kitchen table math, the sequel: VR on using backgammon to teach probability

Thursday, August 26, 2010

VR on using backgammon to teach probability

VR wrote:
I have been playing chess with my son for a few years. Chess is deterministic. In order to introduce him to probability concepts, I have started to play backgammon with him and bought him the "Backgammon for Dummies" book, which uses probability concepts to explain what is good play. Other games, such as blackjack and poker, can be used to teach probability. Many good games players can calculate probabilities well, even if they never read a book using the mathematical terminology Allison mentioned. Maybe books on those games can be used to teach probability in a palatable way.
Great minds think alike!

At some point, looking for self-teaching resources on probability, it came to me that I ought to stop trawling Amazon for introductory books on probability and start looking for introductory books on  card-playing.

Or card counting - ?

fyi: A lot of the Dummies books are terrific, I think. The book on public relations is very good, and I've just bought Grammar for Dummies because Stanley Fish said he likes it.

A few years back, I had a scheme to purchase all of the Dummies books and dedicate an entire bookshelf to them, the way people used to buy World Book Encyclopedias and give them pride of place.

Backgammon For Dummies


Freeven said...

I've been teaching backgammon for a number of years, not as a vehicle for teaching probability, but simply to help people who want to improve their game. It's an extremely rich tool for teaching probability (and other areas of math), however, and I'm always gratified when my students come to realize that it's not "a game of luck," but rather a game of luck management. The nuances of making risk versus reward judgments lend themselves greatly to so many other areas of life as well. I highly recommend it for kids (of all ages).

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't blackjack be simpler and more fun?

Freeven said...

"More fun" is in the eye of the beholder, of course. I suppose "simpler" is too, to some extent.

In another life, I was quite into blackjack as well. My judgment is that backgammon, while quite easy to learn, has far more range. I'd guess most people would find it a far easier introduction to probability, yet it "scales up" nicely, presenting increasingly more challenging concepts as one improves. Blackjack becomes repetitious and mechanical at some some point so that there's not much reason to play other than the money.

And on a practical note, you'll have more luck starting a school backgammon club than a blackjack club. ;)

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