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You could just as easily call this book How to Bet at Jai-Alai and Win! But that's only half the story. While Calculated Bets might indeed help you make a buck down at the fronton, it's as much concerned with the power of mathematical modeling and computer programming. The story of accomplished mathematician Steven Skiena's longtime obsession with this obscure Basque sport, Calculated Bets uses straightforward mathematics and real-world examples to divine the statistical mysteries behind playing--and, more important, wagering on--jai alai. (Which goes a long way toward explaining why Cambridge University Press is publishing what's basically a book about gambling.)
A self-styled "mild-mannered professor," the conversational Skiena (The Algorithm Design Manual) delivers on his book's many promises, from explaining how mathematical models are "designed, built, and validated" to providing lucid discussions of such topics as market efficiency and the difference between correlation and causation. Even better are his riffs on why real programmers hate Microsoft (hint: it's not jealousy) and the beauty behind interesting curves. In the end, Skiena even puts his money where his mouth is: using a modem, he sets loose an auto-dialing program called Maven that he and his grad students cooked up, sending it off in the wee hours of the morning to cull the Web for stats, play each match a half-million times, and then automatically wager a $250 stake. --Paul Hughes [via]