For those who are not familiar with the game, the Premier League runs an official ‘fantasy football’ competition online. Laypeople can pick a team each week, accumulate points and pit their knowledge of the Premier League against other fans from around the world. The game is one of strategy and luck; fans have a limited budget and must select which players to back.
Recently it came to my attention that Magnus Carlsen, Norwegian chess grandmaster and the current World Chess Champion, was placed 111th in the fantasy football premier league. According to The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), Magnus Carlsen is the best male chess player in the world as of February 1st. At the time of writing his position in fantasy football’ had dropped slightly to 224. This is remains an exceptional performance, particularly as he competes against over six million others.
Maybe I am wrong to think luck has a major role in this game? Perhaps strategic competency plays a greater part. In this case perhaps Carlsen’s strategic genius, when it comes to chess, spills over into other domains?
This reminds me of a paper by Palacios-Huerta and Volij from 2009 published in the American Economic Review called Field Centipedes. Their paper considers the psychologically difficult process of backward induction between laypeople and chess players. The latter group habitually practice the art of thinking multiple steps ahead and reasoning backwards. In this game two players take turns deciding whether to earn a marginally greater share of a growing pot of money, or to pass the money over to their counterpart. The equilibrium prediction is that defection should occur on the first round – the game unravels from every other stage back to the first. The major finding of the Palacios-Huerta and Volij study is that expert chess players play this game quite differently from students. 69 percent of chess players show signs of sophisticated strategic reasoning and stop immediately, mirroring the predictions of game theory. All Grandmasters in the experiment stopped at the first round.
I don’t know how many other grandmasters play fantasy football but perhaps they should be the source of advice for all things Premier League!