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Old 02-18-2018, 12:17 AM   #1
Joegolf
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A March Madness Bracket with Game Theory?

I'm in two different March madness bracket contests. The leagues are rather quite different in their format and scoring. It dawned on me that game theory might be able to help me better understand the correct method to play each contest.

Does anyone hear know enough about game theory to help?

League A has roughly 30 entries and it's winner take all. Scoring is 1pt for round 1 games, 2pts for round 2, then 4, 8, 16 & 32 points.

League B has roughly 165 entries and 15 people win (1st gets 33%, 2nd gets 18%, 3rd gets 11%, 4th gets 7.5% 5th gets 6% and 15th gets 1%). Scoring is 1pt for round 1 games, 2pts for round 2, then 3, 4, 5 & 6 points.

So far my strategy of mostly chalk with a few upsets in league B has proven successful but I never won League A. My focus for league A has been to pick any non 1-seed to win the bracket, and if my final pick wins, I'd likely win the whole league or at worst be in a tie breaker with just one or two teams.

What do the game theory experts on here have to say? I'd appreciate the advice or tips. Thanks
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Old 02-18-2018, 04:22 PM   #2
AllinLoser
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Re: A March Madness Bracket with Game Theory?

The general idea is the larger the pool size, the more contrarian you need to be. So say you're in a very small pool with ~10 people. There's not much reason to pick nothing but chalk to win.

In a 30 person pool, going mostly chalk is still good. The best place to be contrarian there is the championship game. Once brackets are out, there will be websites that give probabilities of each team winning it all. ESPN also shows what the public is picking. A general rule to pick a good contrarian champion is to subtract what the public is picking from their chance of winning and use the highest value.

Best example I can think of is 2015 when Kentucky was undefeated going into the tourney. I'm making up numbers here but I think they were 35% to win it and 80% of the public picked them to win it all. 35%-80%= -45%, making them a bad team to pick here, even though Kentucky winning will happen most often. If Kentucky wins, you still need to beat 80% of the public. So the "popular" contrarian pick that year was to pick Arizona. They had a 15% chance of winning and only 3% of the public picked them to win. 15%-3% = 12%, which was the highest for that year. It didn't work out that year (other than Kentucky losing) but that's the general idea.

Then for pools with 165 people, it's the same exact idea except applied to the final four as well.
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Old 02-18-2018, 04:57 PM   #3
Joegolf
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Re: A March Madness Bracket with Game Theory?

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Originally Posted by AllinLoser View Post
Then for pools with 165 people, it's the same exact idea except applied to the final four as well.
AllinLoser,
Thanks for your reply it was very helpful and informative and I appreciate it.

If I may just ask two followups.
1) in a 165 person pool paying the top 9%, does that change your theory based on size? Asking another way, do you factor the % paid out or, with the winner getting a significant percentage, do you just focus on pool size when deciding how conservative to pick?

2) my league with 165 entries has a very low scoring system (the final game is worth 6 points, not 32). Would that alter your conservative vs contrarian views? Or possibly make contrarian picks somewhere other than the championship game?

Thank you again
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Old 02-18-2018, 06:25 PM   #4
AllinLoser
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Re: A March Madness Bracket with Game Theory?

Oh yeah, my bad, I missed the scoring settings for the second pool.

1) Payout structure does affect strategy, but not too much. Winner take alls = be more contrarian where flatter payout = picking more chalk. My strategy outlined still applies for both pools.

2) Even with the flatter scoring, the strategy is still pretty much the same.

With all that said, I can't remember a more wide-open year than this year. The main thing I'd focus on is just to avoid picking teams that are glaringly overvalued by the public.
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Old 02-19-2018, 09:18 AM   #5
Joegolf
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Re: A March Madness Bracket with Game Theory?

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The main thing I'd focus on is just to avoid picking teams that are glaringly overvalued by the public.
This is a great idea. Thanks for the help and strategy tip
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