08 March 1999
for immediate release
An understanding of probability could improve your life in ways you might never have imagined. In his new book Taking Chances, Sussex mathematician Dr John Haigh picks his way through the pitfalls of probability to reveal a few gems even the most hardened gambler won't have thought of. Never mind the odds on the 3.22 at Chepstow, Taking Chances reveals everything from expert tips on Monopoly tactics to when it's worth risking a red card to stop a goal.
Dr Haigh believes that an everyday understanding of probability can be highly beneficial: "People need to know about probability because it can help in making all sorts of decisions, and also because it is fun." He was inspired to write the book by the fever which swept the nation following the first huge wins on the National Lottery. While we all crossed our fingers and hoped it would be us, Dr Haigh looked on in amazement as newspapers made claims about numbers 'taking turns' to come up. "Even well respected financial analysts claimed that the number 39 was more likely to appear because it hadn't appeared for a year. If you toss a coin and you think that because heads came up ten times, tails must be next, then you're investing the coin with some memory and some ability to change its mind, which of course it doesn't have."
Since the chances of winning the Lottery jackpot are around one in 14 million, Taking Chances might divest the most determined gambler of their desire to take that chance. It might, however, persuade them that some knowledge of probability gives an edge on the opposition in games like Monopoly. Although the most expensive properties in Monopoly give the best returns, they don't guarantee a win. According to Dr Haigh, the key is in the orange properties, which are landed on more than any others on the board. Because the 'Go to Jail' square is the most frequently visited, landing on the orange properties is most likely because they can be reached directly from the jail square with a throw of 6, 8 or 9 - among the most likely totals in terms of probability.
Dr Haigh can even help the likes of Frank Lebeouf and Tony Adams with their soccer-playing strategy. In football, a professional foul, when a player brings down an opponent with a goal-scoring chance, can lead to the cynical defender being sent off. But as Dr Haigh points out, sometimes it's worth the risk. "The higher the probability that a player will score, the earlier in the match it pays to commit a professional foul. If the person is sure to score, you should trip them as early as the 16th minute. But if their chance of scoring is only 30%, you should wait until the 71st minute. These are the sorts of figures footballers should have in their heads when they're in the middle of the park making these decisions."
Every day of our lives we take calculated risks - should we keep our foot down to get through the traffic lights, should we have that slice of beef on the bone, should we go jogging alone at night. Taking Chances may be able to guide us through this minefield of calculated risk, with its examples of probability in cards, dice, coins and sports. As Dr Haigh says, "It's written to be enjoyed by people who don't normally read maths books." Certainly it's led him to take a hard line on the old vice of 'having a flutter' - he says "I'm such an expert gambler now that I know never to gamble at all."
Taking Chances is published by OUP on 8 March 1999, at £18.99
For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr John Haigh, School of Mathematical Sciences, Tel. 01273 678104, email email@example.com.