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2022 NCAA Tournament Calcutta Pool: Rules, Payouts, Strategy & How to Track Your Own Auction

2022 NCAA Tournament Calcutta Pool: Rules, Payouts, Strategy & How to Track Your Own Auction article feature image

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We’ve built a simple spreadsheet to organize and track your auction for the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Collin Wilson will share his Calcutta strategy in an article Monday.

Looking to spice things up this March? Calcutta auctions are a great alternative to your traditional NCAA Tournament bracket pool.

How does it work?

  • You bid on teams, auction style, until each team has been bought.
  • But there isn’t a set limit for how much one person can spend, like in a fantasy football auction. So you don’t know how big the pot will be when you start, making your budget and any value much more art than science.
  • When your teams win games, you collect a portion of the total pot.

The beauty of these pools is that the total pot grows and evolves as the auction goes on, and some serious game theory comes into play.

That’s what makes Calcutta so fun. If someone wants to spend $100 on No. 3 seed Tennessee after No. 1 seed Gonzaga goes for $85, so be it. If Gonzaga ends up going for 65% of the total pot, that’s OK too. Just about anything is fair game.

We created a spreadsheet so you can easily track your Calcutta pool auction and results.

Typically, longshots need just a win or two to return your investment, because you likely paid a small portion of the pot for them. No. 1 and 2 seeds need to make a deep run to pay off, since you paid a large share for them.

Here’s an example payout structure with $2,000 in the pot. If your team wins the national title, you’d get 24% of the total pot because you’d collect a percentage for every win.

If you spent $200 on Baylor last season and there was $2,000 in the pot using the example below, you would have collected $480 total when the Bears won it all.

Win % of Pot Money Won
First Round 0.5% $10
Second Round 1% $20
Sweet 16 3% $60
Elite Eight 4.5% $90
Final Four 7% $140
National Champ 8% $160
Biggest Blowout Loss 4% $90

Why include the biggest blowout? It incentives participants to bid on the really bad teams, too.

You can tweak the payouts per round, or add your own bonuses like biggest blowout win or biggest point spread upset. Just make sure it all adds up to 100%.

Rules to Know

  • You can auction the teams off in whatever order you’d like. Some pools do it completely randomly, some do it by region. Others allow each participant to take turns auctioning off teams, which adds another layer of strategy.
  • Make sure one person is the auctioneer and keeping a good cadence, or it can go on forever.
  • You can group teams together; some pools will offer the 14-16 seeds in a region as one team. It drives up the price and gets more bidding on worst teams in the tournament.
  • Track the results in real-time in a spreadsheet so everyone can see what each team went for. It’s vital to have that info during the auction.

General Strategy

The first teams auctioned will likely be the cheapest. People get anchored to the initial price of each seed — if No. 2 seed Kentucky goes for $100, it’s unlikely another No. 2 seed goes for less than that. That’s one downside to auctioning off by region, is that the prices get pegged.

Last year in an auction I did, the regions totaled the following percentages of the pot in this order: 17.6% for the first region, 23%, 27.6%, 31.8% for the final region.

Try to track dollar amounts vs. probabilities. Our Sean Koerner puts out percentage chances for each team to reach each round. You should use them to your advantage.

Let’s say your pool pays 1% of the pot each for winning the first two rounds, so 2% total. A team like Houston, which Koerner gives a 47.5% chance to reach the Sweet 16, should not be bid much past 2% total.

The tricky thing is you don’t know how much the pot will be in the end. Again, you need to use some feel.

Be strategic about buying teams in the same region. If you have the No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the same region, one team is capped at three wins. It’s unlikely those combined purchases will net you a return, unless one wins the national title. If you buy too many teams near each other in the bracket, they’ll just knock each other out.

But there is something to fading a specific team and trying to corner the rest of the region. If you think 2-seed Auburn is overvalued, you might try to snag No. 1 seed Kansas and a lower seed from Auburn’s portion of the bracket like LSU. That way your two teams could meet in the Elite Eight, but because you didn’t spend big bucks for the second team, they’ll be profitable without having to reach the Final Four. (I’m not advocating for that, I know very little about these teams).

Pros of Calcutta Auction

  • Calcutta auctions give you complete control over your teams, and who you want to buy. Just be ready to pay up.
  • You can spend as much or as little as you want. You can show up to the auction and buy no teams at all.
  • You alone own each team. Your rooting interests will be much simpler; traditional brackets often get messy, since you will eventually need other brackets to fail.
  • It’s not a winner-take-all situation; one team can carry the rest of your portfolio.

Cons of Calcuttas

  • Auctions are difficult to organize, especially if you’re not together with all the participants.
  • Some people will be scared off by the potentially high stakes nature of Calcutta auctions, since the entry isn’t capped.

Good luck and enjoy!

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