And the REAL World Cup Winner is…

IPHWell, surely everybody knows by now – the 2014 World Cup is over, and Germany went home with the trophy.

But there’s another “winner” worth mentioning: Princeton University Press author and London School of Economics professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, whose latest book, Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics, garnered some wonderful press over the course of the tournament. Mr. Palacios-Heurta not only received a mention in the Science section of the New York Times and was the subject of a full-length article in strategy+business; he also penned an op-ed for the New York Times’s Sunday Review and was featured in stories in both the Financial Times and Worldcrunch.

Sure, he can’t rally like Ronaldo or kick it like Klose; but this fùtbol fanatic’s research presents advantages that extend far beyond the pitch.

Palacios-Huerta is unique in that he utilizes soccer data to test economic theories. In his op-ed in the Times, Palacios-Huerta lays out the basics of this experiment by explaining its origins in the Nash Equilibrium, which analyzes how people should behave in “strategic situations” and stresses that, in order to “win,” they shouldn’t repeat their choices. He says that, “according to Mr. Nash’s theory, in a zero-sum game (i.e., where a win for one player entails a corresponding loss for the other) the best approach is to vary your moves unpredictably and in such proportions that your probability of winning is the same for each move.”

He chooses penalty kicks to demonstrate this theory because they’re zero-sum games, wherein it’s ill-advised to use a strategy repeatedly. The explanation for this is relatively simple: a player’s shots become predictable if he always kicks to the same side of the net, making them easier to block. A lot of legwork (pun somewhat-intended) has gone into proving this idea: Palacios-Huerta analyzed 9,017 penalty kicks between 1995 and 2012, to find that successful players typically distributed their shots unpredictably and in just the right proportions. We won’t get into the numbers here, but they’re abundant in both the book and the op-ed.


Other research by me and others has shown that data from soccer can shed light on the economics of discrimination, fear, corruption and the dark side of incentives in organizations. In other words, aspects of the beautiful game that are less than beautiful from a fan’s perspective can still be illuminating for economists.”


And penalty kicks are just one handy example. Data from soccer can also illuminate one of the most prominent theories of the stock market: the efficient-market hypothesis, which essentially posits that the market processes economic data so quickly that any news relating to a stock is incorporated into its price before anyone can even act on it, diminishing the risk of insider trading.

We’re excited to see more of what these soccer stats can do to advance economic theory, and more importantly, how Palacios-Huerta can translate something so complicated, using something so, well…beautiful.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ignacio Palacios-Huerta is the author of:

BGT Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691144023
224 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850310 | Reviews Table of Contents   Introduction[PDF] 

Place Your Bets: Tim Chartier Develops FIFA Foe Fun to Predict World Cup Outcomes

Tim ChartierTim Chartier, author of Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing has turned some mathematical tricks to help better predict the outcome of this year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Along with the help of fellow Davidson professor Michael Mossinghoff and Whittier professor Mark Kozek, Chartier developed FIFA Foe Fun, a program that enables us ordinary, algorithmically untalented folk to generate a slew of possible match outcomes. The tool weighs factors like penalty shoot-outs and the number of years of matches considered, all with the click of a couple buttons. Chartier used a similar strategy in his March Mathness project, which allowed students and basketball fans alike to create mathematically-produced brackets – many of which were overwhelmingly successful in their predictions.

Although the system usually places the most highly considered teams, like Brazil, Germany, and Argentina at the top, the gadget is still worth a look. Tinker around a bit, and let us know in the comments section how your results pan out over the course of the competition.

In the meantime, check out the video below to hear Chartier briefly spell out the logic of the formula.

Happy calculating!