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How to Bid at Your Auction Draft

Creating a Winning Bid Strategy for Your Auction

I have taken thousands of bids in my auction career, from all types of bidders. There are many different ways to bid at an auction, and there are many different strategies that can be used. This is where we will discuss how to develop a winning bidding strategy. As an auctioneer, I have seen almost every technique out there tried multiple times, and sometimes in multiple ways. Some methods are better than others, some have their place in certain instances, and some I did not allow to take place, but you may still be able to use in your auction draft. I will tell you how and why you can use each of these strategies to your benefit. My goal is to help you recognize the potential types of bidding styles out there, know when to employ them for your benefit, and learn how to defeat them when someone else is trying to use them. We will look at some of the more popular bidding styles, when you would employ them, and how to use them against other managers. Then we will look at several bidding strategies to use during your auction draft.

Bidding Styles:

The Grenade Launcher: The grenade launcher is the bidder who wants to open up or jump the bidding with a bang. This bidding style tries to blow everyone out of the water by using a strong opening bid, or jump in with a bid over what the current asking price may be. This type of bidder opens the bidding with a large first bid. The goal of this type of bidder is to attempt to intimidate other people from bidding against them, and can be very effective. Occasionally these buyers are their own worst enemy, as their opening bid may be more than a player is worth. Sometimes, this strategy works, as other people do not want to get into a bidding war with someone who appears to really like a player. The psychology behind this style goes back to why auctions work. Auctions can bring higher prices than other types of sales because of the competitive bidding process. First, auctions are open to everyone, and most bidders can be involved in the bidding on multiple items, as you can bid a lot at low prices, especially if you don't actually buy. Second, bidders get committed to something once they have bid on it a few times. Third, when multiple people are bidding on an item, other people assume there is value. This typically results in higher prices, as the more people that bid, the higher prices go, and the more emotionally invested bidders get, the higher prices go. The Grenade Launcher tries to eliminate this by limiting both the number of bidders and the number of bids, which can be very effective. On the other side, many times this bidder will only bid once and not again. If you are willing to pay attention, often times, one bid over the grenade launchers bid may buy a player, and for a reasonable, but not cheap price.

This strategy can be employed on players you may not want, as long as you don’t over bid. If you open with a strong starting bid, it makes other managers think this is a serious player and they are going to have to bid more than they had planned in order to purchase this player. The key here is to challenge other competitors’ thinking. If they have thought they could buy a player for $21 or $22 and you open the bidding at $20, it can immediately reset their expectations and make them think they are going to have to pay $25 or more for that player. If you have two other managers thinking this way, starting the auction out this way helps drain them of their cash. As an auctioneer, the way to defeat these bidders is to throw out a couple of other bids on the way up to their bid in order to make it appear that three or four other people will bid before getting to their number. This takes away the shock element of their bid with the goal of keeping all buyers involved. If someone tries this strategy against you, you could even call out a lower number, to try and create question about the value, but this does not help the auction move along. If you are low on funds and really want a certain player, this may also be a time to use this strategy. Just be aware that the longer the auction goes, the riskier this strategy becomes, as I have seen many times someone assume they know the value of a player and nominated them for $5 or $10, and then get stuck as no one else wants to pay that amount.

The Chiseler: The chiseler is the bidder who always just bids one more dollar more than whomever they are bidding against. This type of bidder can get very annoying, as they are always breaking down the level of increments in the bidding. This can get frustrating to other bidders who may just eventually let them have it (Figuratively, not Literally). The Chiseler always feels good about his purchases, as he knows someone else was willing to pay just $1 less. As an auctioneer, these bidders can get irritating, but they do still help move the process along. To combat this strategy, sometimes I would just put them in at the number I was asking for ($15 instead of $11) and then see if a stronger bidder would bid more than that number ($20). I also just skipped these bidders many times and took bids from other buyers who would bid the asking price. You may not like these buyers when you are bidding on top-tier players that will end up selling for much more than they are bidding, but they are the ones who may bail you out when you overbid. Towards the end of the auction, you will most likely have to bid this way based on your budget. If you are new to auctions, this is probably the way you should bid to make sure you limit any bidding mistakes.

