Kucharski’s book, which necessarily oversimplifies an extremely complex subject, is no cure for that ignorance, but gamblers...



A lucid yet sophisticated look at the mathematics of probability as it’s played out on gaming tables, arenas, and fields.

Scissors cut paper, rock smashes scissors, paper covers rock: we all know the game, and some of us have a sense of when to play which of the three choices. Game theory, writes Kucharski (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), would hold that the optimal strategy is simply to choose randomly, by which you would come out even in the long term. However, most of us are more predictable than that: if we win with rock over scissors, then we’ll choose rock next time. We may shift our strategies, but we’re not playing randomly—and in any event, Kucharski observes, “the irony is that even truly random sequences can contain seemingly nonrandom patterns.” Sure, card counting works to some extent, but most mathematical behavior is a kind of learned guesswork and a lot of hunch playing. The author doesn’t reveal secrets of winning so much as he looks at the myriad ways the math is working against us. “Finding a biased roulette wheel,” he notes by way of example, “isn’t the same as finding a profitable one,” but even so, finding a roulette wheel that “churns out numbers that are uniformly distributed” generally requires collecting a vast body of information about that wheel, something that computers are better at doing than people. The same is true at the parimutuel racetrack, the boxing ring, and every other venue for wagering: having sufficient information is key to making any sort of bet that isn’t a mere stab in the dark. Even the most seasoned of bettors is thus usually to be found somewhere along what mathematicians call Poincaré’s third level of ignorance.

Kucharski’s book, which necessarily oversimplifies an extremely complex subject, is no cure for that ignorance, but gamblers and math buffs alike will enjoy it for its smart approach to real-world problems.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-05595-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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