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Office Pool Strategy Tips

Proudly Presenting, Tips on taking money from the boss! There are all kinds of pools, with all kinds of rules and competition levels. Surely then there must be different optimal strategies for playing against other people?

Our office pool expert has helped many people win their office pool (see the Testimonials) so why shouldn't you also profit from his advice!


What type of pool are you playing?

The first guideline for any kind of contest you enter is to read the rules and understand what it will take to win.

Football pools break out usually by the following setups:

  • Time frame: weekly winners or season-long chase
  • Number of games: all games each week or select number of games
  • Pick Mode: spread based or straight-up (all games equal) or straight-up (weighted value games)
There are of course other types of pool, like elimination pools (pick one team each week to win, keep going until the last player is left alive), or team-win pools (draft certain teams whose wins count for you during the season), but the vast majority of pools I encounter are based on the setting listed above.

The next key information points to consider are number of players in the contest field and handicapping ability of the players as a group. Once you factor in these elements, you should be able to gauge what it will take to win the top prize.

Here are some general thoughts to consider based on the type of setup for weekly contests:

Type
Span
# of
Players
Comments
Spread

pick all games each week

Weekly
Any
Making good picks is the key and there isn't a lot of room for strategy. If the lines used by the contest are soft (eg differ from the actual lines) take note of this.

In more casual player pools there will be a tendency for people to overplay the favorites, so going with numerous underdogs is smart and going against any "Public choices" is doubly so. Play teams getting soft lines if you like them anyway.

In pools featuring "sharp" players going with teams you like that are getting bad lines is actually a good idea since the other players will tend to shy away from games where they are not getting the full value.

Straight-Up

Pick all games each week, games count the same

Weekly
Small number
The simplest of pools. With a small number of players you don't want to pick any bold upsets since the chance of them coming through is low and you don't reap any benefits from picking the dog. If you take three longshots and go 1-2, you're losing to the people who play the favorites.

The key is nailing the games looking to be close on the spread (with a favorite of say less than five points). In this realm upsets are common. Still, don't pick a dog just because they are a dog -- have some basis for thinking they are the stronger team.

In some cases with pools like this people are reluctant to pick all favorites and actually overplay the underdogs (thinking it's chicken to go with all favorites). In that case, playing all favorites can be the preferred strategy!

Straight-Up

Pick all games each week, games count the same

Weekly
Large number
With a large number of players the tables turn. In most cases the "all favorites" card is covered by many people. Having a genuine upset candidate can make a longshot pick a viable play since few others will have it should it win. However more than one big upset is usually unwise unless you are in huge pools.

Additionally, playing unpopular teams (and avoiding the heavy hype teams) can be smart as well. Teams living off past reputations that have not shown much lately are bad plays. Many people continue to pick such teams to win in tough spots just because a few years ago they were very good. Focus on how teams are doing this season, not previous ones.

Nailing the close spread games is still the key, and do take a select few underdogs.

Straight-Up

Pick all games each week

games are weighted from most likely to least likely

Weekly
Small number
In this type of pool, the weightings are the key. On a customary 1 to 16 point scale, a top game worth 16 points counts for as much as the bottom five picks!

Realize that most players will take the obvious favorites and put them as the top picks. You can play the favorites, but try to weight some less obvious ones that are still solid shots at winning at the top. This way when an upset does happen it will hurt the other players more than it hurts you, and if upsets don't happen you will still be in the running based on the more chancy games.

Picking outright underdogs to win at high point values is a dubious strategy in a pool with a small number of players. Again, the top picks are so much more important than the bottom ones, so get them right and make them different from your opponents!

Straight-Up

Pick all games each week

games are weighted from most likely to least likely

Weekly
Large number
The weightings are still where players win and lose, but now taking some chances really can pay off big. With a large number of players you can assume there are multiple entries ordering the picks as all favorites with weights directly proportional to the point spread (eg the biggest favorite in a week is the highest rated pick on the entry).

Finding some key upsets to root for can become a smart technique. In week one of 2003 Houston shocked Miami and you can bet that most people had Miami as the most valuable pick. By going against the obvious choice you have a strong likelihood of losing, but when the upset hits then you are in great shape to take the top slot in a big crowd.

Upsets do happen and in a big pool where you have to separate yourself from the masses, going with one can make sense. Another good move is rating highly a game where you like a team that is only a small favorite (or even a small dog). Most players will avoid putting too much weight on "pick'em" type games, so if you do and are right you will be ahead of the pack.

That's a first pass at some tips, but we will be back for more during the season!

Also See:
Office Pool Spread Picks
"Straight Up" Office Pool Picks

Find out more:
What the press says about TwoMinuteWarning
Comparing NFL Handicapping Services

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