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Article 4: The Art of War

This is a release from the 1999/2000 season. Of the four lessons this one was met with the most fervor. People either thought it was one of the better fantasy football articles they had come across or considered it pure slop. To each their own! Look for an all new 5th article in this series this 2005 preseason.

Sun-tzu ping-fa (Sun Tzu The Art of War) is one of those rare texts that transcends time. Though it was written more than 2,000 years ago (Sun-Tzu lived from 400

320 B.C.) it is arguably still the most important work on the subject of strategy today. Written by Sun Wu, Chinese general to the state of Wu, The Art of War was intended only for the military elite of the time period. This treatise has now been translated, studied and absorbed by elite powers throughout the last 23 centuries. From the fearless samurai in Japan to top corporate CEO

s managing multi-billion corporations of today, all have studied the works of Sun Tzu and all have benefited.


The work is even more fascinating than its background. Only reading it will one see the principles are timeless and true, the words pragmatic and universally applicable to any situation that requires absolute victory. After thinking this through for a time, I came to one simple conclusion. If the ancient principles of war are so revered by corporate moguls and in fact, there are countless interpretations of the Sun-tzu ping-fa applied to business strategies that make the global economy tick, they should be good enough for my fantasy football team.

This lesson is a tad bit abstract when compared to the first three. In the first three lessons, we discussed general fantasy football strategies, player evaluation and draft principles. All three topics were tangible, something real we could explore with hard cold numbers and a dash of sensibility. Once you have a team, you need to know how to run it, which is what “The Art of War” attempts to cover. It is impossible to teach these principles unless you have the proper mind set. You have to understand one extremely important concept, strategy. But it is more than just strategy; you need to understand how to apply strategy interactively on other human beings with a slant toward victory. Once again, and forgive me if I repeat myself over the years, history is the greatest teacher. There are so many topics already covered by minds greater than ours, by people who have lived life and benefited from experiences, you and I sitting in our desk chairs simply could never experience. How many of you have been in command of thousands of men, sending them to their death or to victory? How many of you have flown around the world in a balloon? How many of you have climbed Mount Everest? How many of you know the theories and principles behind quantum physics? There are people that have and for more reasons than just money, want to share their story with you. Be the wiser, and learn from the teachers history has to offer, then apply it to your daily life. In this case, we take General Sun-Tzu

s infinite wisdom and apply it to fantasy football. Oh yeah baby, now we

re cooking with gas.

There are three basic elements to weekly fantasy football maintenance most of you need to know.


The Waiver Wire (Free Agency)

Starting Lineup


The waiver wire should now be easy; you just need to evaluate talent and if you

ve read Lessons 1-3 you now know how to do that. Compare someone in free agency to someone on your team, who is better? Problem solved.

Determining a weekly starting lineup we explore as we get into some of the truths and misnomers that revolve around the topic as we progress through the season in the Progno

s weekly column.

Trading however requires a certain mind set before attempting to execute a winning trade. More than just trading however, you need to approach each season with a mind set that guarantees success. Trading is the art part of fantasy football; some of you will paint a Picasso and others little stick figures with crooked lines. Not everyone can paint a Picasso, there are true masters at the trade. Owners that can lace their words with gold and hide it so well, you

re willing to trade your whole team for their backup Kicker. They really do exist, but a true master never lets you know they are a master as they will use that fact to their advantage. Sun-tzu will help teach you this advantage. To become a master at this game you must know the rules of human psychology, appreciate and understand the differences in people and apply a heavy dose of military strategy. Go ahead and laugh now, and get left behind.

The “game” requires a mind set you may not have been exposed to or more likely, have not been able to put your finger on. The best owners I play against, that repeatedly win, all share common traits. Whether they know it or not, they approach this game with some basic principles of war. If you can wrap your mind around some of these concepts I guarantee your mind set will bring you rewards. You need to think like a true General to be successful and I encourage you to read about strategy, as there are annals of texts on the subject. You will learn what it takes to be a better General and strategist in the process. It is not something to teach in 5 minutes or less, it is a lifetime of learning and observing. It is something you can apply to your fantasy football career time and time again. What I offer here are some basic observations coupled with some actual translated words of deep wisdom.

It is time my friends to prepare yourself for the season; it is time for you to sit on that hilltop mounted on your battle stead, as you look down on the plain in front of you.

The ping-fa is separated into 13 chapters, and since I don

t read Chinese (pardon my ignorance if there is a distinction between Cantonese or Mandarin or some other dialect that is the proper term to use) I have read the translated version. Chinese is a symbolic language, which means each symbol represents a thought, action, etc. so the translated ping-fa is not a lengthy text. There are 13 chapters of what seems like simple text covering a wide array of strategic military thought. Scholars, Buddhist Monks, modern day Generals, all have attempted to take these teachings and wrap them up in a blanket for us. If you go onto and perform a search, you will find countless translations, essays and study on Sun-Tzu

s Art of War. Much of the ping-fa is meaningless to fantasy football. Supply chains, Fire as a weapon, how to tool an army, are all topics that don

t correlate but there are many valuable lessons that await the fantasy player that should be taken to heart. Remember that the ping-fa is more about observations of humanity and how to defeat human opposition. I

d say we

re onto something.

