A lot of us in CSSA are focusing our studies on the quantitative and analytical classes here at West Virginia University, and we’re very lucky to have been able to follow this path. While math and science are usually classes that take more time to master, they are well worth it as students gain an innate ability to solve intricate problems and develop efficient solutions in everyday life. A lot of students in West Virginia’s middle and high schools used to get discouraged with trying to take advanced math classes, but in other parts of the world it is even harder. For instance, Brazil has developed an important trade relationship with China, with many Chinese citizens relocating to Brazil. In Brazil, students suffer with quantitative and analytical classes not up to par with our standards in the US or China. Part of what the Brazil educational system is lacking for both Chinese-Brazilian citizens and the normal Brazilian population are extracurricular activities related to math (such as strategic board games, chess, poker, and mental puzzles) that can be used to help Brazilian students think about math as a practical asset for daily life.
Classes in one field in particular, statistics, would allow Brazilian students to calculate probability, odds and outcomes in complex situations that often model the real world. Statistics is an incredibly important field within Brazilian, Chinese, and US society. Everything from social and civil policies to environmental and military strategies for our entire countries are all determined by statistics. The science of modeling data and the inherent variability of that data allows professional mathematicians the ability to calculate the probability of an event from that data. In the face of uncertainty, statistics is fundamental in making informed decisions. While all of this seems a bit complex and boring, it has some real-world applications that can help set a young group of Brazilian students apart. To encourage students in Brazilian high school and middle schools to master the quantitative classes, we should give them more real-life, exciting examples of the benefits of these courses!
For instance, in the mid-2000s students at MIT teamed up with investors in order to put together a team of blackjack players that were able to calculate the odds in a single game and only bet big when the odds were best in their favor. Blackjack’s rules allow for a slight statistical advantage in favor of the dealer depending on which cards are left in the “shoe”. When there are a large number of face cards and high cards, it is more likely for the dealer to “bust” or go over 21. When there are a large number of lower valued cards left in the shoe, it is more likely for the dealer to win. Students from MIT would count the cards that came out of the deck and calculate the percentage of high cards left in the 260 cards, they would then collaborate with a “high-roller” who would come to the table only when the shoe was “loaded” with high-value cards, allowing them to only bet when the odds were best in their favor. These students were able to use their in-class knowledge of statistics to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from these casinos. And using this real-world example, we can inspire Brazilian students about the benefits of math.
As opposed to Blackjack, Texas Hold’em No Limit Poker is a statistically even game, since it’s not played against the house. This game, which was popularized in the ‘80s and holds one of the top spots in most played card games in the world, has seen enormous growth over the last 10 years in Brazil and the reason is likely due to it being a game of skill, and one that teaches statistical calculations and general social assessment. We have a great opportunity to share this real-life application of quantitative studies with Brazilian students.
In this game, each player gets two cards, and the table gets three, facing up – the Flop. The players then place bets, and another table card, facing up, is revealed – the Turn. Bets are placed again, and a final, fifth card – the River – facing up is placed. After the final round of bets, we have the Showdown; every player still in the game reveals their hand, and the most powerful combination of five cards is the winner. Simple, right? Well it is also very simple to calculate the odds of a certain hand. For example, if the flop has three Kings right in a row, and another King is revealed on the river, we know with 100% probability that the person that is going to win will have the highest card to pair with the 4 Kings. If this all seems complicated to you, don’t worry, it is to everyone at first – that’s the point of practicing! Luckily, poker websites usually offer “fake money” training rooms where you can interact with a huge user base while not risking any real money. That way, students in Brazil can play poker online and practice their math skills without running the risk of spending tuition money on Poker!. For our Brazilian students, Full Tilt Poker has a website completely in Portuguese to learn and practice the game. And for those that feel more comfortable reviewing the rules in more detail, check out the rules in Portuguese available on Wikipedia. Students starting on FullTilt or other websites should check out this cheat sheet below to determine your hand. The possible outcomes in Poker are below in order of less powerful to most powerful. You may notice that these are also in order of “most-likely” to “least-likely”, so the combination that has the lowest probable outcome is the one that is most powerful.
Highest card – if none of the players have a combination, the player with the highest card wins. Cards (from most powerful to less powerful): A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2.
One pair – a single pair of cards. If more than one player has one pair, the pair of the highest cards (see above) win.
Two pairs – two pairs of cards, same rules as above.
Three of a kind – three of the same cards, a three of a kind of higher cards wins.
Straight (sequence) – a sequence of cards, such as 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6. In case of draw, a sequence starting with a higher card wins.
Flush (same suit) – any five cards with the same suit. In case of a tie, the highest card on the hand wins, or the second-highest, and so on.
Full house (Three of a kind + One pair) – in case of a draw, the highest three-of-a-kind wins.
Four of a kind – again, highest card wins.
Straight Flush (sequence of the same suit) – sequence starting with the highest card wins.
With all of the possible combinations that come in hand of poker, it can be a bit complicated to calculate the different odds right in your head, but that’s how the best poker players do it and what students will learn to do. And we couldn’t write an article about statistics without giving a shout-out to some of the best Chinese Poker players that have ever gone on the circuit. These individuals are not only poker all-stars; they are math geniuses that can efficiently calculate their odds of winning, the odds of other players winning and the probability of a specific outcome on the flop, turn and river at any given point of the game. If you need any inspiration for playing poker, look to Johnny Chan, David Chiu, David Steicke, Raymond Wu and a whole host of others who have been able to make a living from playing poker, which all starts from calculating probability and odds. We hope students in Brazil get inspired by this and head over to the statistics department, and start studying statistics, probability, and calculus!