Calculated Bets: Computers, Gambling, and Mathematical Modeling to Win (Outlooks) Paperback – 6 Aug 2001
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'A well told story … [the author] really knows his stuff. I couldn't put it down. The informal style is terrific; we should have more books written this way … Skiena really knows how to teach.' Persi Diaconis, Stanford University
'The book is easy to follow and provides insight to the beginning student of gambling games.' William T. Ziemba, University of British Columbia
'This funny and utterly compelling book is the story of how Skiena and his students constructed an embarrassingly successful computer program called Maven.' Tony Jones, New Scientist
'The book teaches with humor and enthusiasm how to use statistical data and analyze them, how to use computers for processing data, how to create mathematical models that fit your problem, and many other interesting things.' Zentralblatt für Mathematik und ihre Grenzgebiete Mathematics Abstracts
'This interesting book is about a gambling system that works. His methods can work for anyone; at the end of the book the author describes the best way to bet on jai alai. The book will be surely of interest not only for the fun of jai alai, but also for all those who would like to learn about the program trading systems, the future of internet gambling, how mathematical methods are used in political polling, what is the difference between the correlation and causality, and so on. If you are interested in gambling and mathematics, the odds are that this is a book for you!' EMS
'Interspersed with this account are many valuable digressions which make the book a very good general introduction to the ideas of modelling and simulation, enlivened by the highly practical example which forms its core. Skiena writes with wit, clarity and enthusiasm, and his story is an enthralling one. No matter if (like me) you have never heard of Jai Alai before, or never bet on a horse or bought a lottery ticket in your life, the reader identifies with Skiena's quest, and shares vicariously in his success.' The Mathematical Gazette
'Stephen Skiena has a rare gift: … Charmingly self-depreciative, Skiena suggests early on in Calculated Bets he's just a 'mild mannered professor', noting that 'part of the fun' of the title 'is the spectacle of a second-rate mind wasting itself on jai alai'… Concerns for the future of gambling aside, Calculated Bets is an eloquent exercise in prose and effortlessly teaches the less mathematically minded amongst us how computing can be innovative and interesting. It also offers a unique tale of how one man, along with the help of a few friends, can get to grips with betting and beat the bookmakers. It's for these reasons and so many more that we strongly recommend Calculated Bets.' www.casinoonline.co.uk
This is a book about a gambling system that works. The author tells the story of how he used computer simulations and mathematical modeling techniques to predict the outcome of jai-alai matches and bet on them successfully - increasing his initial stake by over 500% in one year!See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
Sadly not. The most interesting part of the book is the description of Jai Alai (the Basque sport which is played on an overstretched squash court and with baskets on the players' arms to catch and fling the ball back).
The description of that sport is brilliant and I learned something new. However, the rest of the book is a disappointment.
The author is supposed to be a professor in computer science in New York university. His opinions (nay, rants) on various topics concerning computer science don't belong in this book. We want to know how he got his data, how he processed it using what sort of mathematical processing techniques he used.
All I seem to have worked out is that the professor of the computer science department is unable to write much in the way of code. His rambling diversions on Obfuscurated C competitions only serve to confuse those who haven't met this stuff before. I, who have come across this before, just filed this all away as pointless diversions.
What I found really dangerous with this book is that professor didn't seem to explain once the theory of probabilities; particularly addressing the very important topic of losing runs. In one part of the book he described how he staked almost all of his betting bank on night's games.
This is no way to run a gaming system. Clearly this man has no idea of how to survive and putting across ideas like this is nothing short of dangerous. In the end of the book he said that he hit a losing run (as will any system statistically) and then he turned off the machine.
The author has written a hodge-podge of a book. The bits which I am interested were glossed over. Bits which may or may not have been used in his model were introduced. For example, we read about neural networks in a couple of pages. Nowhere did he give the basic and elementary workings of a neural net. Did he use one? We don't know?
What about his mapping techiques for his data? Did he use those, if so how?
