Links to other sections in this series:
This subject is easily the most indefinable part of any auction draft: the human psychology of individual drafters. The series has touched on this from time to time, but now is the time to get into the details of what makes people do what they do. When you’re sitting in the drafting room what can you tell about what a person will do from what they are showing you? Their clothing, their behavior, their alcohol intake, and their previous actions all factor into the overall picture you get when you’re facing someone down for a player or when you’re deciding on a nomination.
As noted in Part 5, at this stage in the process you are no longer learning simple concrete things that you can do to get better. Instead, you are learning how to layer subjective analysis over the top of your concrete skills in order to push your edge just 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.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TELLS
You read briefly about tells in a prior part of this series. But now you are going to take a layman’s course in human psychology and how it can affect your auction drafting. Keep in mind this advice is not from a clinical perspective of someone with a medical degree, rather it is advice grounded in game theory and observable human responses in high-pressure situations. The thing about pressure is that it does things to a person’s face, voice, or body language that they are often not aware that it is doing. That is the whole crux of the issue. Is the person unaware of what they are giving off to the room, or are they intentionally trying to portray something that they don’t believe?
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 an auction draft room. As he noted, there are thousands of little tells that 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.”
This is the whole ball of wax in one neat sentence. You could read a whole book (Caro has several of them) with all the nuance that goes along with this idea, but it wouldn’t touch every eventuality because the combinations of actions in human behavior are endless. But there are some things you can learn that will give you an idea of where to start.
CHANGES IN BEHAVIOR
There is a common misconception that humans can multitask, The belief is that human brains can divide attention to one or more specific tasks all at the same time. This is a myth. What is thought of as multitasking is actually a person rapidly switching their attention between tasks. What this produces is a specific change in someone’s behavior when their attention becomes captured by a new stimulus. So in an auction draft, you’ll see the following behavior:
Player X is drinking alcohol as the draft happens. He is talking to the drafters on either side of him and being generally gregarious and lighthearted. Your belief is that Player X is going to want D.J. Moore because he has had him before and likes to roster him. As a result, you believe that you will be able to snag Amari Cooper after Player X gets Moore. Before you get to call out Moore, Cooper is nominated. Player X hears the nomination, beer halfway to his lips, and pauses a moment. He then takes a swig, sets the beer down, and suddenly has stopped talking. What does this tell you about his intentions? He’s almost certainly not acting. He has exhibited a classic change in behavior. His manner went from loud, outgoing, and happy to quiet and interested. In fact, he has put down his favorite thing – the beer – and is now focused on what is happening in front of him. It’s safe to say that at this point Player X wants Amari Cooper. How much he wants him is up to you to decide, but you have your starting point already.
This example should be able to produce some of those small dividends referenced in Part 5. Knowing that Player X is suddenly keenly interested in this nominee brings some of your decisions into focus when put in context with the other skills you have learned. Should I bid this guy up or merely price enforce? Can I convince him that this player is mine by jumping the bid up a few bucks at a time or will the alcohol and his lack of attention render that a moot tactic? Can I bowl this guy over by bidding quickly every time he bids so he’ll fall back on Moore (not likely)? Does he have enough money to be seriously engaged for Cooper?
The important thing to remember is that you never reach the analysis in the previous paragraph if you didn’t pick up on that person’s change in behavior in the first place! This is critical. Even if this only results in you making that drafter pay $2 extra for Cooper, you have done your job by extracting a few extra bucks and Moore will be yours.
The change in behavior is the single biggest tell you can employ in the draft room. As already noted, it’s not 100% reliable, but the key is noticing the behavior first and then seeing what results follow from that behavior. This raises your accuracy level. If you simply see the behavior and then don’t follow the bidding and the final result, then you haven’t learned anything about what the behavior meant. So even if you are not in on the bidding for Cooper or Moore, it is still important to note the behavior, the bidding, and whether Player X ended up with Cooper or not.
Now you’ll begin to see behavioral patterns develop. Does one manager sit forward and peer intently down at her draft sheet instead of her normal laidback posture sitting back in her chair? Does the volume of the bid change based on how much they want the player? Do they attempt to look bored when they’re bidding on someone they love? (remember this one – it happens a LOT!)
The bottom line is that in most situations the person will not be acting and you can use that information they are freely giving off through their speech or actions. But when they get better at doing auctions they’ll start to try and give you false tells. All you have to do is identify it and disappoint them. In theory, it’s quite simple, in practice it’s quite difficult but also quite achievable.
LEARNING THE ROOM
When you are diving into human psychology there is no amount of information that is ever enough. People are complex, and auction drafting is the same. But you can start to learn the room you are in if you expect to play in that league year after year.
The single biggest thing you can do is to study the final results of the draft and compare them with what you know about each player coming in. Every year as you begin your draft preparation for the upcoming season you should study the previous year’s order that players were nominated, who nominated which types of players, who was buying players they nominated or didn’t nominate, and what prices were paid by which managers. You cannot begin to take your knowledge of the league and the room to the next level until you study history as one of the main backbones of your analysis.
If you don’t know a room at all, there are still some types of drafters you can readily identify before the draft or in the early stages of the draft. Those drafters will become familiar to you year after year even if it isn’t the same person. The behavior will still be something you recognize. Once you do that you can begin to pile on some of your analysis to get their “type” down to a more predictable set of outcomes.
It is common to see certain types of drafters and then see them do blatant things that give away their intentions. How often have you been in a hot bidding war only to see one of the drafters lean over and cross the player off their list before the bidding stops? Believe it or not, this happens a lot. Or what if the bidding is still going but one bidder turns to his neighbor to make a wisecrack as the bidding continues? He’s obviously done with it and perhaps now is the time for you to jump in and try to snag a deal.
The main message comes back around again – everything matters. When Player A walks into the room and sits down with his laptop bag he’s already begun to define himself. He removes his computer, promptly plugs it in, gets his papers out, removes a pen from the designated spot in his laptop bag, and organizes his workspace for what’s to come. Player B walks into the room, he’s ten minutes late, he’s got a fast-food bag with his lunch, and some papers clutched in the hand with his Diet Coke that he’s spiked with rum. That player has also begun to define himself. When you’re dealing with Player A his actions and outcomes will be measured, and even predictable. When you’re dealing with Player B you’ll have to tread carefully as he’ll be wild and prone to emotion.
As you draft with the same league each year you’ll have more data points to further pigeonhole each player in the league. Studying history will give you great leaps in what you can accomplish year to year. But even if you are in a new league you can still be a student of human psychology. Letting players define themselves, paying attention to what their behavior tells you, and acting on that information is an extremely important part of any auction draft skillset. Using it at first may feel awkward and uncertain, but the more you study it and use it the better you become at making the right plays at the right time.Follow @DrewFBGAuctions