Note: This series is designed to take salary cap drafters of any ability and refine their skills to that of a seasoned veteran. The articles will go from basic concepts to the most advanced salary cap draft theories. Each article is designed to build on the previous articles in the series. For best results, read each article before proceeding to the concepts in the next article.
At this stage, you are no longer learning concrete things you can do to get better. Instead, you are learning how to layer subjective analysis over your concrete skills to push your edge a little bit more. So when you read this article, you should do so with that important factor in mind. Nothing you are learning now is an exact science, but the longer you draft the more these things will stand out if you are looking for them, and the more reliable your interpretation of them will become. Even if that only helps you at one or two critical moments in your salary cap draft, it will have been worth it.
The Psychology of Tells
A lot of people believe that observing tells is something you’re born with or something you have an instinct for. That isn’t necessarily the case. Learning to pick up tells is about nothing more than studying human behavior. Anyone can do it with enough practice and a few lessons from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
The great Mike Caro of poker fame wrote a whole book on Poker Tells detailing the things to look for that give away the strength of an opponent’s hand. Many of these lessons are directly relatable to a salary cap draft room. As he noted, there are thousands of little tells you can pick out to give you a clue as to what is in a person’s head, but they are too numerous to list. Instead, he boiled everything down to one simple idea: “Players are either acting, or they aren’t. If they are acting, then decide what they want you to do and disappoint them.”
Whether it’s a live draft or an online one doesn't matter. All it takes is paying attention to start to learn to predict human behavior. However, there are two things to remember about tells before you proceed. The first is that some tells can cut both ways. Without proper context, you won’t always know which way to interpret the tell, so the context clues are critical for your read. The second is that you must look at a person’s actions after you put a read on them to determine if you were right or not. If you don’t remember this critical step, you will never know if you are reading people correctly and will never get any better.
4 Common Tells
As Caro says in his book about tells, there are too many to list because human behavior is a complex tapestry of actions and reactions to the surrounding environment. So never forget that any tell is subject to whatever is happening around that person at that moment. However, some basic tells are fairly common and are good for you to start with.
Change in Behavior
When a drafter is loud and talkative but suddenly quiets down when you nominate Kyle Pitts, that should tip you off that something is going on. It is the responsibility of the person in the room to determine how to use this tell, what it may mean, and if it matters. But the change in behavior tell is one of the more reliable ones out there. When a drafter is quiet and not bidding but suddenly says “$35” as the bidding slows down on Aaron Jones, your radar should be blaring in your head. The problem is that most drafters aren’t paying attention to who is doing what in the room. You have to get in the habit of watching what people are doing to sense the change. Once you start doing it, it becomes second nature, but it takes a little time to learn.
Staring You Down
Your opponents’ gaze is something you should always note in your rubric of what is happening. Aggressive players will try to intimidate you by staring at you while the bidding is happening because they want a player. Even-tempered, calculated players will often stare at the wall or in the other direction when they’re in a bidding war with you. That doesn’t mean they are meek or submissive, it means they are confident in what they’re doing, and you are just part of the equation they’re using to determine whether to bid or not. Again, this tell can cut both ways, so make sure you know the context. But rest assured, it is an important part of knowing your opponent when you know if the way they are looking is typical or unusual.
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