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5 Ways to Win The Games You Tend to Lose

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games, winning, roulette, statistics, game strategyThe Milk Can Toss

The game
Various versions of this carnival’s game exist, but they always includes A) A ball and B) Some hollow object you can throw that ball into. Some use milk cans, others opt for barrels. All these targets have one thing in common,  the opening is a great deal smaller than it looks.

The strategy
Winning the “Milk Can Toss” doesn’t actually require a game plan; just an imaginative mind. Research shows that by perceiving a target as bigger than it actually is, scoring becomes a piece of cake. For one study in particular, 36 college students were asked to putt up a ramp into a golf hole. Using a projector to shine a ring of circles around the hole, the researchers were able to create an optical illusion that made it either look bigger or smaller. The surprising results: students who perceived the hole as bigger were ten percent more likely to score. So think big, and you will take that giant teddy bear home with you.

games, winning, roulette, statistics, game strategyBattleship

The game
Battleship is a guessing game that involves trying to locate and destroy your opponent’s ships on a 10×10 (or larger depending on the variant or version of the game) grid. You call the coordinates (for example “2 C”, hoping the spot will be occupied by one of your opponent’s ships. If so, you hit. If not, you miss.

The strategy
Conquering the Seven Seas isn’t as hard as you think – nor is scoring a “Hit!” completely random. How do we know this? Because a group of graduate students at Cornell University actually simulated billions of possible matches to develop their “linear theory of battleship”.  A hit, they conclude, is more likely when we aim at the centre of the board, as the larger ships in particular, tend to reside there.  Smaller ships, such as patrol boats, are often positioned in the corners as there is no room for them in the center.

games, winning, roulette, statistics, game strategyFlipping Coins

The game
Whether it’s to decide which sports team gets first use of the ball, to settle longstanding disputes or even to decide the course of politics when two candidates receive the same amount of votes – flipping a coin is customary. After all, it’s a simple and completely fair method as both outcomes – heads or tails- are equally likely. Right?

The strategy
Three researchers from Stanford University would disagree. In 2009, they found that when tossing a coin, the chances the coin lands in the same position as they started are 51 percent. So when heads faces up, pick heads – when tails faces up, choose tails. This has nothing to do with the density or asymmetry of the coin, but is affected by the aggregate amount of time the coin spends in each state, as it flips through space. When you toss a coin that starts with heads facing up, heads will l be facing up as many or more times as tails while the coin is in the air, but never less.  Tails, on the other hand, will be facing up as many or fewer times as heads, but never more (since it didn’t start out that way).  Following this physical law, the divide is 51 to 49 percent.

games, winning, roulette, statistics, game strategyMonopoly

The game
Monopoly, according to Boardgamegeek.com can be described as follows: “A classic board game. Buy properties, build houses and hotels, collect rent from fellow players. Repeat as necessary until everyone else is bankrupt.” Fun as it might have been as a kid, adults tend to not revisit the game as it requires almost no strategy. It’s just a matter of buying, or not buying.

The strategy
Luckily there will always be that one math geek who cooks up some kind of algorithm to make your gaming experience more fun. For Monopoly, it’s interesting to know on what squares you will most likely end up on after rolling the dice (because that means your opponents will too). American computer scientist Truman Collins developed a matrix and found that players are most likely to end up in Jail. Considering this, then, the most visited squares that aren’t Jail are the ones immediately after it on the board: purple, orange and red.

Then there’s part two of your strategy, based on knowing what to buy. Therefore, you need to find out which properties pay themselves off the fastest.  As most frequent players already know: buying some railroads can’t hurt. Owning all four of them is especially lucrative, but if that’s not possible,  buying one or two will prevent other players from owning all four. More useful is the fact that the orange properties are the most lucrative – but do make sure to put a house on each orange square. Interesting tip: If you need St. James or Tennessee Avenue to complete your orange street and happen to be in Jail – stay there until you get out by rolling doubles. It will increase your chances of ending up on either one of those squares by 25 percent.

games, winning, roulette, statistics, game strategyRoulette

The game
It’s the oldest casino game out there, yet still very popular. To play roulette, you place your bet or bets on numbers (any number including the zero) in the table layout or on the outside. and when everybody at the table has placed their bets, the croupier starts the spin and launches the ball, which eventually falls into one of 37 (in French/European roulette) or 38 (in American roulette, which has the ‘double zero’ pocket as well) colored and numbered pockets on the wheel. Players can bet on the exact number of the pocket the ball will fall in, or on a small range of pockets close to it.  It’s also possible to bet “outside the table”, which means betting on even or uneven numbers, or larger selections of pockets. The payouts are based on probability.

The strategy
Albert Einstein allegedly once said that “No one can possibly win at roulette unless he steals money from the table when the croupier isn’t looking”.  Little did he know the game is, in fact, quite deterministic – meaning that the odds are not just affected by math (statistics), but also by physics (initial position, velocity and acceleration of the ball). According to this study, you can increase your odds simply by recording the time at which the ball and wheel pass a fixed point.  With this information, it’s possible to estimate with some degree of accuracy which half of the wheel the ball will end up on, which in turn increases the gambler’s chances of choosing the correct pocket. By applying this system to a standard casino-grade European roulette wheel, the authors write, the odds  increase up to 18 percent; well above the -2.7% expected of a random bet.

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