The Jackhammer: This bidding strategy is the opposite of the chiseler, and the favorite type of bidder of most auctioneers. This type of bidder is tireless and strong. Whenever someone bids against them, they immediately bid, and may use slightly larger increments on the top players ($5 or $10 at a time, instead of $1). Similar to the Grenade Launcher, the Jackhammer intimidates opponents by their persistent and strong bidding. If they open a player at $10 and a Chiseler bids $11, they bid $15 immediately. The Jackhammer usually only bids on players they like, and then goes strong when trying to purchase them. This can be a good strategy but you have to be careful, as you can pay too much or buy too many players this way. This strategy can work well against a chiseler; you just have to see who blinks first. Alternating between the Chiseler and the Jackhammer can also be a good way to bid other managers up. If they are not sure if you want a player or not, and you vary your approach, you can quit bidding at a time they cannot predict, and they will bid again and maybe overpay.

The Sniper: As any user of eBay knows, the sniper is the person who tries to purchase an item with one bid, i.e. one shot, one kill. This type of bidder will sit back and let everyone else bid on an item, and when they think it is about ready to sell, they will start to bid. This can be an effective strategy for two main reasons. First, there is a fatigue factor when it comes to bidding. A bidder only wants to bid on an item a perceived “normal” amount of times. At some auctions, this may be five or six bids. After a certain time, a bidder tires and will let someone else win the auction. That is when the sniper comes in, and can often purchase something with one bid, or maybe two. The second benefit is the final price. If the sniper is not “helping” by bidding up a player, theoretically it should be selling for one or two bids less than normal. This is the opposite strategy of the grenade launcher, and is employed by a lot of savvy buyers. As an auctioneer, I combat this strategy by altering how long I take to sell an item at the end. If I sell an item quickly away from the sniper, it forces them to bid sooner on subsequent items, which leads to more bids and higher prices. This matters when I am working for a seller and my job is to get them the most money. In a salary cap or draft auction, this is not an issue so it is a method you can employ. Depending on how your auction is run will depend on how and when you can use this strategy. If you have a live auction, you may not get your bid in if you wait too late, as the auctioneer is usually focused on the managers who have been bidding on an item and as soon as one says no, they sell the player. Sniping can also be dangerous in online auction drafts, as sometime hitting the right button doesn’t quite work when the clock is going down to zero.

Bidding Tips:

BIDDING TIP #1: Develop a budget for the players you want to purchase at an auction, or at least a frame work for how much you ideally want to spend at each position you have to fill in a given league. This is not a novel idea, but you have to do it in order to have success at an auction. Ideally, just as in a snake draft, you should have two or three players you would be happy with having on your team in a certain tier or price range. You need to make sure that you are willing to pay what it takes to get first, second, third, etc. round picks on your team. It will be difficult to win without having players of this caliber, so you need to be ready to pay the market value for these players. Auctions are more dynamic than snake drafts for this reason, as not only is the order of players sold different, but prices can also change. While it certainly helps your chances of winning if you hit on a cheap player, even having one or two of these players without proven fantasy studs makes winning very difficult. However, you do not want to overpay for one specific player due to a bidding war, when you could get a similar replacement player for $5 or $10 less. This is especially true with the top tiers of players, as it is very difficult for a top player to exceed expectations. So, it is not worth overpaying for a player you may like slightly better, but whom, even if they do very well, may only score half a point more a week than another, similar top player.  

BIDDING TIP #2: Do not get Emotional. You need to take care to avoid the pitfalls associated with bidders who get carried away at auctions. First, never get emotionally tied to one specific player. The beauty of an auction draft is this:

  1. There is more than one player who can fill each position role on your team
  2. There is more than one way to construct your team

Unlike a real auction, where something rare that cannot be replaced sets record prices, in a fantasy draft auction, there is almost always another player who is similar to anyone you value. There is always a player ranked right behind the player you want, and there will be at the end of the year too. The space between rankings can vary, but there is always another player in line. In 2013, many experts look at Jimmy Graham as the consensus number one tight end, and he may have been by a considerable margin at the time. This is the type of player you may go into your auction targeting, and get emotionally carried away with during bidding. This is because the perception is that his production cannot be replaced. This may be partially true, AT THAT POSITION, but with budget caps, if you spend too much on Jimmy Graham, you are going to cost yourself at another position, or maybe more than one. So remember, not only can you find another player at a position that is going to be close to one you want, you can find a value at another position, if you do not overspend on a specific player at another position. In 2015, Rob Gronkowski became that tight end, but maybe the drop off to Jimmy Graham, or Travis Kelce, or Greg Olson, was not that big by the end of the year. Maybe the drop to the #2, #3, or #4 tight end is still enough to make one of the top talents worth saving part of your budget on instead of buying the single top player.

