Playing Multiple Entries In NFL Survivor Pools: Implications & Strategy

If you have the opportunity, we recommend playing more than one survivor entry. We explain some strategy with multiple entries.

Multiple Entries in Survivor

Playing multiple entries is good. Playing multiple quarterbacks is bad. (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire)

Playing a single entry in a single survivor pool is a risky, “boom-or-bust” activity. Even in small pools, and even with our help, your odds of winning a pool in any given year are going to be fairly low.

For example, if our strategies help you triple your odds to win a 75-person pool, that’s pretty amazing. Still, playing only one entry, you’ll only be expected to win that pool once every 25 years or so, compared to once every 75 years without the TeamRankings edge. Your long term profits should be fantastic. It could take a heck of a lot of time and patience to realize those profits.

Since we cannot manipulate time (yet), the only real way to increase your chances and speed up the likelihood of getting more pool wins is to play multiple entries across different pools.

What’s A “Portfolio” Of Survivor Pool Entries?

If you are playing multiple entries in one or more survivor pools this season, and more than one of your entries is still alive, then you are creating a “portfolio” of survivor picks each week.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing one or both of the following:

  • Playing multiple entries in a single pool
  • Playing in multiple pools.

To maximize your chance to win a prize, you need to evaluate all of your surviving survivor entries, across all pools, and use one big interdependent strategy to win money.

While a small portion of our subscribers only play one entry in one pool, the majority of our subscribers (who tend to be serious pool players) have more than one entry in play. Some of them play 10, 20, or even more entries in pools with thousands of total entries.

As it turns out, there are some really good reasons for playing multiple entries in one or more pools. We almost always recommend it.

The Case For Multiple Entries

The concept of having a portfolio of picks is similar to diversifying with a portfolio of stocks. If you had invested in both Netflix and Blockbuster Video in 2003, when the future of each company was highly uncertain, you would have made a ton of money over the next dozen years — despite Blockbuster going bankrupt. Betting all your capital on Blockbuster, however, you would have lost everything.

If you spread your investment over a variety of stocks, you’re more likely to “hit” on one that increases dramatically in value. You are less likely to completely strike out.

From a strictly financial standpoint, a lot of people are constrained in regard to how many entries they can afford, or how many entries they are willing to buy if they are primarily just playing in survivor pools for fun.

Make no mistake, though — aggressively exploiting a relative edge is what pros do to get ahead. If you’re familiar with daily fantasy sports, you probably know that the world’s top earning DFS players typically enter dozens if not hundreds of entries into the bigger tournaments. They employ a similar portfolio-based strategy in contests that also feature a high-risk, high-reward dynamic.

What is the Right Number of Entries in One Pool?

There’s a limit to how far you can take a portfolio strategy within a single survivor pool. Your overall expected ROI (return on investment) decreases a bit with each additional survivor entry you play. That’s because you pay the same amount for each entry, but there is technically only going to be one “best” survivor pick of the week in each of your pools.

Further, as we covered in the Expected Value article, your own pick impacts expected value. The more picks you have in a pool (and the smaller the number of other entries are remaining), the more total influence your picks have on the EV.

So while there is no “right” or “wrong” answer about the number of entries, there can be diminishing returns with having multiple entries in the same pool. With every entry you put in the same pool, you increase your average total expected pot share, but you decrease your expected average edge.

When considering how many entries to use in a given pool, it can be helpful to think in terms of percentages, rather than raw number of entries. Having 5 entries in play in a 150-entry pool (3.3% of the total entries) will allow for a bigger average edge for each entry, compared to having 5 entries in a 20-entry pool (25% of the total entries).

On our “Past Performance” page, you will see the edge provided by our picks (Pot Share vs. Expectation) has been the highest with 5 entries, but has a broad peak across everything from 1 to 10 entries (3.2 to 4.4 times what you would expect). The expected pot shares are on average between 2.2% and 3.0% for those groups. That would equate to, on average, our subscribers being in pools where their entries represented 1 out of every 33 to 1 out of every 45 of the total number of entries.

