Poker Words - A Poker Blog

Mostly a recount of my poker exploits along with a bunch of random other stuff just for fun.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Book Review: Chance...

Chance: A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market and Just About Everything Else by Amir D. Aczel.

I first heard of this book when recommended it to me. I guess all those poker books that I have either purchased or added to my wish list tipped them off. The concept sounded intriguing; how does chance play a role in our everyday life?

I’m not sure what exactly I expected out of the book, but this wasn’t it. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. It was basically a cleverly disguised statistics and probability text book. Now, having said that, if you had told me up front that I was going to read a statistics and probability text book, I never would have imagined that it could hold my interest as well as this book did.

Chance starts innocently enough, going over some of the origins of probability theory and how randomness in every day life, and before you know it you’re looking at some rather complex formulas attempting to make some sense out of seemingly random events. Everything is broken down to layman’s terms and is actually relatively easy to understand, although I do have a math background, so perhaps that helped.

Here are some of the more interesting topics discussed:

  • The Birthday Problem: With 23 random people, there is a 50% percent chance that two of them share the same birthday. With 56 people that number jumps to a 95% chance. It sounds unbelievable, but once you do the math, it makes sense.

  • The Bus Arrival Problem: If a bus comes every 10 minutes, then on average you should have to wait for it for five minutes, right? Wrong. You are much more likely to arrive at the bus stop in the middle of a longer interval between buses than a shorter one, so your average wait time is actually going to be greater than five minutes.

  • The De Finetti Game: This is method to gauge someone’s confidence in an event. Say for example a friend claims he is 95% sure he aced a test. Is he really that confident? Offer him a hypothetical choice. He can either get the result of the test, and if he aced it, he wins one million dollars, or he can pick a ball out of bag. There are 90 red balls and 10 blue in the bag, and if he picks a red ball then he wins the million. Now if he doesn’t choose his test score then he is at most 90% confident. Adjust the ratio of red to blue balls until he chooses the test score to find out how confident he really is.

There’s a lot more, and the majority of it is pretty interesting. The only real poker content is in the appendix where he talks about pot odds, and when to bet. Unfortunately he loses points when he says your opponent has a four flush and has 4-1 odds of drawing the fifth card for his flush to beat your full house. Doh. For a split second I thought that I had been playing wrong all this time, and maybe a flush does beat a full house.

Over all, if you are looking for something interesting, and don’t mind formulas, I would recommend picking up this book. It’s only about 150 pages, and makes for a pretty quick read. There is a fair amount of gambling related content, but not much of it is specifically related to poker. If you are expecting a lot of poker theory or advice, you should probably look somewhere else.


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