How to win the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge

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On the surface, the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge might seem straightforward; pick the winners of all 63 games in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, and Quicken Loans — backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway — will give you $1 billion.

Well, sort of.

The winner gets the choice of either $500 million immediately, or $25 million a year for 40 years, which add up to a cool billion. Registration for the challenge begins Sunday.

There is a way to increase your chances, according to Jack Hough of Barron’s, which could offer you an infinitesimal chance (as opposed to insignificant), but that would mean forgoing life as you know it — friends, family and work — and devote several days deep into the world of brackets.

Sixty-four teams rank (or “seeded”) into four groups of 16 each, with No. 1 team in each group against No.16, No.2 against No. 15, and so on. Each winning team moves up to the next round.

The statistical odds are one in nine quintillion, the same as guessing a coin flip correctly — 63 consecutive times.

Guessing winners is not so difficult in the first rounds, when No. 1’s are the likely winners. The trick predicting upsets in later matches, when surely a No. 12 seed will beat a No. 5.

But there are ways to increase your winning percentage, according to bracketology expert Tim Chartier, professor of math and computer science at Davidson College, who found a few “predictors,” which go beyond win-loss records in the regular season.

The leading indicator is the strength of the team schedule during the regular season. If two equally matched teams face off, favor the one that faced tougher opponents in the past. Recent wins are also more suggestive of success than earlier ones, where there is momentum.

Teams that have played well on the road are also a better choice, as well as those that had a long winning streak. In addition, if judging teams on the average victory margin, remember that coaches often present the second string players during lopsided games—rather than running up scores. So a cap is required if using average scores in calculations.

With all those variables in place, bracket fans can enhance their predictive chances to about 70 percent — bringing the odds of winning $1 billion to about one in five billion. In comparison, winning the New York State lottery is one in 258 million.

Quicken Loans puts a cap on entries to the challenge at 15 million, or March 20 (whichever comes first), Hough writes. The company will accept brackets online (www.tournament.fantasysports.yahoo.com) starting March 16.

Buffett has not divulged the insurance premium he collected for backing the $1 billion dividend, or the odds used to calculate it. But that money will probably go straight to Berkshire’s bottom line.

The “science” of bracketology has been around years. For 16 years, ESPN held a bracket tournament, receiving more than 30 million entries with zero perfect guesses. It took only 24 games last year to narrow the field to one winner.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.