What are the Odds of Picking a Perfect Bracket in the NCAA Billion Dollar Basketball Contest?

odds to win billion dollar bracket contest
Warren Buffett is risking $1 billion (actually Berkshire Hathaway shareholders will be taking the risk) that nobody is going to be able to pick a perfect NCAA tournament bracket. The odds say that it’s a pretty good bet on his part. To say the least, the odds of winning the Quicken Loans / Yahoo 2014 NCAA college basketball tournament “Billion Dollar Bracket” contest are slim. In fact, they’re really, really slim. If you think that the odds of winning the lottery are bad, they are nothing compared to this contest. If you were going to randomly pick teams, your odds of winning would be 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1. Yes, that is a 9 with 18 digits after it, or more than 1 in 9 quintillion.

Why is the number so big? It’s pretty simple math. There are 2 possible outcomes for each game (win or lose) and there are 64 games as part of the tournament. That means that the total possible outcomes are 2x2x2x2…63 times (because all teams will lose at least one game except the winner of the last game, who is the champion). While multiplying a small number by 2 wouldn’t seem to create such a huge number, it does exactly that when done enough times. If you want to see how these odds are calculated, there is a great video below which explains it in a way that anyone can understand:

Those are the odds if you simply picked the winner and loser of the games by random, but what if you know a thing or two about basketball? In this case, there would actually be some strategy placed into the picks rather than them all being random. For example, if you know that a 16 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has never won a game against an number 1 seed, you could feel pretty confident that all the #1 seeds will win in the first round. If you also know that a 15 seed has only on very rare occasion beaten a number 2 seed, you could feel pretty confident assuming the #2 seeds will all win as well. With some basic information like this which can help you make better choices, you can lower the odds of winning to around 128,000,000,000 (128 billion). Those are still huge odds against you winning, but are much better than 9 quintillion.

With the odds so stacked against you, why even bother to play? While there are a number of reasons that it’s worthwhile, there are two main ones that make participating worthwhile.

First, unlike the lottery, you don’t have to wager any of your own money to participate in this contest. If you had to pay to enter, it wouldn’t be worth your time or money. Since there is no cost involved in making the bracket picks, however, you aren’t risking anything but a little time.

Secondly, it’s not an all or nothing contest. If the contest were only the $1 billion prize or nothing, it would be questionable if even filling out the bracket would be worth the time. But this contest is offering more. The 20 best brackets will win a $100,000 prize put toward their current mortgage, or the buying of a new home. That means that there will be winners, and your guesses have just as much opportunity to be the best as the other people participating.

With that in mind, give the contest a shot. You risk none of you own money, and even though the odds are against you winning the top $1 billion prize, there is a chance for you to walk away $100,000 richer if you choose a great bracket.

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5 Responses to What are the Odds of Picking a Perfect Bracket in the NCAA Billion Dollar Basketball Contest?

  1. WCWIII says:

    People have been having fun with throwing out extremely low odds for getting all the teams correct and winning the billion dollars. Indeed, I’ve heard 9 quintillion to 1 (63 picks each 50:50). Better is to say you average a 2/3 chance each to get them all … this gives 124 billion to 1.

    In big online bracket pools with upwards of 5M people, every so often there are maybe a couple people with a perfect Sweet 16 bracket … let’s say you get 10 such people in this Billion Dollar Challenge. And now, if you average a 2/3 chance of picking correct scores for the remaining 15 games, it’s 438 to 1 per person, so maybe 1 billion dollar winner every 44 years.

    So the answer is somewhere between 1 in 44 and 1 in 8272 (124 billion / 15 million entries) that someone will win the pool depending on who you ask.

  2. Chris says:

    Your posit that there are almost always a few folks with a perfect sweet sixteen bracket ignores the premise of this challenge. You could have all 16 teams that are left which is impressive, but it doesn’t mean you picked the first 24 games correctly, you could do that by being correct on just 16 of those first 24 games. This challenge is a perfect bracket. 63 for 63. If all the one seeds are a shoe-in to win their first round game, your odds are still roughly 550 quadrillion to one.

  3. Vince F. Bundy says:

    Slight error. Although the odds ARE 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, the author says they are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1. If you’re going to put the odds in a ratio, then they are 9,223,372,036,854,775,807 to 1.

    Just sayin’…

  4. Jesse says:

    The other big flaw in your math is dividing 124 billion by 15 million. That would only work if all 15 million brackets entered in the contest were unique. In reality, there’s always going to be a ton of overlap, dramatically reducing the chances that Buffet ever pays that billion.

  5. Christopher Johnson says:

    Winners of basketball brackett?

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