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Jan 202014

While adhering to the recommended picks on WinThatPool! should always put you among the leaders by season-end, due to the imprecision of Win Probabilities whether you are in 1st or 5th entering SB week will largely depend on chance.

Approaching Super Bowl XLVIII I find myself in the same position I was in a year ago: 2nd place in a pool of some 90 participants. Here’s a doctored screenshot of my pool’s standings last year, just prior to the SB. (The screenshot is doctored to obscure the other team names, and I changed my team name to WinThatPool to avoid readers’ confusion).Standings_pre_SB

I was 1 point in front of the person in 3rd, 7 points behind the leader. The person in 4th place was 5 points behind the one in 3rd (and out of the money) and the guy in 5th place was 7 behind the guy in 3rd.

Last year I wound up winning the pool, but that was more due to luck than to well-conceived game theory. Let me elaborate.

Last year, San Francisco had a 61% Win Probability over Baltimore. The prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd last year were: 500, 300, 200. I was looking at 300 if the standings held through the SB. Both the guy in 1st and the guy in 3rd place had consistently bet the favorite all season long, so it was predictable that both would bet San Francisco.

I started anticipating what the guys in 4th place would do. If I were in 4th and looking at finishing out of the money, I’d pick the underdog. That way, if the favorite won (and all participants in 1st, 2nd and 3rd had picked the favorite) I wasn’t going to finish in the money anyway. But if they all picked SF, I was close enough to vault into 1st if Baltimore were to win. The same rationale applied to the guy in 5th place. That they both would pick Baltimore seemed self evident.

What this meant was: assuming both guys in 4th and 5th picked Baltimore (applying the above rationale), if I also picked Baltimore the worst that could happen to me if SF won was to fall to 3rd place. Seemed almost like a hedge position: if Baltimore wins, I win, if SF wins, I get 3rd place. The key assumption was that the guys in 4th and 5th considered their options the way I had. So I picked Baltimore.

When game time came around, both the guy in 4th and the guy in 5th had picked SF! I had outsmarted myself. If SF would have won, I would have finished in 5th place, out of the money. So I got lucky that the underdog eventually won. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Strategy for SB XLVIII
This year the Win Probability is close enough to even that I won’t assume anything about what the guy in 1st will pick, never mind the guys in 4th or 5th. I’m going with Denver, cold temps or not.

In the coming week I will analyze the Fan Pick distributions to arrive at strategies depending on assumptions about the guy(s) in front of you.

 Posted by on January 20, 2014 at 6:10 pm