How did he enumerate the values (or ratings) of the Jai Alai players to make his selections? This wasn't clear.
The bit at the back of the book where he gives a (very edited) betting diary convinced me one thing; never to try to bet off-course in the USA at all. Thank goodness we in the UK are a little more switched on when it comes to on-line bookmakers and, above all, the book has totally convinced me not to bother to get a post-graduate degree at New York university.
This book isn't a good investment at all.
It's clear that the author spent a lot of time on this. It's also clear that if you wish to bet on jai-alai you must buy this book before boxing up those trifectas. However, if you want an insight into how to model statistical data, this is not a good place to start. If you want to understand betting systems, this is not a good place to start. In fact, it's not really a good place to start for much.
Pity really, as it can be a good read in places, and it had the potential to be brilliant, but it just seems a little disjointed. Gets 3 stars for effort and easy writing style, would have been more if any of it had connected up in the right order...
The use of Monte Carlo methods was concise and gave me the understanding I needed to apply to horse racing.
An excellent read.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Well written, educational, and fun.. I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone interested in computers, math, and beating the odds.
The first thing you need to know about Calculated Bets is that it is, by far, the most readable book you will ever pick up from Cambridge University Press. One wonders, in fact, how Skeina got past the stuffiness factor that distinguishes so much academic publishing to get this book released. A distinguished university putting out a book on, for all intents and purposes, building a system to bet jai-alai? And yet, I know it exists, as I have held it in my hands and read it.
And a good read it is, too. Skeina takes a look at what may be America's most overlooked and underrated spectator sport and how he created a computer program to automatically bet on jai-alai that actually beat the game (and the book's major failing, in my opinion, is that he didn't get farther into the actual algorithms he used), and uses it as an introduction to jai-alai and an introduction to theoretical programming at the same time. It's not a book for programming junkies as, as I alluded to, you're not going to get anything even remotely resembling hard code. It's also not really a book for handicapping devotees, because while Skeina does talk briefly about the basics of the stuff he plugged into those algorithms, he's going to leave you to do all the real work. And yet, despite both of these things, I loved this book. It may just be the novelty of reading something non-fiction from a University press that actually didn't require having a dictionary next to me (I should note here that much of what I read from university presses is linguistic and literary theory translated from obscure Eastern European languages, and poetry that might as well have been written in those languages and remains untranslated). Skeina has produced an enjoyable piece of work that seems almost marketless. That is a shame, because it's a fun book, and well worth reading.
The fact that such a program could be created is not surprising. Jai-alai is a sport where individuals compete one-on-one or in teams of two, and the betting patterns determine the payoffs. It is much easier to simulate these types of matchups and predict the outcome than it is for team games. Baseball managers have been doing such modeling for years. If my memory serves me correctly, the first to do it in major league baseball was Davey Johnson, who kept detailed statistics on all pitcher-batter matchups. All of his decisions concerning who to put up to bat were then based on playing the percentages. That is essentially what Skiena does, although with a different twist. Pari-mutuel betting is where those who wager are betting against each other, so the patterns of wagering determine the payoffs. The patterns of betting are also factored into his predictions. These conditions make it possible for someone to make money creating such a system, but only as long as no one else is doing it. If others begin to use the same system, then the players are betting against each other, destroying the opportunity to make a profit. Therefore, his very act of publishing this book probably means that his system can no longer be used to win at jai-alai betting.
This is an excellent example of how basic mathematical modeling is done. Use data of previous results to form a model of what has happened in order to predict what will happen. Skiena writes with a wit and rigor that is rarely seen in mathematics. Very little mathematics background is needed in order to understand the explanations of the behavior of the program and why it works.
I found this book so interesting that I stayed up very late finishing it. It reads like a novel, but teaches you a lot about mathematics. Instructors in mathematical modeling and computer programming can find many interesting ideas for classroom exercises in it. As long as no one takes it too seriously, it is all in good, clean fun.
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