Playing a Game the Way it Wasn’t Meant to be Played (For Fun and Profit)

We should really talk about Moneyball.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, jump onto Netflix or iTunes and watch it.  Then, come back here.  The premise is this, though: the losing Oakland Athletics develop a system based on statistics which skirts traditional baseball strategies to maximize scoring — it gains them a lot of success.  They ran numbers instead of just hoping for the best with players perceived to be superstars (which they could not afford, anyway).

The same has been done in college football:

…and in college basketball:

Strategizing by use of statistics, to win by changing up tradition should not be met with resistance (although it is).  In online video games, some call it cheesing.  But who really cares how you do it if you’re winning and following the rules?

On a similar note, Jeopardy champion (and computer scientist) Roger Craig data-mined more than 200,000 of the show’s questions, and created his own computer application to strengthen up his trivia knowledge.  He then went on to beat the record for single-day winnings on his first appearance.  Here he is describing his system in detail:

Also around this time, a couple studied the retail prices of sponsored items on The Price is Right, and when it was time for one of them to be picked to “come on down”, the husband put in a perfect bid for a showcase (winning both of them).  It was the second time in the show’s history that it happened, causing host Drew Carey to believe that the game had been compromised from the inside (note how he’s not exactly excited here):

A good write-up of this can be found over at Esquire.

Are these all examples of hacking? Possibly.  Hacking has always gotten a bad rap, an image of some young punk compromising a computer system of valuable information with malicious intent.  But hacking, at its very nature, is figuring out about established systems and ways around them.  It doesn’t always have to include high technology like Craig’s program.  Michael Larson used a VCR, which was relatively new at the time, to study the pattern of how the board lit up on Press Your Luck:

Chances are that you’re never going to be on a sports team or a game show.  You may find yourself playing Monopoly, though.  It is not merely a game of luck as most people may believe: there are very simple decisions that you can make in the game to increase your odds of winning:

That was just a primer video, but there are other web pages and videos which go more into the statistical proof to certain strategies.  Try them on your family when you’re home for the holidays this season.

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