How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling

How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling

Adam Kucharski is an assistant professor in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. His research uses mathematical and statistical models to understand disease outbreaks. In 2014, he was recruited to analyze the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Adam earned his PhD in applied maths at the University of Cambridge.

The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling

Adam Kucharski – The Perfect Bet

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Audio Podcast:

The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling by Adam Kucharski

Five Good Questions:

  • What is it about gambling that seems to attract world-class mathematicians throughout history?
  • What mathematical techniques have been best applied successfully to gambling?
  • What was the genesis and evolution of Monte Carlo simulation? What are its shortcomings?
  • Why is poker such a good challenge for artificial intelligence?
  • In free chess, computers-plus-human hybrids are still currently getting the best of computer-only opponents. What are the implications for other domains like gambling and investing?

Adam’s Book Recommendation:

Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom by Leila Schneps, Coralie Colmez

The Perfect Bet – Description

There is one thing about gambling that everyone knows: the house always wins. Lotteries are set up to guarantee profits, to the state. A craps game is a sure thing, but only if you own the table. Sometimes, however, everyone is wrong. After all, the reason that casinos ban card counters is that counting cards works. Indeed, for the past 500 years, gamblers—led by mathematicians and scientists—have been trying to figure out how to turn the tables on the house and pull the rug out from under Lady Luck.

In The Perfect Bet, mathematician and award-winning writer Adam Kucharski tells the astonishing story of how the experts have done it, revolutionizing mathematics and science in the process. From Galileo to Alan Turing, betting has been scientists’ playground for ideas: dice games in sixteenth-century bars gave birth to the theory of probability, and poker to game theory (mathematician John von Neumann wanted to improve his game) and to much of artificial intelligence. Kucharski gives us a collection of rogues, geniuses, and mavericks who are equally at home in a casino in Monte Carlo as investigating how to build an atomic bomb for the Manhattan Project. They include the mathematician who flipped a coin 25,000 times to see if it was fair; the college kids who gamed the Massachusetts lottery to yield millions of dollars in profit; and the horse-betting syndicates of Hong Kong’s Happy Valley, who turned a wager on ponies into a multi-billion-dollar industry.

With mathematical rigor and narrative flair,  Adam Kucharski reveals the tangled history of betting and science. The house can seem unbeatable. In this book, Kucharski shows us just why it isn’t. Even better, he shows us how the search for the perfect bet has been crucial for the scientific pursuit of a better world.

The Perfect Bet – Review

“An elegant and amusing account…Anyone planning to enter a casino or place an online bet would be advised to keep this book handy.” – Wall Street Journal

“[THE PERFECT BET is] terrific: beautifully written, solidly researched and full of surprises. It’s also practical. Even if you don’t spend time at Las Vegas you’ll be surprised by the clarity it will bring to your day.” – New York Times Numberplay blog

“Kucharski delivers a fascinating read.” – Publishers Weekly

“A lucid yet sophisticated look at the mathematics of probability as it’s played out on gaming tables, arenas, and fields… gamblers and math buffs alike will enjoy it for its smart approach to real-world problems.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Kucharski does a remarkable job of telling the story of how gambling has influenced science and science has influenced gambling. He manages to make it a good read while providing a scholarly underpinning.” – J. Doyne Farmer, Director of the Complexity Economics program at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School

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