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Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody

2016/03/29

I have to admit, I bought Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody because of the title. I was between this and Fortune’s formula.  I thought how can one write a book about rock-paper-scissors strategies? Would that include lizard and Spock also?

It turns out there’s only one chapter about the game. The book starts really strong, with Claude Shannon’s outguessing machine and how it worked. It then continues with a bit of Benford’s Law and Nigrini‘s work (and I am both a fan of the Law and of Nigrini’s book). Next is some excursion in Madoff‘s scheme and how it could have been detected had someone paid more attention to the numbers.

Afterwards the book becomes increasingly boring to me as it offers some advise on how to outguess office pools on bets I am not really interested in (like American football, NCAA and picking the Oscar winners). With that comes a so much dumbed down treatise on randomness that is becomes annoying to the point that I sometimes wonder whether Poundstone himself understands it.  And all that just to disprove the hot hand feeling that sometimes players feel. Yes, there is no hot hand. No, let them believe it there is. You cannot beat the belief by serving a dumbed down treatise on randomness. You’re making it worse.

Finally, the book finished with some work on the stock market. After several pages with a particular long-term investment example the author finally admits that “nobody invests for 132 years” and then proceeds to offer some advise that fits a lifespan better. Well, I do not like fillers like this when this is supposed to be an advise book.

A US audience might be happier with the book. What is damaging to me though, is that I need to look elsewhere for the history of the Kelly criterion (which is the subject of the other book from the same author that I was thinking about buying).

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