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Math Stats The Almighty Buck

Mathematician Gives Tips On How To Win $1 Billion On NCAA Basketball 76

Posted by samzenpus
from the winning-the-pool dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Jake Simpson reports at The Atlantic that Mathematician Tim Chartier, a Davidson College professor who specializes in ranking methods, teaches a math-heavy form of bracketology — the science of predicting the annual NCAA college basketball tournament at Davidson College in North Carolina. Chartier's academic research is in ranking methods where he looks at things like the page-ranking algorithms of Google. 'In 2009, my collaborator Amy Langville said: "You know what? ESPN has this huge online bracket tournament. Let's create brackets with our ranking methods, just to see if it's creating meaningful information."' Chartier's formula, an evolving code-based matrix that ranks each of the 68 tournament teams, has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher) in ESPN's bracket challenge and this year, Chartier's goal is to help someone win the $1 billion prize offered by Warren Buffett to anyone who correctly predicts all 63 games of the men's tournament.

Chartier uses two methods. One is the Colley Method, named after astrophysicist Wesley Colley who developed a method used by the BCS for college football (PDF). His basketball method only counts wins and losses, not margin of victory. The other method is the Massey method created by sports statistician Kenneth Massey (PDF), which does integrate scores. Chartier has not been banned from any office pools — at least none that he knows of. But as a result of coming pretty darn close to filling out a perfect bracket just by crunching the numbers, brackets have become a labor of love. 'Now that the brackets are actually out, I've had students in and out of my office all week, sharing new ideas,' says Chartier. 'For me, that's more fun than filling out a bracket. They will all be filling out brackets, so it's like I'm doing parallel processing. I know what might work, but watching them figure out the odds, is a thrill.'"
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Mathematician Gives Tips On How To Win $1 Billion On NCAA Basketball

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  • well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Friday March 21, 2014 @08:25AM (#46542161)
    His predictive ability must not exceed Vegas's by any significant degree or we probably wouldn't be reading about it on slashdot.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

      • When I said "predict" I didn't mean there's actually someone crunching numbers somewhere and coming up with the line. I know how it's set. Nevertheless, Vegas odds can be used as a predictor. They "predict". Ignoring the fact that bracketology is concerned only with wins and losses, nor margins, if this guy were able to predict margins significantly better than "the crowds" (i.e. Vegas odds) then he'd have a license to print money and would likely want to keep it secret.
      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

        "Equal"?

        Surely the house always takes a cut...

        • Of course.

          Vegas will do something like this.

          Florida -4 -110
          Louisville +4 -110

          What this means is if you want to bet on either Louisville +4 OR Florida -4, you have to risk $1.10 for each dollar you'd win.

          So their goal is to get something like (for example) $11000 bet on each side, guaranteeing them a $1000 profit no matter what happens.

      • Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

        Those two sentences seem to be in contradiction.
        (They are also both incorrect, but that's a different and lengthier discussion.)

        • Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

          Those two sentences seem to be in contradiction.

          They aren't. Bookmakers aren't predicting at all. What they are doing is assessing what the community of bettors believes to be the even odds point so that (as the OP said) there is even money on both sides, and the bookie picks up the vigorish without any risk. By seeing where the money is going the bookie get immediate, positive feedback on what that point is, and can easily adjust the line accordingly - no guessing involved. It does not matter what he/she thinks the real odds are, if they even care (and

          • As an aside, I kind of like the idea of the bookie as the more or less opposite of crowdsourcing.

            Crowdsourcing - take a bunch of guesses, amalgamate them together, you got a final answer.

            Bookie guesses what the crowd will do, and comes up with an answer to that he thinks will split the crowd in roughly 50-50 (with eventual adjustments to keep them closer to 50-50).

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher) in ESPN's bracket challenge

      How hard is it to reach the 96th percentile? Let's say you teach this course for 3 yrs with 20 students per course. I think the odds are decent that one of those students would be in the 96th (odd number to choose, don't ya think?) percentile? I'm going with crappy journalism.
      • by stoploss (2842505)

        has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher) in ESPN's bracket challenge

        How hard is it to reach the 96th percentile? Let's say you teach this course for 3 yrs with 20 students per course. I think the odds are decent that one of those students would be in the 96th (odd number to choose, don't ya think?) percentile? I'm going with crappy journalism.