Some of what is contained in these chapters paints a not so nice picture of humanity and let me also state I wouldn

t suggest approaching your friend

s league like this. Friendships are much too valuable a sacrifice but if you truly want to win, there are some simple fundamental lessons you need to know, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, am I that person? I have provided some excerpts from a translated version found at

and I credit them for some of the content found in this article.

Chapter 1

Calculations (excerpt)

Sun-Tzu said:

General is wisdom, credibility, benevolence, courage, and discipline.

A general who listens to my calculations, and uses them, will surely be victorious, keep him;

A general who does not listen to my calculations, and does not use them, will surely be defeated, remove him.

Calculate advantages by means of what was heard, then create force in order to assist outside missions.

Force is the control of the balance of power, in accordance with advantages.

Warfare is the Way of deception.

Therefore, if able, appear unable,

if active, appear not active,

if near, appear far,

if far, appear near.

If they have advantage, entice them;

if they are confused, take them,

if they are substantial, prepare for them,

if they are strong, avoid them,

if they are angry, disturb them,

if they are humble, make them haughty,

if they are relaxed, toil them,

if they are united, separate them.

Attack where they are not prepared, go out to where they do not expect.

This specialized warfare leads to victory, and may not be transmitted beforehand.

Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win, because many calculations were made;

before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will not win, because few calculations were made;

many calculations, victory, few calculations, no victory, then how much less so when no calculations?

By means of these, I can observe them, beholding victory or defeat!

Progno says:

So just what the heck is that Tony? Well, much is obvious but the important lessons to come away with are:


You are the General. In ALL matters dealing with fantasy football you must be wise, credible, benevolent, courageous and disciplined. Write these 5 disciplines down and refer to them often. They are the foundation of you, the fantasy football General.

Warfare is the way of deception. If you are strong, appear weak, if you are weak, appear strong. This is a key to success in fantasy football.

Attack where they are not prepared. Take advantage of the lesser owners. If an owner has 2 good TE

s and 1 good RB, it would make sense to try to acquire his second TE. Instead, go after the RB, attack in places where they are not prepared. They will turn you down but you can always counter with something that makes sense for them. Fill his need with 2 WR

s for example. Attack in odd places.

Think. Think a lot. The more you think about a particular move, the better it will be. Drive yourself crazy thinking about a trade, draft pick, or lineup decision. It will be a better move for you if you think it all the way through.

Sun-tzu said:

When doing battle, seek a quick victory.

A protracted battle will blunt weapons and dampen ardor.

If the army is exposed to a prolonged campaign, the nation’s resources will not suffice.

When weapons are blunted, and ardor dampened, strength exhausted, and resources depleted, the neighboring rulers will take advantage of these complications.

Then even the wisest of counsels would not be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Therefore, I have heard of military campaigns that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen military campaigns that were skilled but protracted.

No nation has ever benefited from protracted warfare.

Progno says:


m not sure where I grabbed this snippet from but the point is an important one. Do not drag out a battle. When performing trade talks wrap them up quickly, do not be the one to drag out the talks. Swoop in, grab the players quickly and effortlessly, if you waver, someone else will beat you to the punch.

Chapter 5


Sun-Tzu said:

Generally, in battle, use the common to engage the enemy and the uncommon to gain victory.

Those skilled at uncommon maneuvers are as endless as the heavens and earth, and as inexhaustible as the rivers and seas.

Like the sun and the moon, they set and rise again.

Like the four seasons, they pass and return again.

There are no more than five musical notes, yet the variations in the five notes cannot all be heard.

There are no more than five basic colors, yet the variations in the five colors cannot all be seen.

There are no more than five basic flavors, yet the variations in the five flavors cannot all be tasted.

In battle, there are no more than two types of attacks:

Uncommon and common, yet the variations of the uncommon and common cannot all be comprehended.

The uncommon and the common produce each other, like an endless circle.

Who can comprehend them?

The rush of torrential waters tossing boulders illustrates force.

The strike of a bird of prey breaking the body of its target illustrates timing.

Therefore, the force of those skilled in warfare is overwhelming, and their timing precise.

Their force is like a drawn crossbow and their timing is like the release of the trigger.

Even in the midst of the turbulence of battle, the fighting seemingly chaotic, they are not confused.

Even in the midst of the turmoil of battle, the troops seemingly going around in circles, they cannot be defeated.

