Fantasy Football by Sun Tzu
Posted Aug. 14 at 01:39 PM
There's no evidence that Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general who lived around 2500 years ago and produced the acclaimed The Art Of War, ever played fantasy football. But if he did, it was probably a "dynasty" league (get it? Dynasty? Okay, no booing, please). Fortunately, his thoughts on military conquest have survived, and some of it can actually be applied to the game we play.
Now, I'm not saying that fantasy football is war. But many people take it very seriously, it can take up several hours a week of free time and there's money and/or pride on the line. You want to win, so why not utilize a world-renowned tome of successful tactics? Let's take a look at some of his words, and see if some of it doesn't resonate as you prepare for your draft or auction.
Ch. 1, Section 17: "All warfare is based on deception".
Do you talk football with your league-mates before draft day? If you do, do you tell them your strategy, who you like and what you're doing differently this year? Of course not. Fantasy football talk before the draft has all the authenticity of a political speech: It sounds good, but you're probably not going to stick to it.
There's only so much deception you can pull in fantasy football, but it's never in your best interests to reveal your plans for no reason. If an owner knows you're targeting a certain player, that's not going to help you. If the league knows your draft objectives, it won't make things easier for you. The more you can keep them guessing, the more opportunities you'll have to play out your strategy without opponents getting in your way.
Ch. 1 Section 26: "Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought".
Most leagues have that one guy who walks into the draft with a magazine published in April and a pencil, and asks about the roster requirements-- again-- as he pops open a beer. you might even shake your head at that one time, several years ago, when he actually won the league.
But year in and year out...how does that guy end up doing? Probably not very well. Maybe he just enjoys the camaraderie of the league or has other things going on but still wants to be an active owner while he watches the NFL season. But he's obviously not prepared on draft or auction day, and he suffers as a result. He doesn't "make many calculations," and he ends up congratulating someone who does. The battles begin before the games start, and while preparing doesn't guarantee anything, your league's champion will probably be prepared when it's time to fill out the roster.
Ch. 5 Section 6: "Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and the moon, the end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more".
There's no reason you have to be predictable. You can take a running back first, or a receiver, or a quarterback. You can draft a second quarterback before you've drafted a tight end. You can bench your first-round pick in week 6 if he has a bad matchup. You can be a Cowboys fan and fill your roster with Eagles and Giants.
If you open yourself up to more possibilities, your "indirect tactics" are truly inexhaustible. You can be unpredictable, bold, reserved, and never feel like you "have" to make a certain move. Don't be the owner who is so transparent that half the league could make your moves for you. You don't want to do crazy things just for the sake of doing them, but having the unexpected in your arsenal makes your intentions harder to predict while opening up more options for you.
Ch. 6 Section 28: "Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances".
If you only remember one piece of advice from Sun Tzu, let it be this one. Too many owners win a league by starting out going QB-WR-WR and think that's the "magic formula" for all future drafts. Then they spend years dooming their teams because they don't want to stray from what worked-- once.
Your fantasy league changes every year, just like the NFL. What worked one year-- shotgun, Wildcat, whatever Tim Tebow does-- might not work the following year. Or maybe it will. But you have to consider each season differently, and not confine yourself to the strategy that worked once.
You know "the guy who takes kickers early" or "the owner who always waits to take a quarterback?" They didn't get that way by accident. Delve into their history and you'll see that, at one time, that strategy worked. And if they wait long enough, it might work again. But in the meantime, they'll be hamstrung by limitations they put on their team while you'll use whatever tactics might work today-- because you're not stuck in the past and using "the tactics which have gained you one victory."
Youtube Clip of the Week: Do NOT use the same "indirect tactics" that this guy used.
Any funny stories based on the tips above (or ignoring them)? Share your thoughts below.
Posted by Scott Anderson | Aug. 14 at 02:20 PM
We have one guy in our league (our 17th year), he's been in it for 11 years. His first year, he drafted Jason Sehorn. (No, we don't use IDP.) This inspired the "Jason Sehorn rule" - if you try to draft someone that's already off the board, you get Jason Sehorn instead. Another draft, he came in 'prepared' - with the newspaper that had all the teams' rosters; no rankings whatsoever. This same guy went 10-4 last year after losing Jamaal Charles & having Arian Foster hurt for a few games. Needless to say, he's evolved into a saavy fantasy owner - in the beginning, he just "thought it would be fun", but he takes it as seriously as the rest of us now.
Posted by Nathan Kline | Aug. 14 at 06:21 PM
Our champions last year is a no prep guy. He rode Drew Brees and an amazing pick of Rob Gronkowski (round freaking 13) and a resurging Steve Smith to his title. However the year before (in 2010). He drafted Todd Herremans, as a TE. We absolutely let him have it for that. Funny thing is Herremans had a receiving TD that year.
Posted by dan maus | Aug. 15 at 08:31 AM
Years ago when our league was formed, the first player drafted Steve McNair (3 QB in my rankings iirc). When someone made an observation regarding his choice, he spoke the words which have become our league motto of sorts; "It's all luck anyway."
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