15 Things With Better Odds Than Picking a Perfect March Madness Bracket
Picking a perfect March Madness bracket is astonishingly difficult. If you made a wild guess for each game—essentially a coin-flip, without taking things like seeding or even hunches into consideration—then your chances of getting a perfect bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (that’s 9.2 quintillion). But the actual odds of picking a perfect bracket are far more fluid. Basketball games aren’t random. Some teams are better than others. A one-seed has never lost to a 16-seed. Annoyingly, Duke will find a way to win.
Statisticians have estimated that with a little knowledge, you can slash your odds to somewhere between 1 in 128 billion (a number cooked up by a DePaul mathematician) and 1 in 2.4 trillion (another figure, as determined by a Duke mathematician). That’s a large window, but even if you err on the side of optimism, you still have an excruciatingly small chance of nailing your bracket.
To illustrate that unfortunate truth, here are 15 examples of things that have better odds than picking a perfect March Madness bracket. Not all of these are perfectly analogous, given the differences in a truly random event, like tossing dice, and making an educated guess on a basketball game. Still, one thing is for certain: You won’t like your odds.
1. GETTING A ROYAL FLUSH IN TEXAS HOLD ‘EM // 1 IN 30,940
In poker, nothing beats a royal flush: Ace, king, queen, jack, 10—all suited. If you drew one every hand, you would always win. This would be a terrific strategy, except for the fact that it relies on some pretty astronomical odds. According to gaming probability website Wizard of Odds (which was a great resource for this list), the chances of getting a royal flush in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em are 1 in 30,940.
In Texas Hold ‘Em, each player is given two cards, which they combine with five shared “community” cards to reach the best possible five-card hand. In other words, you'd have seven cards to make a royal flush. Given the total amount of possible hands one can get, it will likely be a long time before you see that doozy come across the table. Just try your best to play it cool if it ever happens, please.
2. GETTING A ROYAL FLUSH IN TEXAS HOLD ‘ED AND BEATING SOMEONE WHO HAS FOUR ACES // 1 IN 165 MILLION
If merely winning isn’t enough, you may want to consider winning in a way that makes your opponent tearily ask the powers above what he or she did to deserve such an unlikely fate. For that, you’ll want to beat the nearly unbeatable poker hand of four aces with a royal flush.
The odds of that happening in Texas Hold ‘Em? According to the Wizard of Odds, your chances are 1 in 165 million. Amazingly, this very scenario happened in a World Series of Poker event, in 2008:
(The odds given by ESPN of 1 in 2.7 billion are inaccurate, according to the Wizard of Odds, because they didn’t account for the possibility of bad beats and both players getting a royal flush and splitting the pot.)
3. WINNING THE POWERBALL JACKPOT // 1 IN 292,201,338
People love telling you that you’re not going to win Powerball. Even Powerball doesn’t try to hide the fact that hitting the jackpot is a 1-in-292,201,338 shot in the dark. Well, guess what? You’ve got a much better chance at that than you do at picking a perfect March Madness bracket.
4. WINNING A MILLION DOLLARS ON WHEEL OF FORTUNE // 1 IN 8098 PLAYERS
In 2008, Michelle Loewenstein won a million dollars on Wheel of Fortune, becoming the game’s first-ever contestant to do so. This feat was made possible by the wheel’s “million dollar wedge,” which was introduced six months before her win.
Mike Gioia of Particle Bits was suspicious of this timing, and he ran the numbers to find what the odds are of such an event happening. After crunching the numbers (you can check out his process here), he came to the conclusion that 1 in every 8098 players would take home the seven-figure prize. That would be one contestant every 13.8 years. His conclusion? “The odds are so low and her circumstances so peculiar that Michelle Loewenstein's million dollar game is in all likelihood an ABC creation.”
In an affront to math, two other Wheel of Fortune contestants have taken home the million-dollar prize since then.
5. HITTING A STOPPING HAND IN BLACKJACK BY SAYING “HIT ME!” 10 TIMES IN A ROW (IN A SIX-DECK GAME) // 1 IN 100,000,000
The Wizard of Odds ran a 100-million hand simulation and found that the chances of you reaching a stopping hand (17-21) while playing basic blackjack strategy and by drawing 10 cards is 1 in 100,000,000.
Who knows what would have happened if Austin Powers hadn’t lived so dangerously:
6. SEEING THE SAME ROULETTE COLOR 20 TIMES IN A ROW // 1 IN 3,091,873
According to Roulette Star, the chances of making like Ron Popeil—”Set it and forget it!”—at the roulette table are extremely slim. You have better odds with European roulette, where there is no green double-zero. Across the pond, the chances of a roulette streak of 20 reds or blacks is 1 in 1,813,778.
Either way, it still gives you a much better shot than picking a perfect bracket.