Second, do not get into a competitive bidding war with another manager. We all have members of our league that get our competitive juices flowing more than others do. The tendency is to take the short-term win, by buying a player we know they want, even if it costs a little more than we wanted to spend. Avoid this at all costs. We will talk next about how to try to make these players pay more than they should for players, but this should be handled in a cool and calculated way. You need to have a budget for each position, and while this may alter slightly if some positions sell higher than expected, within each position you are going to be able to determine what the right range of value for players should be. I am an advocate to bid your budget amount plus one, for significant players. You should have a price in mind for each player, and only bid that amount, and then one bid more, depending on when it occurs and how much money you have (See Tip 6). In the first half of the auction, I would probably stick to my budget except for my top one or two players. The benefit of the auction draft is that everyone has the same amount of money, and at some point, if you wait long enough, the deals will come.

BIDDING TIP #3: Bid with Purpose.  Whenever you bid in an auction, you need to do so for a specific reason. There are multiple reasons to bid at your auction draft. When you nominate a player, you are required to have an opening bid. In order to buy players you want, you have to bid on them. Some savvy managers want to make sure bidding is spread out fairly and will bid on some players they may like, but not love. Some managers want to try to make other competitors have to pay more for players they know they like. Some people just get a thrill out of bidding, and like to do it as often as they can. Other than the last type, these are all reasonable reasons to bid in an auction draft. However, you need to avoid ever bidding on players you do not want on your team, as it is possible you can get stuck with them. There are times when someone opens the bid on a player and you may think that is really cheap, and that you should just bid once or twice to get the price up closer to where you think it should be, even though you don't want the player on your team. This is dangerous, as it is easy to get stuck with these players, so I would strongly recommend don't bid on players you don't want on your team. If you are new to auctions, you need to focus on purchasing the players you want on your team, and not worry about what other people are paying to build their teams. As you get more experienced in participating in auctions, then you can venture into finding ways to subtly or slightly affect other fantasy managers drafts.

BIDDING TIP #4: Be willing to run the bid up when necessary, and Price Enforce. In the same way you nominate players you may not actually want to drain other fantasy manager’s resources, you can also compete with other managers over players you may not want in order to keep prices honest. Again, you never want to bid more than you think a player is really worth, because when you bid, there is always the potential that you end up with the player. However, we all know certain mangers like certain players, or their are hometown players that typically will sell for more than they should. A perceptive bidder knows the other players in their league, learns their bidding styles, and then makes them pay full price. They can also learn the one thing to say that may push another competitor over the edge to bid one more time and bail you out when it looks like you might be stuck with a player you do not really want. The key when employing this strategy is to never let anyone know if it didn’t work, and even more so when it did. If you talk smack about making someone pay, or lament how you got stuck with a player you didn’t want, you are just going to encourage the other players to try to put you in that position again. Again, easy ways to do this is by starting the bidding out fairly strong, say $10 on a top RB that should sell for $20 to $30, and be willing to bid $15 if someone bids $11, to create that challenge to other bidders thinking and getting them to pay more. You should probably focus more on bidding up a player you would be okay with having on your team, as opposed to price enforcing, where you are trying to make sure all players sell for what you think they are worth. The problem with full price enforcing is you may have misvalued players and then get stuck with several players you don't want and before you know it, you have a team you didn't really want and/or don't really like. Also, if you become the price-enforcer, other managers think you have it handled and they won't do it, so when you quit doing so or run out of money, they are not prepared to do it, and they other managers get really good deals.

