Title: Calculated Bets: Computers, Gambling, and Mathematical Modeling to Win
Author: Steven Skiena
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Steven Skiena, a Professor of Computer Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has combined several passions in the writing of Calculated Bets. He is an avid fan of the game of Jai Alai, willing to wager on the game, and a skilled mathematician. He took these passions an combined them in order to win the money gambling on Jai Alai matches. This book describes how he did it.
Skiena begins the book by describing the game of Jai Alai. For those who don't know, Jai Alai is a fast moving game of Basque origin that is sort of handball on steroids. In the United States, it is played and wagered upon in Connecticut and Florida. The author does a good job of both explaining the game and of providing a good set of references for readers who wish to learn more. Skiena's passion for the game really comes through in just a few pages.
Next Skiena moves on to cover some mathematics and applies this to the game of Jai Alai. While there are equations and mathematical "mumbo jumbo", these chapters are remarkably easy to read by anyone with the most modest background in mathematics. In fact, the book is far more approachable and clearly written than I think most people would have expected from a Cambridge University Press publication written by a Computer Science Professor. Those who find themselves intrigued by the subject of this book but are worried about whether it would be readable have little to fear.
The book concludes with several chapters describing the mathematical model and programming that allowed Skiena and his graduate students to make money in an automated fashion betting Jai Alai. The book takes some diversions along the way, though. Also, for the sake of readability and providing a compelling story, some technical details are glossed over a bit. Nonetheless, the exploits of Skiena and his team more than adequately hold the reader's interest.
As I said earlier, while this book does discuss some mathematical and programming issues, it does so much more generally and approachably than one might first expect. In fact, from my own standpoint, this would be my biggest disappointment in this book. I really wanted to see even more algorithms, equations, derivations, and computer software source code. Personally, I wanted a college text book on the subject. Calculated Bets is not a text book. What is my mild disappointment, though, undoubtedly will be a relief to of most of the book's potential audience.
All in all, Calculated Bets is a remarkably witty and easy to understand account of Skiena's project. A lot of the simulation information the author describes is specific to Jai Alai, and this means that it would be a significant amount of work for those who want to adapt Skiena's techniques to other gambling endeavors. Nonetheless, I think this book would be a worthwhile read for those who want to build handicapping models of their own. Unfortunately for the hard core geeks, it's not quite as useful for this as I might have hoped. Whatever Calculated Bets lacks in specific advice on implementing such a system, though, it compensates with the clear and interesting presentation of the material.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Calculated Bets. While it contains more math than some folks will want to deal with, it's much more approachable than I think most potential readers would expect. While Skiena is not a professional sports bettor, his insight into what it takes to beat the books provides an example from which many bettors could learn a great deal. While this book wasn't quite as thorough as I personally had hoped, I found it to be an excellent starting point to at least describe qualitatively the steps to creating computer models with the goal of assisting in sports wagering. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in combining computers and sports betting.
Steven Skiena has written a remarkably readable book describing Jai Alai, the mathematics of betting the game, and a description of how he and his students programmed computers to predict and bet on Jai Alai matches. The book contains some math, but less than most folks would expect from a book of this nature. Calculated Bets is not quite a "how to" book on how to beat sports bets, but it provides enough information on the topic to be of interest to those looking for this sort of information. Basically, anyone interested in Jai Alai, sports betting, or computer modeling is likely to enjoy this book, and I recommend it.