Freedman: To Master Fantasy Sports and Betting, You Have to Make a Deal with the Devil

Sep 18, 2018 12:45 AM EDT
  • This is the 180th installment of “The Labyrinthian” series, which explores random fields of knowledge to give sports speculators unordinary guidance.
  • Mastery of daily fantasy sports or sports betting is arduous to attain.
  • For millennia, humans have told a particular story about how dominance in any field can be acquired: Through a deal with the devil.

I’m currently reading the December 2017 issue of “National Geographic” because I’m nothing if not timely.

In it is a brief account of “The Smith and the Devil,” an ancient Proto-Indo-European folktale about a blacksmith who makes a deal with the lord of the underworld. The man gives away his soul and, in exchange, he becomes the master of metals, possessing the power to weld any materials together.

With his newfound abilities, the smith fashions a trap, which ensnares the devil. When the devil asks for his release, the man agrees to free him — but only if the original soul-staked agreement is nullified. The devil acquiesces, and the smith presumably lives out the rest of his days with his spirit sound and his craft perfected.


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This is a wonderful story, and versions of it have been passed down through the years.

  • “Dr. Faustus” (Christopher Marlowe)
  • “The Devil and Tom Walker” (Washington Irving)
  • “Young Goodman Brown” (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (Oscar Wilde)
  • “The Bet” (Anton Chekhov)
  • “Damn Yankees” (Richard Adler and Jerry Ross)
  • “Rosemary’s Baby” (Ira Levin)
  • “Devil’s Advocate” (Andrew Neiderman)
  • “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (Beedle the Bard)

In each of these stories, people are given something by a dark individual: The Devil, Death, what have you. Explicitly or implicitly, they are expected to pay an eventual price for what they’ve received. In some versions, the people pay up. In other versions — the best versions — the people use what the devil conveyed to them in order to cheat him of payment.

Because I’m not normal, this makes me think of daily fantasy sports and sports betting. Here are a few random thoughts I’m looking to eject from my brain on a Monday morning.

1. Daily Fantasy Sports and Sports Betting Are Crafts

When people traditionally make a deal with the devil, they get some sort of skill or knowledge in return. For instance, Robert Johnson (as legend has it) sold his soul to the devil at a random crossroads in Mississippi. In exchange, he became the greatest blues songwriter and guitarist of all time. Even though he had little recognition in life and died at the age of 27, he was a member of the first class inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He was certainly an artist, but he was also a craftsman. It’s not for nothing that “ax” is a slang term for “guitar.”

Like metalwork and musicianship — and basically anything in life worth doing — daily fantasy sports and sports betting are crafts. They require knife-like skills that must be honed. They require intense mental labor.

Speculating on sports is fun, just as woodworking is fun, but it’s something to do with care if you plan to keep your fingers. If you approach DFS and sports betting as a craftsman — a humble technician enthusiastic to perfect your trade — you’re likely to have more success than if you treat it like something you do only for fun.

2. If You Want to Master Something, You Must Sell Your Soul

I’ve never been a very balanced person. Well-roundedness is great in theory … but I kind of think it’s even overrated in theory. And in actuality, it’s the means to mediocrity. (In the opinion of this fantasy sports writer.) Just about two years ago, FantasyLabs co-founder Jonathan Bales wrote a piece on his personal blog about how life balance is not necessarily ideal. I agree. If you want to be successful, balance should be eschewed.

Success in life is not about how many things you do well. It’s about how well you do one thing. Success is about becoming the outlier. (Side note: I realize I’m using a very narrow, results-driven and soul-crushing definition of success in this instance.)

If you want to be successful at something — regardless of whether it’s DFS, sports betting, running, writing, etc. — if you want to master it, if you want to be the best in the world at it, if you want to have skills seemingly unnatural for mortals to possess, if you want to have otherworldly abilities suited only to the gods, then you must be willing to — nay, you will need to — sacrifice your soul. You will need to sacrifice yourself.

And you will need to do so every day. The deal with the devil never ends.

3. Sacrifice Leads to Salvation

The poet John Milton wrote in strict poetic forms not because he felt beholden to them, but because he felt emboldened by them. Within their constraints, he felt most free. By sacrificing the ability to compose in an open form, he created the best literary representations of his genius.

When one sacrifices oneself in the sublime pursuit of perfection, one is not merely going through the motions of a process to be gotten through. One is seeking salvation.

When you make a deal with the devil, you do so not just to acquire unthinkable capabilities and knowledge. You deal with the devil so that one day you can conquer him. Power is never about just power. It’s about salvation.

Why do you spend hours researching players, teams, matchups, slates, lineups, historical trends, Vegas lines and everything else to do with sports? So that one day you will be free of your demons.

The devil is ready to deal. You’ll find him in the closest mirror.



Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.

Follow Matthew Freedman on Twitter
@MattFtheOracle

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