Next: 7. Modeling the Payoffs Up: 6. Is this Bum Previous: Probability versus Statistics

# Jai-Alai Players and Baseball Players

How much of an influence does player skill have on the outcome of a jai-alai match? Obviously this depends upon how great the skill difference between the players is. I am quite confident that the worst professional player, with his leg in a cast, would crush me 1001 times if we played a series of 1000 games against each other. The real question is whether the relatively minor differences in player skills on the professional level translate in a significant difference in the likelihood that the better player wins.

It is a simple matter to program our computer to tabulate the number of wins that each player had over the past year, but is the most successful player really most skillful? What is the right length of time to analyze such statistics over to measure the best current player? It needs to be a long enough time for the totals to be statistically significant; for such random events as off-days and lucky bounces to cancel themselves out. And yet it cannot be too long a time interval, for certain player's skills will improve with training and experience while others erode with injury and aging.

There is certainly anecdotal evidence that certain jai-alai players are better than other players. Joey, perhaps the greatest American jai-alai player ever, led the Dania fronton in wins an amazing eight consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1989. (There are two seasons per year.) A look at the top ten players at any fronton will have many names in common with the list from the previous year.

Most Americans have a finely developed statistical sense about baseball. Let's use that sense to gain better intuition about the impact of player skills in jai-alai. Baseball batting averages are well known as meaningful statistics; indeed a .300 hitter is the classical definition of a star player. Achieving a .300 average means that you managed to get 3 hits every 10 times at bat. Any player's batting average fluctuates over the season as they have good and bad games. So how successful is a player's current batting average at predicting how they will do in the future?

 I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from Calculated Bets: Computers, Gambling, and Mathematical Modeling to Win!, by Steven Skiena, copublished by Cambridge University Press and the Mathematical Association of America. This is a book about a gambling system that works. It tells the story of how the author used computer simulation 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! His method can work for anyone: at the end of the book he tells the best way to watch jai-alai, and how to bet on it. With humor and enthusiasm, Skiena details a life-long fascination with the computer prediction of sporting events. Along the way, he discusses other gambling systems, both successful and unsuccessful, for such games as lotto, roulette, blackjack, and the stock market. Indeed, he shows how his jai-alai system functions just like a miniature stock trading system. Do you want to learn about program trading systems, the future of Internet gambling, and the real reason brokerage houses don't offer mutual funds that invest at racetracks and frontons? How mathematical models are used in political polling? The difference between correlation and causation? If you are curious about gambling and mathematics, odds are this is the book for you! This book is available in both hardcover and paperback.

Next: 7. Modeling the Payoffs Up: 6. Is this Bum Previous: Probability versus Statistics
Steve Skiena
2001-06-04