7. A ROULETTE WHEEL HITTING THE SAME NUMBER SEVEN TIMES IN A ROW // 1 IN 3 BILLION
In 2012, something truly remarkably supposedly happened at the Rio in Las Vegas: a roulette wheel hit the same number seven times in a row. Twitter user Jeff Romano was there to document it:
Yea roulette wheel at the rio isn't rigged..., pic.twitter.com/t3pqunwa
— Jeff Romano (@hurr1canejeff) June 19, 2012
At 3 billion to 1 odds, this seems too good to be true. Caesar’s Las Vegas Blog pointed out that this was likely the result of a glitch in the table’s sensor device that is linked to the display and not an actual occurrence of chance. They checked in with the hotel and were able to confirm this. The house wins again, unfortunately.
8. HITTING JACKPOT ON A (STANDARD) SLOT MACHINE
On a classic slot machine (meaning one with three wheels, each with 64 “stops”), How Stuff Works estimates that the odds of hitting a jackpot are 1 in 262,144. Newer slot machines are jam-packed with more options, and are often more than a digital simulacrum of their simpler predecessors. Because of this, calculating those odds is far more complicated. Nonetheless, we’d be willing to bet that the chances are much better than picking that elusive perfect bracket.
9. THROWING DICE 154 TIMES IN CRAPS BEFORE CRAPPING OUT // 1 IN 5.6 BILLION
In 2009, Patricia DeMauro set a craps world record by rolling a pair of dice 154 times before crapping out. When it was all said and done, the New Jersey grandmother’s hot streak lasted four hours and 18 minutes.
Craps is complicated, so tabulating the odds of something like this happening is rather difficult. A seven would have ended her streak, and a UNLV professor told TIME that the chances of DeMauro rolling 154 times in a row without landing on a seven would be 1 in 1.56 trillion. However, you're allowed to roll sevens between points without having to stop, so she may have hit a few during her run that didn’t affect her streak. Because of these variables, the best way to find out the actual odds of DeMauro’s feat is through advanced computer simulations. The American Statistical Association did just that with a model called a Markov chain, and they found the odds to be 1 in 5.6 billion.
10. PLAYER WINS 20 HANDS IN A ROW IN BACCARAT // 1 IN 1.4 MILLION
Baccarat is a surprisingly simple game given the high stakes at which it is usually played. (Click here for an explanation.) A dealer pulls two hands from a “shoe” (six or eight decks shuffled together), and the players place bets on value of the dealer’s hand versus the “player hand.” You're also allowed to bet on the somewhat rare occurrence of a tie.
According to the Wizard of Odds, if you bet on the player hand 20 times in a row, the chances of you winning are 1 in 1.4 million. Meanwhile …
11. YOU BET ON THE DEALER IN BACCARAT 20 TIMES IN A ROW AND WIN EACH TIME // 1 IN 800,000
Betting on the dealer 20 times in a row gives gives you some much sweeter odds.
12. YOU BET RANDOMLY 20 TIMES IN A ROW IN BACCARAT AND WIN EACH TIME // 1 IN 1,048,576
Finally, the Wizards of Odds ran the numbers of a random baccarat bet streak, and they figure you will have a slightly better go at it than if you bet on the player hand every single time.
13. GETTING A PERFECT 29 HAND IN CRIBBAGE // 1 IN 216,580
It is possible to get a perfect hand in cribbage, one that shows all four fives and the Jack of whatever suit matches the turned-up card. According to Cribbage Corner, your chances are only 1 in 216,580, and those are even worse if you are playing a three- or four-person game. For that, your odds are 1 in 649,740.
14. WINNING $50,000 PLAYING PLINKO ON THE PRICE IS RIGHT // 1 IN 59,049
Sure, you may be confident that you know how much that NordicTrack costs. You may have even have hammered out a perfect strategy for the Showcase Showdown. But should you get invited to come on down and be the next contestant on The Price is Right and find yourself staring down the barrel of a Plinko board, the odds of you winning the $50,000 jackpot are 1 in 59,049, according to The Price is Right Blog.
(Note: This figure is in accordance with the old Bob Barker-era Plinko maximum win total, which was $50,000.)
15. MATCHING PAUL THE OCTOPUS’S WORLD CUP WIN STREAK // 1 IN 256
For the 2010 World Cup, Paul the Octopus slithered into our hearts by picking the correct winner of eight-straight matches, including the final. Paul was stationed at Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, and before each match, Paul’s handlers placed two food-filled boxes in his habitat. Each box had a flag from one of the competing nations, and whichever one Paul selected would be the “winner.”
According to +Plus Magazine, the odds of someone (or some octopus) randomly selecting eight winning teams in a row is 1 in 256. Whether Paul was lucky or clairvoyant is a matter for another day, but his feat is far from impossible.