We Have a 1 in 7,419,071,319 Chance of Winning Buffett’s Billion

On Monday, my colleague Carl Bialik looked at the odds of taking \$1 billion out of Warren Buffett’s wallet by completing a perfect NCAA tournament bracket.

They’re not good.

The simplest way to estimate your chances is by assuming that the outcome of each game is equivalent to a coin flip. There are 63 games in the tournament (the four “play-in” games aren’t included in Buffett’s challenge). What are the odds of having a fair coin come up heads 63 times in a row? Just one chance in 9,223,372,036,854,780,000 (one in 9.2 quintillion).

But as Carl explains, this simple assumption isn’t a smart one. Many games have a clear favorite, and your odds of picking the winner are much better than even. What if you used the FiveThirtyEight interactive bracket to make your picks, choosing the favorite in each game?

Rather than taking any statistical shortcuts, I calculated these odds for all 63 games. The model we use to create our bracket estimates the probability of any team defeating any other team in any given round.

The first tip-off scheduled for Thursday pits Ohio State against intrastate rival Dayton. Ohio State has a 75 percent chance of winning, per our model. The next game is a gimme: Wisconsin has a 93 percent chance of beating American University.

But it isn’t long before the road gets rougher. Cincinnati will play Harvard early on Thursday, and Harvard is much stronger than its #12 seed suggests. Cincinnati is a favorite, but only barely, with a 58 percent chance of winning.

Another game, scheduled for Thursday evening, really is the equivalent of a coin flip: We list Texas as a 50.1 percent “favorite” to beat Arizona State. (You can see your odds of surviving each game in the table that accompanies this post.)

You’ll have about a 1 in 85 chance of completing Thursday with a perfect bracket if you follow FiveThirtyEight’s recommendations.

Things get much worse from there.

As the tournament proceeds — and also-rans are eliminated from the field — the games become more competitive. On average, favorites in the first round have a 78 percent chance of winning. That probability drops to 68 percent for the second round and 61 percent for the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

By the time the national championship game is played, your odds of winning Buffett’s money are just 1 in 7.4 billion.

So, you’re telling me there’s a chance? One chance in 7.4 billion is a lot better than one in 9.2 quintillion; it’s more than a billion times better. (CLICK-BAIT HEADLINE: HOW A BROOKLYN MOM BECAME A BILLION TIMES MORE LIKELY TO WIN WARREN BUFFETT’S MONEY.) It’s also toward the low end of the range of estimates that statisticians provided to Carl.

Odds are that Buffett’s bracket isn’t worth your time, however. Having a 1-in-7.4 billion chance of winning a billion dollars is worth the equivalent of 14 cents. That’s before accounting for taxes — or for the possibility that the prize pool will be split among multiple winners.

