The Perfect Bet by Adam Kucharski (book review).

May 22, 2016 | By | Reply More

Einstein is often reported that God does not play dice, yet looking at Adam Kucharski’s book, ‘The Perfect Bet’, you do have to wondered if such a deity exists does he or she or it load the dice.


There’s a certain fascination with gambling odds because so many people are looking for their edge so they can win. It’s part of human nature. It is therefore no surprise that statisticians and mathematical experts look for patterns at how to beat the house odds. Kucharski makes a very valid point that casinos don’t mind players who think they have systems, just as long as they don’t win or, at least, not all the time before they are caught out.

If you think this book focuses on giving you mathematical formulas to apply then you will be mistaken. Kucharski explains how things are done, historically and up to the present, but doesn’t go quite that far. You might use this book as a springboard to other analysis. It’s a shame someone forgot to associate the notes numbers at the back of the book to the chapter pages.

He also doesn’t just cover casinos and bookies. Early on, he looks at lotteries, which we all know have extremely long odds, to those scratchcards and how they are distributed to ensure that they don’t clump wins in any one town. In other words, they aren’t as random or as lucky as you would imagine. In other words, if you have a bigger winner in your neighbourhood shop, don’t expect another massive one there. One statistician found a flaw in that logic and that was amended. I’m glad it’s just something that I’ve never been that bothered by but think you might not be so eager to think you might win at neither.

Something that has always puzzled me about card counting is that if the punters can do it, then why doesn’t the dealer or someone watching on the camera do it? Although the dealer can’t draw a card when he or she has seventeen in pontoon/blackjack, knowing how many high cards that are left would mean knowing the odds of the punter winning. Surely an innocent new deck could be deftly changed. Kucharski hints at this in the final chapters but it’s something the casinos haven’t done yet.

The study of betting on horses depends a lot more on looking at the odds than the nags, which can be quickly changed by the amount betted on them. What I find confusing is how the bookies create the original odds in the first place. Having looked it up, I would have thought all the statisticians would have to do is follow the same formula and look for discrepancies and see how they come out. Although Kucharski doesn’t go in that direction with this subject, I do think his book is making me think about how the calculations are carried out. The succeeding chapters do cover Internet bots that do actually look for such discrepancies in the stock market so I suspect it won’t be too long before its in all manner of gambling.

Indeed, Internet gambling gets a couple chapters that will make you think. One important lesson you learn from this book is never to bet massively on events because the bookies will reduce the odds which means more people will bet on that risk. Such sites are learning quickly to use the knowledge of successful gamblers to orientate their own odds and some actually employ them for their knowledge in particular sports.

Something I wasn’t aware of was only 4 of the 52 states of America have legal gambling and so the rest miss out on a lot of tax revenue. When you consider that gambling on the Internet has no country boundaries, that is increasingly looking absurd.

I think one of the reasons why Kucharski doesn’t show any set formulas is because they are forever changing and depends entirely on small changes or rapid development. His analysis of the differences having certain team players in a match or not is a very slight margin. A professional gambler will use that but not the normal punter and even they might win.

I have to wonder if Internet gambling will wipe out casinos. After all, like porn, you’re just a name on the screen and no big bouncers coming to evict you if you win too much. With so many betting, the house edge is a constant flow of income so absorbing massive wins is less of a deal and can even be used as an attractive to visit a site. Then again, I suspect a lot of gamblers like to be seen to be winning or at least getting a nice hotel room for their trouble.

What is of particular interest is how much artificial intelligence is entering bot creation now and these AIs are learning beyond their programming now. Of all of the games, it is poker where the biggest strides are being made and these chapters are highly enlightening because it is a game of skill. Programmers are applying Game Theory but it’s also something that you can learn. The real problem is can you be as fast as an AI? I do wonder how many people will play poker on-line against AIs although websites are trying to prohibit their use when discovered. An odd contrast because you would want AIs to develop.

What makes this book important is that it covers the latest developments in gambling on the Net and will certainly make you think about any Net games you play. Whether it will stop you gambling is debatable. The development in AI bots, mostly by students as part of their work, is putting them on par with humans in games like poker and they are learning to play subtly than to smash human opponents. I do think you will come away with a better understanding of odds and you need more than luck if you think you can win.

GF Willmetts

May 2016

(pub: Profile Books. 271 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78125-546-9)

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Category: Books, Culture, Science

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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