BOOK REVIEW – The Perfect Bet by Adam Kucharski
If you have a reputation as a gambler or as a person who likes a bet, no doubt along the way you’ll have had no shortage of people telling you that ‘you can never win’ or ‘it’s a mug’s game’. It’s therefore heartening to read in Adam Kucharski’s debut that winning is not only possible, it’s been a regular feature of gambling throughout the long history of this very human of activities.
Kucharski, who boasts a strong academic background in maths and statistics, sets out to show how scientific, technological and mathematical ideas have shaped gambling and how gambling has, in its own turn, shaped the course of mathematics.
The book is written in accessible prose with technical mathematical or statistical discourse kept to a minimum. Kucharski instead focuses on the ideas themselves, their development and their uses. The book is therefore a light enough read, full of interest for those who find gambling, probability and chance an engaging topic at any level.
The understanding of randomness and chance has long been a topic that has occupied the minds of the great mathematical thinkers. The book outlines how mathematics and science have often latched onto the numerical exploration of chance and probability as academic topics but also how the resultant insights have been used throughout the centuries to help some gamblers beat the system and pocket profits, sometimes running into millions.
Whether it be roulette, blackjack, poker, horse racing, football betting or even that seemingly most random of gambling games, lotteries, Kucharski illustrates how certain ideas were developed which allowed (and still allows in some cases) individuals and teams of bettors to find a method to exploit a mathematical edge. It was surprising (to me at least) to find that many of these methods were developed not by gamblers, but by numbers boffins, often steeped in academia, for whom the pursuit of an edge was more a test of their academic prowess than their ability to amass a fortune (which, nevertheless, some of them did).
If you’ve wondered how physics would ever help you in ‘real life’ as you gazed out of your fifth form window at school, you might ponder on the team who employed the laws of physics to beat the casinos on the roulette table. The book will also tell you what links the US nuclear arms research base at Los Alamos to the methods used by Bill Benter and his team to clean up on the Hong Kong racetracks. Or even how new generation poker bots are being taught how to ‘think’ like real people.
Meticulously researched (the notes and index section of the book comprises a mammoth 50 pages – an ideal and very comprehensive reference for those looking to take their interest further) there is no doubting the rigour with which Kucharski has approached the topic.
If, like most of us, you’ve dreamed of stumbling on that elusive, fool-proof winning system this book doesn’t promise to help you in that quest. It does, however, explain by way of engaging and well written accounts of those who’ve been successful in the task, that it is possible, if you are dedicated and talented enough, to beat the odds-makers.
I’d thoroughly recommend the book to all with an interest in betting and close with my favourite quote from the book, attributed to US college sports betting sharp Michael Kent (himself a mathematician who specialised in nuclear reactors) – ‘You need to make your own number, then – and only then – do you look at what other people have.’
Reviewed by David Cormack
‘The Perfect Bet’ is written by Adam Kucharski and published by Profile Books www.profilebooks.com (ISBN: 978-1781255469)
Available from Amazon click book cover to start your purchase