Head to Head vs. 50/50 DFS Cash Games

Guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments attract lots of attention in daily fantasy sports. After all, who doesn’t like having a chance to win eye-popping rewards for playing something they love?

However, GPP play can be volatile, especially when we’re talking about top-heavy tournaments that attract thousands of players. To take one of these down, you have to capture lightning in a bottle.

Thankfully, there are several ways to play DFS, including a few options that are more bankroll friendly. Head to head and 50/50 games fall into that category. In the former, it’s user versus user with the top score winning the contest and prize pool.

For 50/50s, you need to build a lineup that’s better than half the field to double your entry fee. There are plenty of DFS players out there who focus a lot of time and effort on these games. Once you sharpen your skills, the returns can be a bit more predictable than solely relying on GPPs.

So, which of these game types might work best for you and your strategy? We’re going to help you decide by walking through all you need to know about both formats.

First things first, let’s take a look at how we can classify these two ways to play DFS.

What is a DFS cash game?

The phrase “cash game” has become an ingrained part of the DFS lexicon. It refers to contests in which the prize pool is divided in half and split amongst the winners. Both head-to-head and 50/50 games fall into this category.

In head-to-head games, users are matched up by skill level and square off against each other. The winner is the player who posts a higher score. These games can be found at varying price points, ranging from the micro-stakes level and up to high-roller games. However, the victor doesn’t double his or her entry fee. That’s thanks to a thing known as “rake,” which is the DFS operator fee.

It’s a similar concept for 50/50 games, but the field is much larger. These games can include only a few players, while larger ones can have 100 participants. Players who post scores better than half the field will win nearly double their entry fee. Once again, rake gets in the way of being a straight double-up.

We’ll dive more into the concept of rake in a bit. For now, simply know that you must factor it into your strategic approach. You’ll find 50/50 games at varying price points.

For those new to DFS, there are beginner 50/50 games, which make for a great way to get the hang of these games.

DFS head-to-head games

A head-to-head game is a form of DFS that most closely resembles season-long fantasy sports.

For example, in your average fantasy football league, teams are matched up each week during the season. The team that scores the highest for the week notches the win.

In head-to-head DFS, it’s the same thing. After players are matched up, the higher-scoring lineup gets bragging rights, not to mention the prize pool.

Head-to-head games start at entry fees of $1 and go up to $1,000. As a general rule of thumb, there’s more volume to be found at the low- and mid-stakes ranges, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find opponents for high-stakes games.

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Let’s walk through an example using a simple $10 MLB DFS head to head game on FanDuel.

You have your lineup all set and come across an opponent who is offering a game at this level. You click through and join in.

The night’s slate of games plays out, and your lineup is the winner when all is said and done. You get a return of $18 for your troubles — your original entry fee plus a profit of $8.

Wait, so what happened to the other two bucks?

That’s FanDuel’s fee for running the contest. You and your opponent both put up stakes of $10. The operator took $1 from each of you for a total of 10% commission, which is generally referred to as rake. As you move up in stakes, the amount of rake kept by the site drops in percentage terms.

For example, in a $109 head-to-head game, the prize pool is an even $200. The total entry fees are $218, which means that the site is keeping 8.25% in rake.

DFS 50/50 games

In 50/50 games, the size of the field will vary from a few to 100 players. The same applies to buy-in points, which range from $1 to hefty stakes of more than $1,000. The goal for your lineup is to outscore half of the participants.

Let’s say that it’s an NFL 50/50. The top lineup in the field goes off and scores 202.5 points. While that’s awesome, it doesn’t matter as long as your score is better than half of the field.

In this fictitious contest, your team posts a score of 160 points, while the lineup in the middle scores 145.5. You’ve had yourself a good day and outperformed the majority of the field. Your reward is up to half of your entry fee.

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Let’s walk through the math for a $20 50/50 on DraftKings with 20 participants.

The total prize pool is $360, which will be split equally among the top 10 finishers. Since you finished in the upper half, your prize is $36. You didn’t double your entry fee because the operator kept $2 from each entrant, or 10%, as rake.

Once again, the amount of rake will lessen as you creep up in stakes.

