best in the game.

    Specifically what my point was, is that someone with a record as good as Ville Rönkä’s (or even yours) in a game which has a component of luck, is likely to not only be from a skilful manager, but also a fortunate one. That is simple, indeed it’s pretty elementary, if luck and skill are both involved in performance then the top performers are both skilful and lucky.




  11. dod May 31, 2015 / 11:42 pm

    I think that two of the most important concepts in the game are not limiting your options and timing when to increase the volatility of your team.

    One of the problems I had last season was not setting my team up so that I could improve it with a single transfer. This especially hurt me when I had an injury and no spare cash or player of an equivalent value I wanted to bring in. Sometimes there was an obvious replacement but I already had 3 players of that team. Each time this happened I would either have to take a hit (or hits), bring in a replacement I didn’t really want or hang on to the player and lose value. With a little foresight these problems can largely be avoided.

    Then there is the question of timing your punts in order to break away from the herd. I think it is better to do this when you have 2FTs or are planning on using a wildcard soon after the punt as if it doesn’t work out you can correct the error without being doubly punished by taking a hit.

    Anyone who had the guts to play 3 Hull defenders (or 2 + GK) in week 34 or did the same with Leicester in week 37 would have made a massive move up the rankings. These were highly volatile punts (that I didn’t make) and were very likely to fail, but depending on my position in various leagues next season these will be the kind of all or nothing long shots I will be looking out for.

    There are also safer ways of increasing volatility than transferring in a low ownership player or making a left field captain choice. For example if you have 2 regular players on opposite sides in the same match, one a defender and the other an attacker they are unlikely to both score well as if one succeeds the other is very likely to fail. Rather than accept the middle ground you can bench the one that has the best replacement among your subs, therefore giving yourself an increased chance of both players getting returns.


  12. James June 1, 2015 / 7:49 am

    One of the trickiest things for a risk averse player like me is an aspect that has barely been touched on above, namely increasing team value in the first half of the season by making early transfers. What is the best strategy here – i.e. has anyone analysed how often players actually do get injured in midweek fixtures and thus whether it’s actually something worth worrying about?


    • dod June 1, 2015 / 8:46 am

      Being new this season I fell a long way behind on team value not realising it’s importance. Once I did I made a conscious decision to make all my transfers early if there was any danger of price changes in order to catch up. It didn’t really cost me much, maybe 10-12 pts over the course of the season which was vastly outweighed by the benefits of the extra cash generated.

      Obviously this is a small sample so should be taken with a pinch of salt, and I combined it with avoiding players with a bad injury history. I only really had Aguero and occasionally Costa in my squad who were a bit fragile.

      I’m definitely going to employ the same policy next season. In my mini-league the players who made Saturday morning transfers paid for it in team value and the guy who made all his transfers early won it despite taking loads of hits. His team value was really high and he could just afford better players.


      • James June 2, 2015 / 5:31 am

        Does this mean it is best to just follow the herd and transfer out players who are dropping in price in favour of those who are rising? This can sometimes contradict other logic, such as not transferring out uninjured top quality players purely because they’ve blanked a couple of times. Normally in favour of some flash-in-the-pan type.

        This is actually the trickiest part of the game I feel, knowing how to play the price markets in the first half of the season.


  13. Muppet June 2, 2015 / 7:20 pm

    This is exactly why I called you a reactive player, TL. And you’re obviously not alone. But this approach bores me to tears. Fair fecks to all who enjoy playing the game and achieving high ranks this way but I wouldn’t feel like I’m actually playing the game at all with this approach.


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