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What's Luck Got to Do with It?


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Mazur's book treats luck in a fresh light. The philosophy and emotional aspects (along with a little mathematics) are all there. The reader who delves in will be lucky indeed. -- Persi Diaconis, Stanford University Blending math with memoir, probability with psychology, and heuristics with history, Mazur has written an essential book for anyone who wants to get a better idea of why we consistently bet against the odds. From the betting window to Wall Street, he offers insights into both the mechanics of chance and the enduring appeal that luck holds for those who wager every day, whether they call it gambling, speculation, or just hoping for the best. Engaging and illuminating, this is a guaranteed winner. -- David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of "Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling" This is a fascinating book. It's a fresh, funny, philosophical look at gambling by a mathematician who knows what he's talking about, and who has quite obviously thought about gambling for a long time. Mazur isn't afraid to make provocative, opinionated statements. I have not seen a gambling book like this before. I think it will attract a lot of readers. -- Paul J. Nahin, author of "Digital Dice" This book is significant in that it offers a lively and diverse collection of gambling-related ideas. Mazur's robust blend of anecdotes, history, psychology, and mathematics differs from other attempts to discuss these ideas. He offers plenty of insights into the questions and issues he raises. -- Edward Packel, author of "The Mathematics of Games and Gambling"

Table of Contents

Introduction xi Part I: The History Chapter 1. Pits, Pebbles, and Bones Rolling to Discover Fate 3 Chapter 2. The Professionals Luck Becomes Measurable 19 Chapter 3. From Coffeehouses to Casinos Gaming Becomes Big Business 37 Chapter 4. There's No Stopping It Now From Bans to Bookies 46 Chapter 5. Betting with Trillions The 2008 World Economic Calamity 58 Part II : The Mathematics Chapter 6. Who's Got a Royal Flush? One Deal as Likely as Another 75 Chapter 7. The Behavior of a Coin Making Predictions with Probability 83 Chapter 8. Someone Has to Win Betting against Expectation 101 Chapter 9. A Truly Astonishing Result The Weak Law of Large Numbers 118 Chapter 10. The Skill/Luck Spectrum Even Great Talent Needs Some Good Fortune 131 Part III : The Analysis Chapter 11. Let It Ride The House Money Effect 157 Chapter 12. Knowing When to Quit Psychomanaging Risk 168 Chapter 13. The Theories What Makes a Gambler? 182 Chapter 14. Hot Hands Expecting Long Runs of the Same Outcome 202 Chapter 15. Luck The Dicey Illusion 209 Acknowledgments 217 Appendix A. Descriptions of the Games Used in This Book 219 Appendix B. Glossary of Gambling Terms Used in This Book 224 Appendix C. The Weak Law of Large Numbers 227 Appendix D. Glossary of Mathematical Definitions 229 Appendix E. Callouts 236 Notes 249 Further Reading 265 Index 267

About the Author

Joseph Mazur is professor emeritus of mathematics at Marlboro College. His books include "The Motion Paradox: The 2,500-Year-Old Puzzle behind All the Mysteries of Time and Space" and "Euclid in the Rainforest: Discovering Universal Truth in Logic and Math".


"From the dice-playing of Neolithic peoples to modern lotteries and casino capitalism, he tracks the history of placing bets. He explains both the mathematics of chance and the psychological and emotional factors that entice some people to risk it all to win that improbable jackpot."--Joanne Baker, Nature "In What's Luck Got to Do With It?, mathematician Joseph Mazur explores these misconceptions, taking the reader on an entertaining and accessible tour of the history of gambling, the way mathematicians quantify luck and the psychology that keeps gamblers returning to the table. A book worth taking a chance on."--New Scientist "Doubtless aimed at the interested gambler, the frequent cultural references, anecdotes and intervention of psychology nevertheless make the book appealing reading."--Times Higher Education "Both an analysis of the idea of luck, the gambling impulse, and a history of it, stretching back to Neolithic times, the Renaissance (Francis Drake and Ben Johnson often played hazard--an early form of dice) up to the age of one-arm bandits."--Steven Carroll, The Age "Because Mazur's not judgmental about luck and gambling, but is analytical, the book is a winner. It's not just a mathematician telling us that we'll never hit a million-dollar jackpot--it's a mathematician looking at why we continue to hope to hit that jackpot. This book should be required reading for anyone in the casino business, and anyone who spends more than a fraction of their disposable income on gambling should find it informative, if nothing else. It's a reasoned, but also passionate, search for the meaning of luck that may change the way you look at a pair of dice--or your mortgage." "What's Luck Got to Do with It? is an entertaining and informative history of gambling beginning with the Ice Age... Anyone who has an interest in probability will enjoy Mazur's ideas and insights."--Mathematics Teacher "Readers will find many an unexpected treat in Mazur's exploration of luck, or, as Mazur might say, the likelihood of long runs of desired outcomes within the purview of the law of large numbers."--Andrew James Simpson, Mathematical Reviews Clippings

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