Game Date Favorite Underdog Win % Cumulative
Probability
1 3/20 Ohio St. Dayton 75.3% 1 in 1.3
2 3/20 Wisconsin American U. 92.8% 1 in 1.4
3 3/20 Pittsburgh Colorado 72.4% 1 in 2.0
4 3/20 Cincinnati Harvard 58.0% 1 in 3.4
5 3/20 Syracuse W. Michigan 88.3% 1 in 3.9
6 3/20 Oregon BYU 64.7% 1 in 6.0
7 3/20 Florida Albany / MSM 98.8% 1 in 6.0
8 3/20 Michigan St. Delaware 91.2% 1 in 6.6
9 3/20 Connecticut St. Joseph’s 67.3% 1 in 9.8
10 3/20 Michigan Wofford 95.4% 1 in 10.3
11 3/20 Saint Louis NCSU / Xavier 57.7% 1 in 18
12 3/20 Oklahoma N. Dakota St. 63.8% 1 in 28
13 3/20 Villanova Milwaukee 94.7% 1 in 30
14 3/20 Texas Arizona St. 50.1% 1 in 59
15 3/20 Louisville Manhattan 93.1% 1 in 63
16 3/20 San Diego St. New Mexico St. 74.5% 1 in 85
17 3/21 Duke Mercer 92.9% 1 in 91
18 3/21 Baylor Nebraska 70.3% 1 in 130
19 3/21 New Mexico Stanford 63.8% 1 in 204
20 3/21 Arizona Weber St. 97.8% 1 in 209
21 3/21 Tenn. / Iowa Massachusetts 67.6% 1 in 308
22 3/21 Creighton UL-Lafayette 88.3% 1 in 349
23 3/21 Kansas E. Kentucky 92.4% 1 in 378
24 3/21 Oklahoma St. Gonzaga 52.0% 1 in 726
25 3/21 Memphis George Wash. 55.0% 1 in 1,321
26 3/21 Wichita St. Cal Poly / Tx. So. 97.9% 1 in 1,349
27 3/21 North Carolina Providence 68.0% 1 in 1,985
28 3/21 VCU S.F. Austin 76.4% 1 in 2,598
29 3/21 Virginia Coast. Carolina 96.4% 1 in 2,695
30 3/21 Kentucky Kansas St. 73.9% 1 in 3,645
31 3/21 Iowa St. N.C. Central 81.2% 1 in 4,487
32 3/21 UCLA Tulsa 87.1% 1 in 5,153
33 3/22 Villanova Connecticut 63.6% 1 in 8,107
34 3/22 Louisville Saint Louis 82.5% 1 in 9,828
35 3/22 Wisconsin Oregon 74.0% 1 in 13,290
36 3/22 San Diego St. Oklahoma 53.4% 1 in 24,879
37 3/22 Syracuse Ohio St. 51.0% 1 in 48,817
38 3/22 Florida Pittsburgh 82.0% 1 in 59,519
39 3/22 Michigan Texas 77.4% 1 in 76,877
40 3/22 Michigan St. Cincinnati 70.4% 1 in 109,223
41 3/23 Virginia Memphis 71.8% 1 in 152,162
42 3/23 Kansas New Mexico 68.9% 1 in 220,941
43 3/23 Iowa St. North Carolina 52.0% 1 in 425,213
44 3/23 UCLA VCU 67.5% 1 in 629,867
45 3/23 Duke Tenn. / Iowa 71.9% 1 in 875,923
46 3/23 Wichita St. Kentucky 55.2% 1 in 1,586,448
47 3/23 Creighton Baylor 56.4% 1 in 2,812,735
48 3/23 Arizona Oklahoma St. 73.6% 1 in 3,819,148
49 3/27 Florida UCLA 74.2% 1 in 5,148,674
50 3/27 Creighton Wisconsin 52.0% 1 in 9,909,744
51 3/27 Kansas Syracuse 62.7% 1 in 15,802,666
52 3/27 Arizona San Diego St. 72.7% 1 in 21,722,064
53 3/28 Villanova Iowa St. 61.6% 1 in 35,283,661
54 3/28 Louisville Wichita St. 67.3% 1 in 52,420,618
55 3/28 Michigan St. Virginia 52.1% 1 in 100,626,657
56 3/28 Duke Michigan 54.3% 1 in 185,416,034
57 3/29 Florida Kansas 58.9% 1 in 314,845,275
58 3/29 Arizona Creighton 69.2% 1 in 454,867,222
59 3/30 Michigan St. Villanova 54.6% 1 in 832,622,741
60 3/30 Louisville Duke 67.1% 1 in 1,241,647,122
61 4/5 Florida Michigan St. 57.6% 1 in 2,153,920,866
62 4/5 Louisville Arizona 54.4% 1 in 3,956,466,819
63 4/7 Louisville Florida 53.3% 1 in 7,419,071,319

CORRECTION (March 18, 7:15 p.m.): My original version of this post listed incorrect opponents for games #47 and #48. These have now been corrected. However, my error also affected the overall odds of a perfect bracket (which were originally about 1 in 6 billion). Sorry, folks.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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