BIDDING TIP #5: Bid at the very beginning and the very end. Having been involved with thousands of auctions, it almost always takes a few items for bidders to get warmed up and ready to bid. This means it is highly probably that the first 2, 3 or 4 players that go up for bid in your auction draft, may sell for slightly under what other similar players will sell for once the auction gets going, and all the bidders are comfortable. This can also happen when the first player at a new position is nominated. If the first twenty nominations are running backs and wide receivers, the first Quarterback or Tight End that is nominated may also sell for slightly less than they should. This is because the market has not been set for those positions yet, and no one wants to overpay.

Conversely, auctions almost always have good deals at the end. Most auctioneers start their auctions out with items that most people are willing to bid on, then quickly get into their best items, and usually end with lesser items. This is for two reasons. First, people have more money at the beginning of the auction. This means they typically will spend more early in the auction, and have less money at the end. In fantasy drafts, most managers want to get into the players that would normally be drafted in the first, second and third rounds, because even poor managers know these players and feel comfortable bidding on them. Second, people lose interest over time and are not as sharp at the end of the auction. Some auctioneers try to save their best items for last, but this rarely works, as people tend to spend their money on other things before the end of the auction arrives, or it takes to long and people leave or become distracted. In an auction draft, some managers get tired or too inebriated to pay as close of attention, or they run out of money, or in some cases, fill out their teams quicker than anyone else. The typical auction price graph would look something like this:

As you can see, the longer the typical auction goes, the more prices should lower. This gives you the opportunity to get deals at the end of the auction. You still need to get two and maybe three players who would be considered first of second round type players at the beginning of the auction, but you can see how it is advantageous to wait until the end to buy players to fill out your team. The only potential downside to this strategy is if there are no really good players left when that time comes. There are a lot of good deals at the end of the auction, but they are usually on less desirable players. That is why you have to continue to pay attention to who is left on the board so that you make sure you are not sacrificing getting a 4th or 5th-round talent so you can gamble on a few 10th-round talents that may or may not pan out. Also, as it gets towards the end of your auction draft, you need to know exactly how many roster spots you have left to fill, and if there are one or two players left that would put your team over the top. Don't spend $3-4 on a marginal talent, if there is one player left you really want that you might be able to buy for $15 if you wait. There is usually at least one or two people with more money than other managers at the end of the auction, and you want your competitor to buy the player with the lower upside for the $5, so you can then out bid them for the player you think is better.

BIDDING TIP 6: Bid on Top Players. While it is good to be ready to get a deal on the first couple of players nominated in your draft, and while it is also rewarding to be able to buy a player or two for half of what you had budgeted for at the end of the draft, your team will not be good if you do not pay to get top players on your team. You are never going to really get much of a deal on the players that would have been drafted in the first 2 or 3 rounds of a snake draft. Everyone knows these players are good, and everyone is going to try to get a top Running Back and Wide Receiver, and many a top Quarterback and Tight End. If you wait until the second half of your auction to bid, you can control the auction if you have the most money, but most likely, all the top 3 rounds of talent will be gone. So while you may get some good prices on 5th or 6th round levels of players, unless they all overachieve, you are going to be left with a team of mid-round talent, with few must-start options every week. Would you agree to skip the first 4 rounds of a snake draft, if you got the first five picks of round 5? In a 12 team league with you not getting to select anyone, that would mean the top 44 players would be off the board before you got your first selection. That is what you are doing if you don't bid and pay for some of the top players in your auction draft. This may appeal to you and it might work if you selected five breakout players, but the odds would not be in your favor.

The other thing you need to keep in mind when bidding on top players, is keeping track of player tiers. If there are five players at a position group that most lists have ranked above the next group of players, the best player will usually sell for the most. Fantasy managers all have access to lists of players and want to pay according to the lists. So the first player that sells sets the market. If that is not the best player, most competitors will then assume he will sell for slightly more, which makes sense. Where the problem lies is that when you have even an 8-team league, let alone 10, 12 or more teams, that means there are fewer players in the top tier than there are teams. This means the fifth player, who is the last player in the perceived top tier, will most likely sell higher than the other players in the tier right before them, because multiple managers wanted a top tier player at this position, and now the have to compete against 2 or 3 others who want the same thing. Your tendency is to think if you wait prices will go down, but when multiple people are thinking the same thing, and then want the same last player, demand out weighs supply, and price go up. The ideal is to track which players are left in a given position tier, and which managers need these players, and then buy a player before everyone else realized the last good player is up for bid and overpaying.

