Sophomore Seminars

Probability and Gambling

Math 51

One of the earliest probabilistic discussions was in 1654 between two French mathematicians, Pascal and Fermat, on the following question: “if you roll a pair of six-sided dice 24 times, which should you bet on -- getting at least one double-six or getting no double-sixes?'' Shortly after the discussion, Huygens, a Dutch scientist, published De Ratiociniis in Ludo Aleae (The Value of all Chances in Games of Fortune) in 1657; this is considered to be the first treatise on probability. Due to the inherent appeal of games of chance, probability theory soon became popular, and the subject underwent rapid development in the 18th century with contributions from mathematical giants, such as Bernoulli, de Moivre, and Laplace.

There are two fairly different lines of thought associated with applications of probability: the solution of betting/gambling and the analysis of statistical data related to quantitative subjects such as mortality tables and insurance rates. In this IntroSem, we will discuss poker and other games of chance, such as daily fantasy sports, from the perspective of risk analysis.

Students will be expected to solve biweekly problem sets, computing various probabilities and analyzing data, and work on two projects and give 15-minute presentations on them. This IntroSem does not require any programming knowledge, but some experience with Excel, MATLAB, R, and/or Python will enhance your experience in our discussion of daily fantasy sports. Students should be familiar with all material from Math 51. No prior knowledge of sports and games of chance is required.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Gene Bernhard Kim

"I grew up in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University, where I became interested in mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering. In 2005, I did an REU (research experience for undergraduates) at the University of Utah on games of chance, where I started playing online poker. Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles in order to attend graduate schools at UCLA and USC, where I started getting into daily fantasy sports.

"I have been a lecturer in the Mathematics department since 2019, and my research interests lie in probability and combinatorics. Currently, I am working on projects on distributions of permutation statistics and Sperner problems."