Disorder came from order, fear came from courage, weakness came from strength.

Disorder coming from order is a matter of organization, fear coming from courage is a matter of force, weakness coming from strength is a matter of formation.

Therefore, those skilled in moving the enemy use formation that which the enemy must respond.

They offer bait that which the enemy must take, manipulating the enemy to move while they wait in ambush.

Those skilled in warfare seek victory through force and do not require too much from individuals.

Therefore, they are able to select the right men and exploit force.

One who exploits force commands men into battle like rolling logs and boulders.

Logs and boulders are still when on flat ground, but roll when on steep ground.

Square shapes are still, but round shapes roll.

Therefore, those skilled in warfare use force where the troops in battle are like boulders rolling down a steep mountain.

This is force.

Progno says:


I know that was a long one, sorry. That was the entire translated Chapter 5 because the lesson is part and parcel. You need to see where he is going with his thought to fully appreciate the “force” behind his words.

Drag them into a deal with a common ploy. Close the deal with an uncommon ploy. Strive to be creative and inventive when attacking utilizing an uncommon approach. There are an infinite number of variations on a theme, think whom you are dealing with, select a theme (pressure, indifference, pity, etc.) apply a variation and attack. Mastering this technique is a requirement for “master” status and not one learned over night.

I am most intrigued by the lines:

Disorder came from order, fear came from courage, weakness came from strength.

Disorder coming from order is a matter of organization, fear coming from courage is a matter of force, weakness coming from strength is a matter of formation.

If you are organized, learn how to apply force and have a strong formation, you will be near unstoppable.

Chapter 6

Weakness and Strength (excerpt)

Sun-Tzu said:

Generally the one who first occupies the battlefield awaiting the enemy is at ease;

the one who comes later and rushes into battle is fatigued.

Therefore those skilled in warfare move the enemy, and are not moved by the enemy.

Getting the enemy to approach on his own accord is a matter of showing him advantage;

stopping him from approaching is a matter of showing him harm.

Therefore, if the enemy is at ease, be able to exhaust him;

if the enemy is well fed, be able to starve him;

if the enemy is settled, be able to move him;

appear at places where he must rush to defend, and rush to places where he least expects.

Know the enemy’s plans and calculate their strengths and weaknesses.

Provoke him, to know his patterns of movement.

Determine his position, to know the ground of death and of life.

Probe him, to know where he is strong and where he is weak.

The ultimate skill is to take up a position where you are formless.

If you are formless, the most penetrating spies will not be able to discern you, or the wisest counsels will not be able to do calculations against you.

With formation, the army achieves victories yet they do not understand how.

Everyone knows the formation by which you achieved victory, yet no one knows the formations by which you were able to create victory.

Therefore, your strategy for victories in battle is not repetitious, and your formations in response to the enemy are endless.

The army’s formation is like water.

The water’s formation avoids the high and rushes to the low.

So an army’s formation avoids the strong and rushes to the weak.

Water’s formation adapts to the ground when flowing.

So then an army’s formation adapts to the enemy to achieve victory.

Therefore, an army does not have constant force, or have constant formation.

Those who are able to adapt and change in accord with the enemy and achieve victory are called divine.

Progno says:


Be the first to make the trade offer. Be proactive. Generally, once you know what you are doing, the more you trade, the better your team will get. Be the first to the battlefield.

Do not approach a deal by offering what you can do for them. Show them advantage, get them to come to the battlefield because you appear weak.

Use each trade talk session to milk the other owner for information regarding how he values players on his team.

Never reveal your thoughts about your players in a trade talk session. The masters will probe you by threatening your knowledge because it is the easiest button to press. That is a rookie mistake, never say, “Sorry, I can

t trade you Shaun Alexander because I like his prospects in a Mike Holmgren offense and next year when their young WR

s gel

” Just say, “Sorry, no.” Be formless to the enemy.

Change. Never allow someone to label you a particular way. Always adapt to your enemy; never be so predictable that your enemy can see right through you.

Chapter 8

Nine Changes (Excerpt)

Sun Tzu said:

There are five dangerous traits of a general:

He who is reckless can be killed.

He who is cowardly can be captured.

He who is quick tempered can be insulted.

He who is moral can be shamed.

He who is fond of the people can be worried.

These five traits are faults in a general, and are disastrous in warfare.

The army’s destruction, and the death of the general are due to these five dangerous traits.

They must be examined.

Progno Says:


Listen up folks. Never be reckless in fantasy football. Always think something through to the bitter end. Do not waste your time with reckless thoughts and actions. Never work from an “instinct” base. Always calculate each move.

Do not be a coward. Be the aggressor and drive your team to victory.

Do not take anything personally or be quick to judge. This is a game of strategy and if you have a quick temper, that can be used against you.

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