        My presumption was that the 96th percentile stat was a simplified retcon from "greater than 2 sigma" on a normal distribution.

        68-95-99.7 rule [wikipedia.org]

        This consideration is orthogonal to the "crappy journalism" assessment. That could still be true.

  • Model Worship (Score:5, Interesting)

    Not everything can be reduced to numbers, factored and condensed down to a single answer or list of probabilites. I'm a methematician and I'm here to tell you that a lot of what is presented as "mathematical" modelling in the modern world is little short of numerology and data massage.

    Eventually, if you go deeply enough into these kinds of models, you will forget that there is an actual game of basketball, being played by real human players. The instant that happens, you've become a numerologist and cargo-cult scientist. My opinion is that this is occuring in an increasingly large number of "clever geeks" now equipped with powerful computers and sophormic mathematics.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Everything *can* be reduced to numbers.

      What we lack is the technology to observe, quantify, and analyse the relevant variables for complex sequences of events like this.

    • Re:Model Worship (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rmdingler (1955220) on Friday March 21, 2014 @09:03AM (#46542335)
      ...being played by real human players.

      You're right that the human element of any contest cannot be completely quantified. The outcome of every contest cannot be predicted by mathematics, but it is possible to identify trends, predispositions, and characteristics that generate more victories over an elongated number of Contests.

      It's more about using numbers to gain an edge, often for good value (another quantifiable datum) in sports, over a larger body of work. The 162 game baseball season has been adeptly exploited by sabremetric gurus like Bill James and Billy Bean. And Vegas sports books continue to make money because they do the math better than anyone else over the long haul.

      • by nabsltd (1313397)

        And Vegas sports books continue to make money because they do the math better than anyone else over the long haul.

        How is adjusting the odds as people bet to keep the money on both sides as close as possible "doing math better"?

        Essentially, it doesn't matter what the starting odds/spread/etc. are...the only thing that matters is adjusting the number as bets are placed so that bets are about even on both sides. Legitimate sports books don't make money by "winning" the bets...they make money by keeping a percentage of every bet, so their goals are to increase the total amount of money bet, while keeping the amount bet on

        • Thanks you for bringing this up... Someone mod that guy up!

          The only numbers "Vegas" has to come up with are the opening lines... then they adjust as needed. Apparently Denver started as a 3 point favorite for the Super Bowl and it VERY quickly moved to Seattle as the 3 point fav (I could have those backwards).
    • "Methmatician" - Is that someone who goes on a Meth binge using the blue crystal cooked by Jesse Pinkman & Walter White and proceeds to try to solve the Riemann Hypothesis?
    • Most players are about equal which is why it is hard to win half your games. And the teams that win more don't win much more.

      Yes there is the human element, but most the game has already been decided and can be predicted

    • Not everything can be reduced to numbers, factored and condensed down to a single answer or list of probabilites.

      Isn't that what people said to John Nash [wikipedia.org] as well?

      There are many areas where we can do a lot better than we're doing today, and there are many areas that aren't nearly as difficult as people think. Not that this form of sports is necessarily one of them.

    • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday March 21, 2014 @10:06AM (#46542867) Journal

      I'm a methematician

      Is that what they're calling cooks these days?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well there were big upsets in the first few games. How did their model stand up to the the Chaos theory that is the March Madness Bracket?

  • Timely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeaster (600452) on Friday March 21, 2014 @09:10AM (#46542385)
    This would be a great article to read 3 days ago
  • Of betting against schools with the word 'State' or a compass heading in the name.
    • So you bet against Michigan State? Good luck with that...

      Whats the rule of thumb again? No directional schools (Northeastern Illinois?) or schools with hyphens in them - hyphens indicating the non-primary campus of a University system. Oh, you're University of North Carolina hyphen Charlotte.

      Though that rule arguably would break down with UCLA which is more or less a hyphen school yet won a slew of championships and is usually somewhat competitive. Also, USC, which is a directional school, but has had a

  • on the #ThankYouDayton game?

