## Saturday, November 28, 2009

### Part 1: Ballhype's Golden Picks Contest and Expected Value

For the last few weeks I've played Ballhype's Golden Picks Contest. You basically try to predict winners and you received a weighted score for correct picks depending on which team other players picked. You get -1 point for every pick you make that loses. How many points you get for winning picks depends on how many other players picked the team that won and the team that lost. The winning players split a pool that consists of one point plus one point for every player that picked the wrong team. This offers a small reward for picking a favorite, while winning underdogs net far more points.

For example, let's say Florida plays Troy, and 9 players pick Florida to win while 1 player picks Troy to score the upset. If Florida wins like they're supposed to, the nine winning players evenly split a pool of two points: One point for the moron that picked Troy to win (that moron loses a point for picking wrong), and one bonus point for picking a winner. Two points divided by nine equals 0.22 points per player, so by picking Florida you get 0.22 points.

But let's say half of Florida's team gets eaten by Tremors-like underground burrowing alligators that for some reason find the taste of Troy Footballers unappealing, the game continues on despite the howling protests of Florida fans who weren't eaten before SWAT soliders were able to execute the offending alligators, and Troy manages to score a huge upset.

The one dude who picked the upset gets 9 points for every poor schlub that picked Florida, plus one bonus point for making the right pick. For successfully predicting the upset (or guessing), the winning player gets a total of 10 points.

Now, an astute player named Rich Hensley has exposed the folly of such a system: By predicting upsets in most games, Hensley scores so many points every time an underdog wins that it more than offsets all the times he loses a point when the favorite wins. Each week he is usually the winning player.

I hang around near the top each week thanks to keeping abreast of the Sagarin ratings, along with having taken to frequently mimicing Hensley's tactic. At the same time I notice his sub-.500 record with his picks and have wondered... if there a more optimal method to making picks that can maximize my score. Because otherwise, the best I can do is to just pick underdogs and essentially tie with Hensley for the top rating, and what's the fun in that.