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It’s Saturday morning, and Saahil Sud is brewing some coffee. He’s wearing a T-shirt and jeans. He hasn’t shaved. His hair is a little messed up. But it's time to go to work.
"This fall is very hectic," Sud says. "I mean, I’ll be working until midnight to get up at 6 [a.m.], and work tomorrow pretty much all day."
That’s because this 27-year-old makes his living playing daily fantasy sports for money. With college and pro football and basketball, there are new contests each day.
But it’s hard to blame Sud, considering how much money he says he’s made so far this year. "It’s over $3 million," Sud says matter-of-factly.
Three million dollars in net year-to-date winnings makes Sud a star to some in the industry. To others, he’s a shark. Most know him only by online screen name maxdalury.
Sud works at his modern downtown Boston apartment. There are a few baseball bats hanging on the wall, along with some framed player cards, but mostly it's pretty spare. In his office, Sud has his computer. Above the screen hang two TVs for watching games live. On the screen is a grid filled with make-believe rosters of college football players from different teams. These are his fantasy lineups for the day. His computer model has generated them, but he still tweaks the numbers based on his gut.
"Intuition," Sud says as he downgrades a player, the West Virginia quarterback. "This is mostly, 'I just don’t really like this player at all, just has constantly disappointed me this year.' "
Sud also monitors Twitter for last-minute news, like if a player gets injured during warm-ups. After all, today alone, Sud’s putting more than $100,000 at risk. He’s entering a few hundred online contests. Some have thousands of other players. Some have just two: head-to-head.
It’s a long way from when he first dabbled in daily fantasy in its early days, after graduating from Amherst College in math and economics and taking some computer programming.
"I’m a very step-by-step thinker," Sud says, adding that he was still in the bottom half of his math class.
Even so, for him, predicting how a single player is going to do in a single game is a really interesting problem. He checked academic articles, but no one had looked at it. So he tried to break the prediction down into logical steps, and he coded a computer algorithm, refining it over time.
"What you’re really doing is teaching a computer, [that] this is what I think is important," Sud says. "And this is how you combine it all into one number. Which is what I think the player’s gonna do."
Sud thinks wrong a lot of times. There were times when he lost a lot of money. But losing just motivated him to get better. Last year, he quit his computer programming job to play daily fantasy sports for money full time. He says he’s making a 10 to 15 percent return on what he puts in play, even with millions more people competing with him lately, and despite the scrutiny.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman argues that daily fantasy sports is a game of chance and is "as illegal as a casino in Times Square."
"You look at the track record of people who’ve succeeded," Sud says. "You look at the skills that I’ve developed, the things that I’ve looked at, and it’s clear to me that it’s a skill-based game. I mean, I'll challenge anybody."
Just like a sports competition, he says, it's one person’s skills against another’s.
When the afternoon’s college football games start, a friend shows up with lunch.
"Burger and fries," says Jacob Bower with a grin. "Typical Saturday-hanging-out-watching-football food! That's what you need."
Bower worked with Sud at a Cambridge startup after college. They used to drink beers and watch games after work. They still do, except Bower says nowadays Sud looks at his phone more often, and the sports bar got better.
"I definitely appreciate the chance to come over and hang out in a swanky apartment like this," Bower says as he surveys the stunning views of downtown Boston. "Some cool stuff on the wall! Two TVs instead of one, but past that, it feels very similar."
For now, at least. The future of daily fantasy sports is unclear. State and federal regulators are questioning the fast-growing industry. Sud says he hopes to be able to keep playing daily fantasy for years.
"I always wanted to be the best at something, make sure that I constantly improve," Sud says. "It’s something that I really enjoy and have succeeded at, but it’s — I don’t know. It may be done in three months. Who knows?"
That’s why Sud will be watching more than 20 hours of football this weekend. He wants to make the most of this opportunity with the insights and the algorithm he built.
This story aired on November 23, 2015.
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