Avoid Spreading Yourself Too Thin When Using Multiple Entries

As a general rule, we’ve observed that most survivor players focus too much on minimizing their risk of total elimination when it comes to spreading picks across multiple entries. By picking lots of different teams in the same week, you do increase your odds of having at least one entry survive — but you simultaneously increase your odds of having at least one entry lose.

That’s a hefty price to pay in the already high-risk world of survivor pools. In short, making picks with the main goal of having your portfolio survive the current week typically isn’t the strategy that maximizes your expected profits in these pools (just as focusing only on surviving the current week generally isn’t the best strategy for single entries).

If you have more than one entry in your portfolio, we’ll usually suggest splitting your picks over multiple teams. The point of doing this is so that a single upset can’t eliminate you from all of your pools.

However, if you have more than two entries in your portfolio, we’ll usually suggest that you use the same team on more than one of your entries. For example, a 4-entry portfolio will often be split over two teams (2 picks on each) or 3 teams (2 picks on one team, and 1 each on two other teams.

More Teams Equals More Expected Losses

The more different teams you pick, the lower your chance of having all your entries survive.

Think about an extreme example … if you have a 25-entry portfolio, we would never suggest you pick a different team on all of them! You’d be picking both sides of some games, and some of your picks would be huge underdogs.

Let’s look at a hypothetical portfolio of four entries. We’re going to ignore future value and pick popularity, and just focus on win odds. Those other two factors are important in survival pools, but that aren’t the driving factor for spreading your picks over multiple teams — win percentage is. Our top 4 options are:

  • Chargers (90%)
  • Rams (82%)
  • Ravens (78%)
  • Chiefs (73%)

Let’s compare the expected number of wins and losses for the top 1, 2, 3, or 4 teams. The numbers from 0 to 4 across the top of the chart represent the number of surviving entries.

# of TeamsPicks01234Avg # surviving
14 LAC10%0%0%0%90%3.6
23 LAC, 1 LAR2%8%0%16%74%3.5
22 LAC, 2 LAR2%0%24%0%74%3.4
32 LAC, 1 LAR, 1 BAL0.4%3%10%29%58%3.4
41 LAC, 1 LAR, 1 BAL, 1 KC0.1%2%15%41%42%3.2

The Benefits of Avoiding Elimination Get Smaller After the Second Team is Used

Using two teams instead of one team across your four entries reduced your chance of total elimination from 10% to 2%. However, adding a third team only lowered the chance from 2% to 0.4%. Going from a third team to completely spreading out your selections across all four teams only lowered the chance of total elimination from 0.4% to 0.1%.

So diversifying to a second team is the most important, in terms of preventing total elimination. After that, the elimination avoidance goal sees diminishing returns.

Every Additional Team You Use Reduces Your Chances of All Entries Surviving

Using two teams instead of one team reduces your chance of getting all entries through, from 90% to 74%. Adding a third team in the above hypothetical, your chances of getting all of them through fall again from 74% to 58%. When spreading them out across four entries, the chances of getting through with every entry falls from 58% to 42%.

That means each additional team after that first one makes a larger negative difference on the chance that all entries survive, than a positive one on the chance to avoid elimination.

Taking all that into account, you can see that by adding more teams to your portfolio, you are decreasing your average number of expected surviving entries, and decreasing the chance of getting all entries through, in exchange for lowering the chance of total elimination.

Each additional team becomes a bit worse of a trade-off, with the elimination rate changing less, and the “all survive” rate changing as much or more.

The Dynamics of Each Week Should Determine Your Portfolio Pick Distribution

For the particular example above, featuring four entries, and with those specific win odds, splitting over two teams looks attractive. That already brings the elimination rate from 10% down to 2%, and keeps the “all-4-survive” rate up at 74%.

But the ideal pick distribution will depend on a variety of things from week-to-week. Some factors include:

  • the types of pools your entries are still alive in
  • how many of your entries are in the same pool
  • the number of different unique rules situations there are in your pools (and thus more unique team pick rankings)
  • how the win odds are distributed among potential choices.

In a week featuring a candidate with 90% win odds, like above, the distribution might be more concentrated on the top choice than in a week where the best win odds option is under 80%. Many weeks, splitting a 4-entry portfolio across three teams makes more sense. Our portfolio pick suggestion logic tries to figure out what’s best each week, for your particular portfolio.