Thursday, February 04, 2016

On the Square

My Pop gave me a call about a week-and-a-half ago. He had a question for me. Having retired, he’s living down in Florida now in a pretty great community where he’s spending a lot of his time fishing, playing golf, playing music (he’s a guitar player), and having fun.

A Super Bowl gathering is being planned there where he’s living, and the organizers of it had an idea to raise a little bit of money for use in future activities. They’re going to do a “Super Bowl Squares” pool, and while he had an idea what that was about, he was wondering if I could describe to him what it involved.

I was able to explain it to him fairly well, noting how I remembered at last year’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure a game had been organized during the playoff games one weekend. You probably know how the game works, too.

A 10 x 10 grid is created with the rows and columns each numbered 0 through 9. Players contribute whatever the entry fee is to the pool, then put their name or initials in one of the squares. Each side goes with one of the teams, so, say, the rows are the Panthers and the columns are the Broncos (as above).

Then at the end of each quarter, whatever the score is determines who wins that quarter’s worth of the cabbage. Say the first quarter ends with the score 13-7 in favor of Carolina -- that would mean whoever had the square in row 3, column 7 would win the quarter (the last digit in each team’s score). Same happens at end of second, third, and fourth quarters, too, with the pool divided up among the four winners.

Unfortunately for him there’s no choosing squares -- they’ll just draw ’em out of hat -- otherwise there would be some strategy involved. Upon learning how the game worked, he noted how it’d be great to draw 0/0, then for the game to go to overtime as a scoreless tie, thus giving that square all four quarters. I noted how there ain’t gonna be a scoreless tie on Sunday, but he knew that already.

Curious, I looked around a little and found an article on The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective website offering “The Optimal Strategy for Playing Squares.” Of course, these were the guys who also published something last July suggesting the Miami Dolphins would be making the Super Bowl this year (and giving the Carolina Panthers a 22% chance of making the playoffs, ranking them 22nd out of 30 in the NFL), so I suppose we should take this squares advice with a grain of salt.

Even if the game won’t be a scoreless tie after four quarters, the 0/0 square is actually one of the best squares to get (unsurprisingly). 0/3, 0/4, 0/7, 3/0, 3/3, 3/4, 3/7, 4/0, 4/3, 4/4, 4/7, 7/0, 7/3, 7/4, and 7/7 are also good ones. Meanwhile pretty much any square with a 2 or a 5 in it is terrible to get, with the ones with a 1, 6, 8, or 9 also pretty bad -- no shocker there for those who know how scoring typically goes in NFL games. That said, the new 33-yard extra point increasing the chance of a miss (and perhaps encouraging teams to go for two) may affect things a bit this year.

The Harvard article actually factors in the favorite-versus-underdog variable to create its chart, although I think that’s probably more fiddling than you’d really need to think about when picking a square (if allowed to pick your own). Even so, for them the 7/0 square in which the 7 is the favorite side is worth about twice what the 0/7 square would be, so perhaps it is something to consider.

Would taking the faves/dogs distinction into account be how the sharps play squares?

Image: PrintYourBrackets.com.

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