BIDDING TIP 7: Pay attention to your fellow competitors. You need to watch what the other mangers in your league are doing during the auction for two key reasons. First, this can allow you to get a sense of how other people are valuing positions and players in the league. This can give you an advantage when you are bidding against these mangers on similar players later in the auction. Some people will always try to buy the players they nominate and others will not. Sometimes, these strategies will flip half-way through the auction when there is less money left in the room. Some managers will bid all the way on a player and some will wait and try to snipe the player with one bid. Knowing or learning your fellow competitors tendencies can help you pick the right times to bid and buy and save you a few dollars that may help you control the end of the auction.

Second, I had a lawyer uncle that dealt with a lot of interpersonal issues with families. He always emphasized that knowledge of persons is through revelation, meaning people have to reveal themselves to you in order for you to learn who they are, and vice versa. In a serpentine draft, you have limited knowledge on which managers like certain players because only one person can select at a time. In an auction, you get to see almost everyone who likes a given player, because they bid on that player. You need to keep track of not just the winning bidder, but also the back-up bidder, and I would contend, all bidders on a certain player.

When we have an auction of anything substantial, we always get the information on the back-up bidder, in case the deal with the first person falls through. We also then track anyone who registered to bid, and then bid, even if they did not buy at a given auction. These people have shown themselves to be interested in what we are selling, and when we have the opportunity to sell something similar later, we immediately have a database of interested buyers. So, in fantasy, if you need to upgrade your team through a trade, if you have tracked who bid on what players, you have a leg up in knowing they already like those players. This should allow you to target the right managers and make a better deal. This also helps you build your knowledge bank on the players in your league for years to come.

BIDDING TIP 8: Set your auction budget, but be willing to go “plus one.” I am not talking about Cartman’s contemporary music group from South Park, I am talking about the willingness to go one bid higher than you planned on a player you really like. In actual auctions, we have what is called absentee bidding. This is where a bidder cannot make an auction, so they leave a maximum bid with the auctioneer. Now, auctions are fluid, so sometimes it becomes difficult for the bidding to end exactly where the bidder had hoped. If they had left a $25 bid, but someone in the crowd bids $25, the auctioneer is going to probably recognize the live bid first. Many auction houses will have their absentee bidders leave a bid amount, but also include a provision to bid one more time at the current bidding increment. This allows the auctioneer an easier way to work the absentee bidder in, and gives them a better chance to purchase the item they want. In an auction draft, the same can hold true. If you have determined your budget and how much you want to spend on certain positions or players, that is fine and well. However, there are usually one or two players you may have a better feeling about than other players ranked near them. When the bidding on these players occurs, it is okay to bid one more time to get the player you really want, as opposed to laying awake later that night wishing you would have bid one more time and purchased the player. A reasonable extra amount to bid is 10% of what you had budgeted for that position. If you were willing to spend $40 on a running back, you are probably still going to be okay paying $44. If there is a second wide receiver you wanted to pay $15 for, you are probably not going to mess up your budget paying $17. Keep in mind, auction budgets are finite, so if you spend a little extra on one position, you are going to have to save that money somewhere else later. So, if you find yourself spending a little extra on a Running Back or Wide Receiver, you need to then deduct that extra amount from your Quarterback or Tight End budget. Because we are dealing with a salary cap, it is typically difficult in an auction with decent competitors to have a perfect team. If you spend up at Quarterback, you are probably going to have to sacrifice at Tight End. If you have great Wide Receivers, you may have a Running Back roster that is a little less robust.

BIDDING TIP 9: Bid at the right speed based on the segment of the auction you are in. At the beginning of the auction, there are usually more higher-priced players available, and there will be a lot of bids on each player, which means you do not have to bid right away. At the end of the auction however, the bidding goes much quicker. So, if you want a specific player, you need to bid quickly after another manager nominates someone, so you can get in the second, usually $2 bid. This can allow you to save a few dollars, as most players at the end are only selling for $1 or $2, and many players can only bid $2, so whomever does so first, may get that player. Further, if your max bid is $2, you may want to nominate someone at $2, so other managers in your position are unable to out bid you.