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posted by martyb on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the [not]-everything-works-in-[game]-theory dept.

Justin Wolfers writes in the New York Times that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's reasoning behind the play that led to the Patriots' interception that clinched Super Bowl XLIX is defensible in terms of game theory. The key insight of game theory for an NFL coach is that when you think about what choice you should make, you need to also consider the response from the opposing coach, understanding that he is also thinking strategically. There is no play that cannot be stopped if the defence knows it is coming. If the Seahawks were to sign a blood oath promising to have Mr Lynch run the ball, the Patriots could simply throw all 11 defenders at him and stop him in his tracks.

“This line of thinking suggests that you should not necessarily call a run play, even if you’re blessed with a great running back. Likewise, it’s not clear that you should definitely pass,” writes Wolfers. “Rather, your choice should be somewhat random — a choice that game theorists call a ‘mixed strategy.’” The logic is that if you always choose to run in this situation, then you make the opposing coach’s job too easy, as he will set a defensive formation aimed at stopping your running back. Instead, you need to keep your opponents guessing, and the only way to do this is to be unpredictable — essentially playing the football equivalent of Rock-Paper-Scissors. According to Wolfers this leads to the intriguing possibility that if that fateful final play were to be run in a dozen parallel universes, with each coach continuing to play the same mixed strategy, the actual plays called would differ, as would their outcomes. “And so the same teams pursuing the same strategies under the same circumstances might have yielded a different Super Bowl champion.” The only reason Carroll is being raked over the coals is because the play happened to end in an exceedingly improbable interception. Not one of the previous 106 passing plays that NFL teams launched from the one-yard line in 2014 was picked off.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by gman003 on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:20AM

    by gman003 (4155) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:20AM (#141007)

    On Monday, everyone and their dog was complaining about that play - that given the situation, the only reasonable call was to run.

    I pointed out that, for the defense, if the blindingly obvious strategy was to run, then you would set up to block that. Given that they had two plays to make it a single yard, a strategy of "try a passing play to try to catch them by surprise, if that fails, run it and hope they're off-balance enough that they don't 100% commit to a running defense" makes quite a bit of sense, and is defensible as long as you aren't looking at it in hindsight, knowing that it would be intercepted. It arguably makes more sense than trying to run the ball twice in a row, which is apparently what all the football fans think they should have done.

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by wantkitteh on Wednesday February 04 2015, @01:33PM

    by wantkitteh (3362) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @01:33PM (#141118) Homepage Journal

    Some people will jump all over any decision with no rationale at all, mainly because they just don't realise what they're saying is horsecrap. If something came down to a one-on-one dice throw, highest wins, someone would still mouth off at the loser for choosing the wrong colour die.