This post is the first in a four-part series on key strategies for winning bracket contests.
More than anything else, the number of brackets you’re competing against in your 2013 NCAA bracket contest should dictate your strategy for making picks.
Changing your mindset to make picks based on pool size is very difficult, and can be a challenge to implement in practice. However, if there is one factor that’s given us a huge edge in bracket pools over the years via our BracketBrains technology, it’s this one.
So what do we mean exactly?
- If you’re competing against 10 people, it’s stupid to make a bunch of big upset picks. Favorites usually win. The cardinal sin of competing in small bracket pools is shooting yourself in the foot by getting too risky, and losing out to someone who picked a bunch of likely winners and got most of them right.
- Last year, for example, Kentucky was the NCAA tournament favorite, and picking the Wildcats to win it all was a solid strategy for small pools. In fact, our best performing bracket for 10-person pools finished in the top 1% on ESPN with Kentucky as its champion pick. This bracket almost certainly delivered a first place finish in a 10-person bracket pool.
- If you’re competing against 1,000 people, however, you almost never want to pick a hugely popular team to win the tourney. If you picked Kentucky in a 1,000-person pool last year, for instance, you had almost no chance to win your pool, even though you got your champion pick right. Why? Because about 400 other people, or 40% of your opponents, picked Kentucky to win too. Kentucky was a dumb pick in very large pools, whereas a team like 2-seed Ohio State made a lot more sense.
If you want to pick a bracket like a Wall Street trader, you have to force yourself to think objectively, align risk with reward, and play the odds in an optimal way. 99% of people picking brackets — including a lot of very smart people we know — either can’t grasp this concept or have a tough time following through with it. Consequently, sharp pickers can generate an almost criminal edge in bracket contests.
To get this edge, the primary mental leap you need to get over is the following:
When it comes to maximizing your chance to win your bracket pool, the bigger your pool size gets, the less effective simply trying to pick the most winners becomes.
Optimal bracket picking strategy involves much more than just trying to picking the most likely winner of each game. Back to the example above. In 2012, if you wanted to maximize the likelihood of getting your NCAA tournament champion pick right, the decision was simple. You picked Kentucky, the best team in the bracket by a significant margin. Yet that was a suboptimal decision for competing in many different types of bracket pools. You need to keep this in mind when you fill out your 2013 bracket sheet.
Pool size is just one consideration, of course. This series of blog posts will explain other reasons why well meaning people fail to pick brackets in the best way.
We used to do arduous manual calculations to align bracket risk to pool size, but it was a daunting task and often just as much art as science. Now, our BracketBrains technology uses dozens of computer servers to run millions of bracket simulations, starting right after the final 2013 NCAA bracket is announced on Selection Sunday. Our algorithms find the bracket picks that maximize your odds to win your pool, which is much more complicated than simply trying to forecast the most likely winner of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Then, we sell these computer optimized brackets for a measly 29 bucks, so you can get an unfair edge over all your friends, coworkers, and family members…
Part 2 Tomorrow: ”Know Your Enemy”