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Statistics Hacks by Bruce Frey

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Chapter 5. Playing Games

Hacks 50-60

Games don’t have to involve gambling to involve statistics. You can use knowledge of game-specific probabilities to win on TV game shows [Hack #50], at Monopoly [Hack #51], or when coaching a football team [Hack #58].

The most common place you see statistics in your everyday life is probably in the world of sports, though the word “statistics” isn’t really used the same way a stat-hacker uses it. Sports fans tend to think of the data as the statistic. Regardless, there are plenty of hacks that can help you predict the outcome of a game before it is over [Hack #56] or even begun [Hack #55].

Since history is always our best guide to the future, your best predictions will require various ways to track, visualize [Hack #57], and rank [Hack #59] the performance of teams and players.

Of course, if you have the heart of a true statistics hacker, then you think that some statistical games—such as building a learning computer out of coconuts [Hack #52], doing card tricks through the mail [Hack #53], keeping your iPod honest [Hack #54], or estimating the value of pi purely by chance [Hack #60]—are fun all by themselves.

Avoid the Zonk

On the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal, contestants often had to choose between three curtains. For these sorts of situations, there is a statistical strategy that will help you to win the Buick instead of the lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni.

Imagine, if you will, that you are traveling with your Uncle Frank through an uncharted ...

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