    • ... #ThankYouDayton...

      I've been lucky enough to go to Dayton for a tournament. It was so loud they disrupted our cheerleaders. Even during off times they were still so loud our cheerleaders couldn't hear the beat to do their routines.

      They're freaking nuts about basketball. I wouldn't have necessarily picked them to win over Ohio State, but I'm not too shocked that they did.

  • by Hognoxious (631665)

    bracketology -- the science of predicting the annual NCAA college basketball tournament at Davidson College in North Carolina.

    So what do they call it at other places?

  • Great to post this now, since the deadline for entering was 3/20/2014 @ 1 AM. :-/
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Start with $2 billion

  • "...has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher)"

    If he had only 25 students, just by random chance I'd expect 1 of them to be in the 96th percentile.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Never bet on anything that talks"

  • by Gavagai80 (1275204) on Friday March 21, 2014 @10:59AM (#46543359) Homepage
    Pick a team from each of the 63 games that you want to bet against. Offer two of their starting players a million dollars each to throw the game. Pocket the other $874 million.
  • by PPalmgren (1009823) on Friday March 21, 2014 @10:59AM (#46543365)

    The statistical probability is so tiny to get the perfect bracket that even if someone got close to it predicting every game up to the final four, the media frenzy around the 'perfect bracket' might be so insane that the very existence of the almost-perfect bracket could effect the outcome of the game. The players, coaches, announcers, and reporters would know, going into the game, that this team is 'winning' in the pefect bracket. There's the potential it could effect the audience's cheering and the player's mentality: the best way to get someone competitive to play harder is to tell them they can't do it. The effect would be amplified for the final game where the score has to be picked as well.

    For time paradox fun, even if you had a future results bracket and brought it back to present, its existence would alter the results.

    • There's the potential it could effect the audience's cheering and the player's mentality: the best way to get someone competitive to play harder is to tell them they can't do it.

      Too subtle. A billion dollars can buy a lot of leaky brake pipes, faulty furnaces and muggings that went wrong. It'd be like an episode of Quincy diagnoses that Columbo is murder to watch or something.

      P.S. s/effect/affect

    • by omtinez (3343547)
      Ah, I can tell that you have never been involved with athletes at this level. Their ability to understand such things beyond "favorite" and "underdog" are questionable to say the least.
  • I never submitted a bracket, partially because I didn't follow the schools this year, partially because I didn't want to get spammed by Quicken - you give a cell number voluntarily to them, now you have a "relationship" where they can call you.

    Two random rants as a starting point for discussion.

    1) I hate the "bigger than the group of 64" games. You can't even call them play-in games if you have two 11 seeds going at it - they don't need to "play" into the tournament as much as they'd push someone else out.
    T

    • well some with learning disabilities to the level at that they can't pass classes but is real good at sports should sue the school, the NBA, the NCAA, and others over that. Also there needs to be an minor league system for football and basketball

      • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
        It's not a years of school requirement, it's an age requirement. Someone can go play in other leagues until they reach the minimum age. Turns out that D1 college basketball is the best place (talent pool, visibility, age-specific coaching).
  • Every time some crystal ball expert claims something like this, I ask the same, and just 'cause he wants to "use mathematics" instead of otherworldly inspiration doesn't mean I don't ask the same:

    Why would he advise someone else and not rake in the money himself?

  • To get the bracket perfectly correct you have to pick a large number of improbable upsets correctly as well as all the 50:50 bets and the odds on favorites that prevail. Math is a good way to get in the 96th percentile, it won't predict the Weber St upset over Duke.
  • That the algorithm will say, pick Harvard, Dayton, Standford, Tennessee and Mercer? How is that even possible? Not just one, but all of those teams in the first two days. What will the next two days be like>?
    • Exactly, using algorithms doesn't help. After the first round there are only 16 entries that are correct so far. 16 entries out of the millions who entered managed to get those upsets correct. Will they get the next 16 games correct? Almost certainly not and after two rounds there will be zero correct entries. Math doesn't help predict upsets, it only helps predict the most likely outcomes.

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