For example, a six-person $109 50/50 has a total prize pool of $600. The total entry fees amount to $654, so DraftKings is keeping $54, or 8.25%.

What’s the difference between a 50/50 and head to head?

The difference comes down to the number of entrants in the contest.

For head-to-head contests, it’s user versus user. When playing these games, you only have to beat out one other entrant to win the prize pool.

For 50/50s, the field could have up to 100 players. To win prizes in this contest, you must beat half the field. So if it’s a 100-user 50/50, your lineup has to finish in the top 50.

There are two competing schools of thought on which of these games gives you a better chance at winning.

For head-to-heads, it’s almost a coin flip if you’re playing another user in the same skill range since you only have to beat out that user.

In 50/50s, you have to best half the field. If you assume that at least some of the lineups will be impacted by something unforeseen, such as an injury or unexpected lineup shift, then you’re competing with even less of the field if all goes well on your end.

There’s a greater amount of competitors and more variance in 50/50s, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Lineups, strategy differ between 50/50 and head to head games

For DFS cash games, strategy trends toward safer athlete choices that produce more reliable and consistent fantasy output. That’s different from GPPs in which you are looking for those who have the potential to exceed expectations.

While the athletes in your cash-game lineups can do the same at a moment’s notice, that’s not your concern. You’re essentially looking for a plug-and-play production.

Let’s walk through an example using the NFL.

In a GPP, you may consider a volatile running back who has boom or bust capabilities. His production isn’t a guarantee on a weekly basis, but when this athlete goes off, the output is through the roof.

This athlete wouldn’t be a great play in head to heads or 50/50s. Instead, you’d be looking for an RB who has a crystal clear role in the game plan, as in a predictable number of targets and touches.

To make noise in a GPP, you need some boom and bust and contrarian selections to help separate your lineup from the pack. In cash games, being in the pack is just fine, as long as you’re among the leaders when the final whistle blows.

That said, the top cash game plays on a slate of games can be pretty apparent to experienced players. Therefore, you will need to look for a spot that you can pivot on to differentiate your lineup.

To do so, examine your lineup once you have all the slots filled out. Determine which of the athletes will be among the highest owned for the night. Afterward, you must zero in on one or two of the slots that have viable alternative options. They could produce similar or better results.

If you can do this for at least one of your lineup spots and all else goes well, you should wind up with an excellent score for a DFS cash game.

How to decide between a 50/50 or head-to-head

A lot of the decision comes down to personal preference.

Do you prefer just competing against a single user and feel that your skills are good enough to win more often than not? Then head-to-heads could be your preferred choice.

Do you like a little more variance in your game and prefer bigger pools of entrants under the assumption that many of them will slip up for the slate of games? Then 50/50s could be your cup of tea.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing both styles of DFS cash games. Many users do just that and find plenty of success. For one approach, consider splitting up your action, such as by entering five head-to-heads and five 50/50s.

If you go 3-2 for the slate in both contest groups, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Which is better: head-to-head or 50/50?

Once again, user preference rules the day. You’ll find a more significant variety of opponents in 50/50s, but you have to beat out one other user for head-to-heads.

Those are among the pros on both sides, but what are the cons?

For 50/50s, a single lineup mistake could leave your entry dead in the water. A late scratch or a shift in playing time for an athlete in your lineup could result in much less fantasy production than you were expecting.

If other users in the contest avoided that landmine, then you’re well behind the pack for the slate.

In head-to-heads, there are lots of experienced users, so the competition is rather fierce. It’s not uncommon to see the lobby dominated by certain players at all price points, so getting enough action in without playing them can be challenging.

On the bright side, new users don’t have to worry as much about those worst-case scenarios.

On DraftKings and FanDuel, new users who have yet to play in 50 paid games are considered beginners.

There are contests specifically reserved for them in the lobby, in which more experienced players won’t be able to enter.

Beginner games are great ways to get up to speed against others of a similar skill level, so be sure to take advantage of the full 50-game allocation.

One other note on the player pool, specifically for head-to-heads: On both of the major sites, users are clearly designated by experience level.

This is invaluable if you’re new as you’ll be able to avoid the proverbial sharks and search for other users to compete against with comparable skill levels.

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