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How to Bid at Your Auction Draft

Creating a winning bid strategy in 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. 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 strategies, when you would employ them, and how to use them against other managers. Then we will look at six 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 bidding process. First, auctions are open to everyone, and most bidders can be involved as they can bid at low prices. 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 you are low on funds and really want a certain player, this may also be a time to use this strategy.

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, but they are the ones who may bail you out when you overbid, and, towards the end of the auction, you may have to bid this way based on your budget.

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 usually in slightly larger increments ($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.

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 defeated this strategy by altering how long I took to sell an item at the end. If I sold an item quickly away from the sniper, it forced them to bid sooner on subsequent items, which leads to more bids and higher prices. Depending on how your auction is run will depend on how you can use this strategy. If you have a live auction, you may not get your bid in if you wait too late. This can also happen in software, as sometime hitting the right button doesn’t quite work when the clock is going down to zero.

Bidding Tips:

BIDDING TIP #1: Set a budget for the players you want to purchase at an auction. 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 is now that tight end, but maybe the drop off to Jimmy Graham, or Travis Kelce, or Greg Olson, will not be that big by the end of the year. Maybe the drop to the #2 tight end is still enough to make him worth saving part of your budget on instead of buying Gronk.

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: Be willing to run the bid when necessary. In the same way you nominate players you may not actually want to drain other fantasy manager’s resources, you also need to 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. hey can also learn the one thing to say that may push another competitor over the edge to bid one more time and bail themselves out. 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.

BIDDING TIP #4: 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. 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. 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. While you do need to get two and maybe three players at the beginning of the auction, you can see how it is advantageous to wait until the end to buy players. The only potential downside to this strategy is if there are no 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.

BIDDING TIP 5: 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. 

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 owners 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 mangers 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 6: 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 take 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.